November 10, 2017 20:43 GMT by dailymail.co.uk

Denmark icon Preben Elkjaer: current side cannot compare

Denmark icon Preben Elkjaer: current side cannot compare

Preben Elkjaer laughs when reminded of his audacity. Not many footballers take on the royal family. Elkjaer, though, was as daring off the pitch as he was on it.

Preben Elkjaer laughs when reminded of his audacity. Not many footballers take on the royal family. Elkjaer, though, was as daring off the pitch as he was on it.

If an Irish crowd inside Lansdowne Road could give him and his team-mates a standing ovation, he reasoned, why was there no recognition from the Queen of Denmark?

It was November, 1985. A 4-1 victory had ensured Denmark’s place at their first World Cup in Mexico. They were group winners and eight-goal Elkjaer was top scorer in qualifying. The Danish Dynamite — as they were lauded in the press — were the new darlings of Europe.

Denmark icon Preben Elkjaer believes his team changed everything for Danish football

Denmark icon Preben Elkjaer believes his team changed everything for Danish football

Elkjaer made public his royal disapproval. The invites to the palace soon landed.

‘There was no tradition in the royal household for football, yet the rest of the country was in love with us,’ he tells Sportsmail from his home in Copenhagen.

‘I honestly thought, “They won’t listen to me”. I was wrong. When we went to the castle, the two young princes were crazy about us, and they still are.

‘Our team changed everything for football in Denmark, it inspired a new generation.’

It is that generation who face the Republic of Ireland over two legs of their play-off for a place at Russia 2018. For motivation, they should watch the two matches against Ireland from the mid-Eighties.

It was on the site of Parken Stadion — the venue for Saturday’s first leg in Copenhagen — where Elkjaer scored twice in a 3-0 win, skinning David O’Leary for the first and volleying in on the spin for his second. He netted two more in Dublin.

‘You don’t get many chances to play in a World Cup,’ he says. ‘If these players want to be remembered, like we are, they have to step up now, this is it.’

Elkjaer, though, is remembered far beyond the borders of his homeland.

 

Every five years, the citizens of Verona go to the polls to elect a new mayor. When the ballot papers are counted, there is one name — not among the list of candidates — which is scribbled hundreds of times over: Elkjaer.

In the Italian city of Romeo and Juliet, the only story to rival such romance is that of the dashing Dane. It was the summer of 1984 when, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Naples welcomed the world-record signing of Diego Maradona. Meanwhile, 450 miles north, Elkjaer arrived at Verona from Belgian club Lokeren. And it was he — not the Argentine — who would send shockwaves through Serie A.

Elkjaer is fondly remembered in both his homeland and also in Verona, where he was a huge hit

Elkjaer is fondly remembered in both his homeland and also in Verona, where he was a huge hit

‘We beat Napoli and Maradona on the opening weekend,’ recalls Elkjaer. ‘Then we just kept on winning. When I signed, I thought, “This team can’t win anything”. But they just needed more power — I brought that.’

Unfashionable Verona went on to win what remains the only top-flight league title in their history. The defining image of the season is Elkjaer’s solo run and goal against Juventus, made famous by him losing his boot before finishing.

‘Ah, Gol Senza Scarpa… beautiful,’ he says, before explaining his nickname, The Mayor. ‘To begin with, I got thousands of votes. Even this summer, I got more than 200. Every mayor invites me back. When I get there, they say, “Preben, this is your chair”.’

How he could have done with the Veronese voting for the Ballon d’Or of 1985.

‘I was third to Michel Platini in 1984,’ explains Elkjaer. ‘Fine, he won the Euros and Serie A. But, in ’85, I deserved to win. I was second, again to Platini, who won nothing. But he was French, of course, so what can you do? It was the France Football magazine who chose the award.

‘I finished second, third and fourth three years in a row. So I wasn’t that bad, yeah? I had a wonderful career, I’m happy with that.’

The brilliant book Danish Dynamite describes Elkjaer as ‘the red-blooded, blue-eyed boy of any team he played for, popular because of his talent and charisma’.

Not always popular with managers, however, especially not at FC Cologne, the German club he joined aged 19 in 1977.

‘One day, the manager said I’d left a nightclub at 3am with two girls and a bottle of vodka,’ he begins. ‘I told him, “That’s not true”. He said, “Oh yes it is, one of my friends saw you”. I said, “OK, but it was whisky, not vodka”.

‘I smoked as well, he didn’t like that, I had to go behind the bus. He was always angry with me, but I was young — what do you expect?’

Even as the years went on, Elkjaer retained his sense of devilment. ‘One time,’ he adds, ‘we were away with Denmark and the manager, Sepp Piontek, imposed a fine if we came back to the hotel after 1am.

‘I had the money in my pocket and thought, “I better give him it now, because in two hours I won’t have any”. So I paid in advance.

‘But, the night we qualified for Euro 84, we were fined if we came back early!’

Elkjaer, now 60, says that he mellowed after meeting future wife Nicole in a discotheque in Lokeren. What was his chat-up line? ‘No, she came to me,’ he smiles.

Elkjaer feels the current crop must step up against Ireland to make their own history

Elkjaer feels the current crop must step up against Ireland to make their own history

He also rejects the legend that he wrote a weekly column for a porn magazine. ‘No, it was not porn,’ he protests. ‘It had pictures of some naked women, yes, but not porn.’

The subject triggers another memory. ‘Sepp was a fantastic manager, but the one thing he couldn’t do? Operate the video machine,’ he starts.

‘He once asked me to help, to find a place in the tape to show a tactic of Romania. He had his back to the screen. I swapped the video for an adult film. He started shouting, “Why are you all laughing? This is very serious!”.

‘He told us, “Hey guys, stop joking all the time, you can play. You have talent”.

‘Slowly, we started winning. Then, when we beat England 1-0 at Wembley in 1983, it opened everyone’s eyes, including our own — we thought, “Oh, we can beat anyone”.’

 

There has long been debate in Denmark as to who was man of the match in the game which has come to define the Danish Dynamite team.

Having beaten Scotland 1-0 thanks to Elkjaer in the opening group match of Mexico 86, they faced an aggressive Uruguay side.

‘Before the match, Piontek warned us, “Be careful, they play very hard, don’t dribble”,’ reveals Elkjaer. ‘So what did we do? We dribbled like crazy.’

Elkjaer scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 blitz but a 21-year-old Michael Laudrup announced his arrival on the world stage by beating four Uruguayans for his goal. Both strikers were outstanding.

Brian Clough, in the ITV studio, called them ‘gorgeous’. But who was the star man?

‘There is no doubt,’ says Elkjaer. ‘When you score three goals and create two more… that’s five. The sixth goal I don’t remember, maybe I was in the toilet. So yes, I think I was man of the match.’

Denmark will face Republic of Ireland over two legs for a place at the 2018 Russia World Cup

Denmark will face Republic of Ireland over two legs for a place at the 2018 Russia World Cup

Elkjaer scored again in a 2-0 victory over West Germany to set up a last-16 tie with Spain.

‘Ah yes, Spain, again…’ he says, referencing the penalty shootout defeat in the semi-final of Euro 84, when he lashed the decisive kick over the crossbar.

‘I remember it as a wonderful save, yes?’ It wasn’t. Even now, if Elkjaer — Denmark’s most popular TV pundit — shares a studio with a former team-mate, they’ll ask him, ‘Has that ball landed yet?’

‘It’s fine, the Danish people were happy it was me who missed,’ he says. ‘They like me, but they don’t let me forget.’

What they have tried to forget is the 5-1 defeat against Spain which ended their World Cup.

‘We were winning and were the better team,’ says Elkjaer. ‘But we gave away one bad goal and lost our heads, crazy.

‘That was it, all over. But hey, what a journey, the time of our lives.’

Read more at dailymail.co.uk