Tomas Brolin became a legend at Parma after signing from IFK Norrkoping after Italia 90. Featuring in the original Gialloblu side that swept Serie A by storm, he led the line from 1990 until 1995, before returning again in 1997. The Swedish frontman may not have resembled an athlete but he managed to captivate the crowds at the Stadio Ennio Tardini.
The £1.2m price tag was enough for the young Swedish forward to feel the pressure. He was known around the world after being one of the few impressive parts of Sweden’s World Cup squad. With Alessandro Melli played just behind Brolin, the pair shone in his first season. They scored 20 goals between them in Parma’s first season and even managed to help their team finish in the European places.
Faustino Asprilla, the flamboyant Colombian, was then brought to the club and the ungamely Swede was dropped. This could have been the beginning of the end but an injury to Asprilla allowed Brolin back into the squad and he proved his worth.
Brolin had performed well at the 1992 European Championship in Sweden and helped them reach the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by Germany. He famously scored a superb goal to knock England out in the final group game and his stock continued to rise.
The emergence of Gianfranco Zola once again displaced Brolin, until Parma manager Nevio Scala asked him to drop into midfield. It was perhaps a surprise how easily Brolin adapted to his new position. Parma secured another high finish in the division and Brolin was exceptional. Their season culminated in defeat to Arsenal in the Cup Winners’ Cup final but this did not take away what the Swede had done.
Brolin was now a household name in Serie A and abroad. His technique, strength, range of passing and eye for goal were all complimented by his adaptability and character. He was one of the stars of USA 94, scoring three times in Sweden’s incredible run. He made the team of the World Cup and his performances led Swedish journalist Rikard Aberg to conclude that:
“Romario scored goals, but Brolin was the better overall footballer. Brolin could score too, but he was the engine and the brain of the Swedish team back in 1994. If you would ask anyone in Sweden, they would tell you Brolin’s the best Swedish player ever. He was best player in the world in those days, period.”
Things fell apart for Brolin after the World Cup. He sustained a serious ankle injury in November 1994 and Parma signed the legendary Hristo Stoichkov for £6.5m in 1995. Brolin had battled against good players in the past but his injury and the calibre of his replacement meant his time as soon up. Sold to Leeds United in 1995, he never recaptured his form. Despite returning to Parma on loan in 1997, his story was over.
He was never a prolific goalscorer but he was an intelligent frontman who gave Parma and Sweden his best years. When calcio ruled the world, Brolin was the conductor of a mythical front-line.