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Cult Heroes: Nielsen on Inter, Graham Taylor, Big Ron and Euro 92

Super savings at Villa stores in build-up to Norwich clash Holman: My best is yet to come in a claret and blue shirt
Cult Heroes: Nielsen on Inter, Graham Taylor, Big Ron and Euro 92

Kent Nielsen wrote himself into Villa folklore with one lethal swing of his right foot in October 1990.

The Danish central defender's stunning long-range goal in a 2-0 UEFA Cup victory over Inter Milan is still etched on the memory of anyone who witnessed it.

If that was the highlight of Kent's time in claret and blue, though, there was plenty more to savour.

Signed by Graham Taylor in the summer of 1989, he helped Villa to finish runners-up to Liverpool in his debut campaign.

Nielsen suffered along with the rest of the team as Villa only narrowly avoided relegation under Jo Venglos the following year, and was subsequently surplus to requirements after Ron Atkinson was appointed manager.

He returned to his homeland to join Aarhus early in 1992 - and helped Denmark to win that summer's European Championship in Sweden.

He has been a manager in Denmark for several years, and is currently in charge of Aalborg.

In the latest in our Cult Heroes feature series, Nielsen answers questions sent in by our Twitter followers using the #AskKent hash tag.

What can you remember about joining Villa?

When I came to Villa from Brondby I was 27 and it was a step up - the right move and the right time. At the time, there weren't so many foreigners in England and in the first month or two I found it difficult to cope with the pace. But when I got used to it I really enjoyed myself. Graham Taylor was a great manager and we had some good players. He built a really strong team in my first season, and I was immediately made to feel welcome at the club.

Who do you rate as the best central defender you played alongside?

Paul McGrath. We arrived at Villa at the same time and we stayed in the same hotel for the first couple of months, so I got to know him well. On the pitch, he had a bit of everything and he is definitely the best centre-half I played alongside.

How did you feel when Graham Taylor left to become England manager?

I was really pleased for Graham because that's the biggest challenge for any manager. He had done brilliantly for Villa because we'd had a great season and ended up second (to Liverpool). On one hand I was sad that he left but pleased for him. Players and managers work so hard because they are always looking to take the next step, and that's what he did. Graham got the biggest job in English football.

What would you regard as your best performance for Villa?

That's a difficult one - and some people might say it must be easy to pick one because I didn't have that many good matches! To be honest, there isn't one that really stands out but I remember that we did really well from the time Graham introduced a three-man central defence - me, Paul McGrath and Derek Mountfield. That suited the whole team and we really clicked. There was a long period when we hardly lost. It was a pity we didn't win the championship but I think we surprised a lot of people - and it was great for me because it was my first season. I will never forget the last game at Everton, which we drew 3-3. The Villa supporters were singing from start to finish. That was a big day for us, even though we had missed out on the title.

Is it true that the Holte End net needed repairing after your long-range strike against Inter Milan in 1990?

It would be nice to say yes - that would be a really good story! But sadly, no, it didn't. If it hadn't been on television maybe we could pretend that the net broke, but we can't. Even so, I was pleased with that goal. It was a great feeling to score from that distance against a team like Inter.  English teams had just been allowed back into European competition after a five-year ban, and there was a lot of focus on us. There was a fantastic atmosphere at Villa Park that night, and to score a goal like that was one of the highlights of my career.  I was just disappointed that we lost 3-0 in Milan after winning the first leg 2-0. But Inter were very strong; they went on to win the UEFA Cup that season.

Tell us about the famous 6-2 victory over against Everton...

I recall it clearly - because I scored that day! Gordon Cowans took a corner and I headed my first goal in English football. That was a time when we were really on a high and everything seemed to be going for us. We didn't have the best players individually - although David Platt was on his way to being world-class - but as a squad we really gelled because everyone worked so hard.

Was Jo Venglos really as out of touch with English football as people suggest?

I had come from abroad as well, and I could see what he was trying to achieve. But there was a big difference from what he wanted to what a lot of English players had been used to. He did certain things differently and often that was difficult for players to cope with. His view on football and his tactical ideas came into the English game later, but at the time maybe Villa's players were not ready for it. Sometimes a foreign coach has to do things the way players are used to, and bring in his ideas gradually. There were too many things Jo wanted to change at the same time.

What did you think of Ron Atkinson?

When Ron came in there were big changes to the squad, with many players sold and a lot of new players coming in. The whole atmosphere changed. The club's financial situation was also much better than when Graham Taylor was in charge and they were able to look at players of a higher level - people like Kevin Richardson, Dalian Atkinson and Steve Staunton. Ron very popular with the media and he was also the type of manager whose style suited the players.

How did you feel when you left the club?

I was disappointed, of course, but on the other hand I was pleased the club were open-minded about the situation. By then I was 30 and throughout my career the most important thing was to play football. I was in the Danish national team but I wasn't getting in the Villa team so I had a chat with the manager and he said I could leave. I would have preferred to stay at Villa because I really liked it there and my family had settled well but I also needed to be playing. I was willing with step down a little to play regularly so when Aarhus wanted to sign me I went back to Denmark - but I was still sad to leave Villa.

It must have been amazing to win Euro 1992 with Denmark?

It was, particularly as we didn't even qualify for the finals. With the points we had we would normally have qualified because we only lost to Yugoslavia in Copenhagen and drew with Northern Ireland. But Yugoslavia only lost to us in Belgrade so they went through. Unfortunately the civil war in Yugoslavia meant they were unable to take their place in Sweden, so we took their place.
We didn't have long to prepare, which possibly helped because there was no time to get nervous. We were also very experienced and we went on to beat Germany in the final. I really enjoyed the first match in Malmo because Graham Taylor was in charge of England and their squad also included David Platt and Tony Daley.

Do you still stay in touch with anyone from your Villa days?

I stayed in touch with club secretary Steve Stride for a couple of years after I left because I got to know him well during my time at the club, but that's about it. But I came over for Villa's game against Manchester United a couple of years ago when Gabby Agbonlahor scored the winner at Old Trafford. I have some great memories of my time with Villa. I really enjoyed it there.

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By @AVFCOfficial 3rd October 2012
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