DENMARK: 2 CAPS

(CAREER: 2)

V ENGLAND, OLD TRAFFORD, 16 NOVEMBER 2003

V POLAND, POZNAN, 18 AUGUST 2004

Defenders come in many shapes and sizes, and veer from the industrial to the elegant, from the clogger to the footballer. It’s a tough art to master, whichever end of the scale you’re at, and it’s one where the rewards are rarely great. You don’t get a lot of the glamour, and if you make a mistake, you’re going to get plenty of stick.

Good defenders always seem to have that extra moment, be it as they time a tackle or as they move the ball out from the back and through to the midfield. At his very best, Thomas Gaardsoe was one of those players, the kind where the game seems to just slow down that fraction when they’re on the ball.

Gaardsoe was calm, polished, elegant – though perhaps less so in the dress sense stakes as a few of his colleagues pointed out to him down the years, not least Andy Johnson. It’s a whole different world of fashion in Denmark, as Martin Albrechtsen’s boots make clear.

When he arrived here from Ipswich at the start of the 2003/04 season, it was with a healthy reputation as a member of Joe Royle’s side, most notably playing in a three man central defence. That made him the ideal candidate to slot into Gary Megson’s team that was looking to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt where he played alongside the likes of Darren Moore, Phil Gilchrist and Sean Gregan as the central defence changed over the course of the season.

Gaardsoe was very much the pivotal figure, his reading of the game exemplary as he often moved into position to snuff out danger before it had ever really materialised while he was equally adept at bringing the ball out from the back and into midfield, playing as the spare man in something of a sweeper role.

That early season form saw him elevated to Denmark’s senior squad and he made his international debut at Old Trafford coming on as a 71st minute substitute in a friendly against England in the Danes’ 3-2 win, in itself a remarkable comeback given that England were 2-0 up inside nine minutes.

It was the best part of a year before Thomas got the call again, but in the interim, he’d helped himself to a pretty special time at The Hawthorns, sweeping the board at the club’s Player of the Season awards and having the final away game pretty much dedicated to him as the Albion fans descended upon Reading’s stadium dressed up as Vikings, testimony to the big part he had played in helping the Throstles to promotion.

The new season had barely kicked off when he was collecting cap number two, in Poznan, as Denmark thrashed Poland by five goals to one. Gaardsoe collecting his only international goal in the process as he scored Denmark’s third after 51 minutes.

Playing in what turned out to be the Great Escape season, Gaardsoe was troubled by a couple of niggling injuries but also by a change in Albion’s formation as they went to a back four which required him to be a more aggressive type of man to man marker rather than that covering defender, a role in which he had excelled. Nonetheless, he made 31 appearances in all competitions that season and played a full part in keeping Bryan Robson’s team in the division.

That was the high watermark of his time with the Throstles as the 2005/6 season degenerated into a nightmare as a persistent groin injury restricted him to only seven league games, his final Albion performance coming in the 6-1 thrashing at Craven Cottage. That injury would simply not go away and in the end, Gaardsoe was forced to call time on his playing career, ringing down the curtain after 91 Albion games.