Denmark is the southernmost country in the Scandinavian region of Europe. The Nordic nation have produced fine footballers who have graced the Premier League, including Peter Schmeichel and Kasper Schmeichel. One name that is often forgotten by the casual Premier League fan, also happens to be a name that Chelsea fans won’t soon forget.
Jesper Grønkjær enjoyed a career full of ups and downs, playing in some of Europe's biggest competitions and earning cult hero status in numerous places.
Where it all began
Grønkjær plied his trade with Thisted FC as a youth player in Denmark until he made the big switch to Danish giants Aalborg Boldspilklub (Aab). He made over 100 appearances for Aab, including some dazzling performances in the Champions League.
The pacy winger spent just three years in Denmark’s top division before making the switch to one of Europe’s biggest clubs, Ajax, in 1998. It was at Ajax where Grønkjær threw himself into the spotlight, winning the club’s Player of the Year award in 2000. In his 69 appearances for Ajax, the Dane scored 15 times and put in plenty of memorable performances, earning him a move to Premier League side Chelsea in 2000.
His move to England saw him become the most expensive player in Denmark's history, valued at around £7.8 million at the time.
The billion-pound goal
Grønkjær’s Chelsea career contained a mixed bag of performances littered with inconsistency and shining moments. In his first start for the club, Grønkjær scored twice and hit the woodwork twice in an FA Cup win over Gillingham. There were times where the winger looked unplayable, using his pace to ghost past defenders and whip in dangerous crosses, but other times he looked lost while wearing blue. Any disappointments would be forgotten after one special day in May of 2003.
On May 11, 2003, Chelsea faced Liverpool on the final day of the season, in one of the most important games in Premier League history. Chelsea needed just a draw to clinch a spot in the following season's Champions League, but something else hung in the balance for the Blues.
Sami Hyypia gave Liverpool the lead after eleven minutes but Jesper Grønkjær’s eventual impact on the game was second to none. A minute after going a goal down, Chelsea looked to their Danish winger, who whipped in a cross that found club captain Marcel Desailly.
The defender’s header glanced past Jerzy Dudek to level things for Chelsea. Grønkjær had played a huge role in helping Chelsea get level, assisting the crucial goal that would seal European football for the club, but the winger would permanently cement his place in club history in the 26th minute.
Grønkjær picked up the ball on the corner of the box from a throw-in, brushed off John Arne Riise and curled a beautiful effort past Dudek. Chelsea managed to hold on to a 2-1 win that day, securing a spot in the Champions League thanks to Grønkjær. Champions League qualification meant Roman Abramovich could swoop in and buy the club, thus the goal was dubbed the “£1 billion goal” from that moment on.
Goals against Manchester United and in a Champions League semi final against Monaco highlighted the remainder of the winger's career at Chelsea. His final goal for the club happened to be a winner against Leeds United in 2004.
Life after Chelsea
The winger continued to have his fair share of inconsistency in his remaining time at Chelsea, before he was eventually sold on to Birmingham City in 2004. Short spells at Birmingham City, Atletico Madrid and Vsf Stuttgart eventually saw Grønkjær end up at FC Copenhagen in 2006, where he would stay until his retirement in 2011. Grønkjær has dabbled in television since leaving football and has been remembered well by fans of his former clubs.
The Danish star rarely spent an extended period of time at one club, but he has maintained cult hero status at the likes of Aab, Ajax, Chelsea and FC Copenhagen. Grønkjær’s name has been overshadowed by his fellow countrymen over the years but his name won’t soon be forgotten, especially for those in West London.
Football has a knack for forgetting players as the years go by, but for Grønkjær, his cult hero status at clubs like FC Copenhagen and Chelsea in particular will live on for a long time.