As the World Cup continues, so does our daily feature looking back at former Palace players who have also represented their nations. Sweden take to the field today to face world champions Germany, but 20 years ago the Eagles had their own super Swede.
In 1998, two Swedish internationals pitched up at Selhurst Park with very differing careers. Tomas Brolin had starred as the Scandinavians finished third in the 1994 World Cup and won the Golden Boot at Euro 92. He’d earned big money moves to Parma and Leeds United, and although his powers had peaked he still arrived at SE25 with a massive reputation.
Mathias Svensson meanwhile was rather more unheralded. He arrived at Division One Portsmouth in 1996 having fired Elfsborg into the top-flight in his first season as a professional, and had won two Swedish caps as a substitute in friendlies before he was reunited with Terry Venables at Palace, who had also signed him for Pompey.
Their impacts in SE25 would also vary majorly. Brolin would prove to be one of the biggest flops in Eagles history, featuring only 16 times due to fitness and weight issues and ended his spell as Attilio Lombardo’s translator. After his and other big name departures had failed to prove their worth, new faces such as Svensson were left to pick up the pieces but dug in and kept Palace in the second tier, despite being in administration for 18 months thanks to Mark Goldberg’s ill-fated ownership.
Svensson’s chances were few and far between to begin with under Venables, with selection and injury issues - including a ruptured spleen - only allowing him eight appearances before money pressures brought about the manager’s departure. But as a hefty squad began to be trimmed to make ends meet, the path would clear for the Swede finally make his mark.
After a host of misfiring strikers including Lee Bradbury, Richard Harris, Chris Sharpling and Fernando de Ornelas were tested out at the start of the 1999/00 season by a desperate Steve Coppell hampered by tightly tightened purse strings, but Svensson would prove to be the attacking answer he was searching for.
By November the 25-year-old had three goals to his name, but he very quickly began rattling them in at a rapid rate. Swiftly becoming a fan favourite, the towering, burly attacker netted in four successive games against QPR, Port Vale, Norwich City and Nottingham Forest as Palace picked up 10 points out of 12, which would prove vital in the season’s final shake-up.
Further strikes would come his way before the new millennium, however a month later and with the Eagles facing the prospect of just one home game in February and needing to cover their wage bill, their top scorer was sacrificed to add just £600,000 to the coffers.
Charlton Athletic were the beneficiaries as they picked the bones of their local rivals, whom Svensson helped lift the Division One title the following May. Such was the financial mess in SE25 at the time, the Addicks also agreed to pay Svensson all the money he was owed from Palace, including his signing-on fee and some wages.
A decent season in the Premier League the following year saw him hit seven goals and win his third and final Sweden cap in June 2001 against Moldova, but knee injuries would hamper, and ultimately curtail, his career thereafter which ended back at Elfsborg in 2008.
He is fondly remembered by fans of all the teams he represented in his career, but holds a special place in Palace hearts for helping the club on and off the field during one of its darkest times.