The North Bank Hall of Fame: Anders Limpar
When Anders Limpar signed for Arsenal in the summer of 1990 it felt like quite a big deal. This was pre internet gossip, pre regular £20m plus transfer fees and before every side was packed with an array of International stars.
Signing any foreign international, even if you had no idea who he was, from a club you’d never heard of – like Cremonese – for £2m felt daring. Back then, the only foreign player we’d had of any note was Vladimir Petrovic. Anyone who wasn’t English or Irish was exotic.
It has become commonplace to depict George Graham’s ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ years as mechanical and drab; in some senses it was, but our flying Swede soon became the flair that counter balanced the remorseless offside trap.
The famous back four were sensational and must have been dispiriting for other sides to encounter but don’t forget that at this time we had Paul Merson, Alan Smith, Kevin Campbell, and from ‘91 onwards, Ian Wright banging in the goals. Not as drab as the anti-Arsenal band wagon would have you believe.
This period was commemorated best in the 92 For 92 VHS cassette which revelled in the fact that we scored a record 92 goals in the season that ended, funnily enough, in 1992. This tape is the stuff of legend as it featured Ray Parlour’s debut at Anfield (replete with interview in which he says ‘obviously’ roughly 9,000 times), Lee Dixon’s astonishing own goal at home to Coventry and the last game in front of the North Bank.
Quite possibly my favourite ever moment on the North Bank was immortalised on that cassette; Anders Limpar’s impudent lob from just inside his opponent’s half in the 4-0 win over Liverpool.
We were used to watching Anders show right backs a clean pair of heels or cut in and drag a shot back inside the near post (Coventry away in ‘91 for example), but we had never seen anyone, other than that grainy clip of Pele doing it in 1970, attempt to lob a keeper from that distance, let alone achieve it.
I still remember the gasps from the fans and Limpar’s pirouette and single raised hand celebration, capped off by Kevin Campbell lifting him two feet off the ground. Presumably Campbell felt the need to elevate him so that the back four didn’t have to stoop in their congratulations.
You could be mistaken for thinking the term ‘impish’ was coined for Limpar. He was quick and his footwork was mesmerising, like Sugar Ray Leonard in his pomp.
There was no finer sight in this period than Limpar dribbling at full tilt, his tiny legs moving 10 to the dozen, all the time manipulating the ball with delicate, feather light touches. His close control meant he could simply breeze past players without the need for elaborate tricks; a quick change of direction and he was gone.
Think of Arshavin on his best attacking form. Now think of that with added consistency. I’m not saying Anders never had a bad game, he was a flair player and they are entitled to off days, but in fairness, he didn’t have too many. The miserly back four (including solid cameos from O’Leary and Linighan whilst Adams was in prison), safe hands of Seaman, emergence of Campbell and Hillier, and the efficiency of Alan Smith won us the title in ’91, but Limpar gave it colour.
Limpar would’ve been well at home under Wenger, he was an instinctive Footballer who just wanted to express himself. It’s worth noting that after a couple of flourishing years for the Super Swede, George Graham – never one to stoke an ego – demanded Limpar up his defensive work-rate, ultimately robbing him of the freedom to do what he’d done so well in his early days. This was the beginning of the end for Anders at Arsenal. He was eventually sold to Everton for £1.6m in 1994 and never scaled the heights he had in those first two years as a Gooner.
For those younger Arsenal fans who think exciting Football only came to Arsenal after the French Revolution of 1996, look up Anders Limpar on YouTube. In a decidedly workmanlike era he, along with Merson, Paul Davis and David Rocastle before him, offered the subtlety that made us Champions and not just a team that was hard to beat.
As well as a nifty change of pace and a deft touch he also had a penchant for smacking United players. For that reason alone, he’ll always be an Arsenal Legend.