Michael Mols: What Could Have Been


Mols, Mols, Mikey Mikey Mols. Gets the ball scores a goal. Mikey Mikey Mols. 

That was a chant that often filled the Ibrox stands in the year 1999.

The Rangers fans had found a new hero in a Dutch forward who was seemingly hitting the peak of his career.

Gers manager Dick Advocaat had once again spotted a diamond in his homeland and purchased the prolific Michael Mols from  FC Utrecht for a £4m fee.

In the opening months of the 1999-2000 Scottish Premier League  season, that looked to be a bargain price as Mols rattled in goal after goal.

To me, the twenty-eight year old was a smiling assassin who just seemed to love his football. His grin would light up Govan and instantly the crowd adored him (me included).

In his first nineteen appearances for the Glasgow side, Mols racked up thirteen goals and four of them came in the illustrious Champions League competition.

The forward was even cheered as he smashed four goals past legendary Gers goalie Andy Goram, who by that time was paying in between the sticks for Motherwell.

Mols had a swagger about his game that was a joy to watch. He would often receive the ball with his back to goal and duck to go one way, send the defender a dummy and then Michael would simply turn and go the other way. Like Brian Laudrup before him, he had a jinky, wee trick that just bamboozled Scottish defences.

He also had an instinctive first touch finish that reminded me of one Dennis Bergkamp.

Many in Govan viewed him as Rangers answer to Henrik Larsson, who was also in lethal form for rivals Celtic early on in that same campaign.

But both men would suffer devastating injuries in Europe that year and it left plenty of Glaswegian football fans wondering if the two would ever be the same again.

When you watch the injuries as they take place (both of which happened within two weeks of each other). Larsson’s leg break, away to Lyon, looked the worse of the two injuries.

The Celtic hitman’s leg looked to have snapped in two with the lower part dangling off his knee. It was a double fracture that looked horrific.

Then on the third of November, Rangers would travel to Munich with the chance to reach the next round of the Champions League. All they needed to do was avoid defeat.

At that time Rangers were a decent outfit in Europe and did well in Germany with their passing game and managed to hit the woodwork three times. Many have since stated that the Scottish champions had the better of the exchange and could easily have taken something from the game.

Gers number nine Mols was looking good too, holding the ball up well and using his ticks and turns to get away from the opposition. As the first half went on he would strike the post with a glancing header.

Then came the moment that would turn Michael Mols career upside down.

Legendary German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn decided he had to come out as a makeshift sweeper and take the ball away from the toes of an oncoming Rodney Wallace. Kahn got to the ball first and cleared it to his left but he didn’t get enough purchase on it to see it go out of play.

He saw that it was now heading towards the on-rushing Mols, so Kahn had to continue his own run and see it out of play. That meant challenging Mols with a slide tackle.

Now Kahn didn’t actually do anything wrong, his commitment in the challenge was what his team needed at that moment.

But if you look back it wasn’t the cleanest of tackles. When I say that, I don’t mean it was particularly reckless or bad. It just wasn’t made from a seasoned defender. Kahn was a fairly big, cumbersome unit and in his tangle with the Mols, the Dutchman tried in vain to ride the challenge and as his left leg came down his foot got stuck in the turf and you can see Michael’s knee buckle.

The result was knee ligament damage and Mols was out for the rest of that season.

Then just three minutes after that incident Bayern won a penalty, scored it and held out for a 1-0 win and that scoreline eliminated Rangers from the competition.

Larsson was luckier in that his breaks were clean. He returned for Celtic’s last game of the season and even made it to Euro 2000 with Sweden.

In fact Henrik would end up scoring more after his injury than he did before it. He moved up a class and would become one of Europe’s best marksmen. He would win golden boots as well as titles with Celtic before winning the Champions League with Barcelona!

Mols would return the following year but was never the same player.

He seemed to miss that burst of pace that he had had previously. He would have to deal with more complications to his knee that would include a build up of fluid and he’d often go back to the Netherlands to see specialist after specialist in the hope to cure his problems once and for all.

That 2000/01 season saw him score seven times in twenty-one appearances including his first in an Old Firm game and two more in the Champions League.

In 2001/02 he was seen more as a player to come on from the bench rather than the hero that would influence things from the start. In his twenty-four outings he only managed to score two goals and they were both in the first half of the season.

In the next two seasons Mols would seem to manage himself better on the park, almost as if he’d decided to adapt his game to suit his ageing body and maybe just play through the pain.

It resulted in him playing more, he made eighty one appearances in those last two seasons and scored twenty six times.

During the 2002-2003 campaign he would help his side pick up the Scottish Premier League title.

He would leave Glasgow in the summer of 2004, taking with him two league winners medals, plus two Scottish Cup winners medals and two League Cup winners medals.

He deserved them all. He was a superb player who would light up the park with his trademark turns and his beaming smile.

Yes he had his ruthless streak in front of goal but he also had a temper that would boil over from time to time and he’d kick or karate slap an opponent and that would see him receive a red card.

In his last game for Rangers, Mols was named captain and managed to get himself sent off after only thirty-one minutes!

It kind of summed him up his time in Glasgow as he was always a bit unpredictable and his time was cut short before he could peak.

It’s easy to look back and ask what if and then map Mols career out near Larsson’s. Both similar in age and both were enjoying their seasons in 99′ before they were cruelly curtailed.

Mols certainly seemed to have the ability and the pedigree to step-up into a higher league and do well. But maybe he would have stayed at Rangers and become a club legend and carry on that rich vein of scoring form.

I do believe he would have gained more than his six Dutch caps he received before that injury in the late nineties.

But as I think about what could have been, I start to remember why I started this article in the first place.

The Michael Mols smile. It cropped up on my Facebook timeline on the day of the last Old Firm match at Hampden a few weeks ago.

My cousin was at the game and saw Mols outside the ground with the Rangers fans. He was glowing and smiling from ear to ear as he always did.

Looking at that picture, I understand there is no need to look back and think what might have been. It’s better to look at what happened after.

Yes he carried on for a few years in Holland, ending his career in Feyenoord in 2009. But his love for Glasgow Rangers never diminished and the Gers supporters love for him never wavered either.

They adored his skill-set, his goals, determination, passion and charm. They took him to their hearts and even when that injury seemed to rob him of his better years the fans never stopped loving him!

While I hate an element of Glasgow football that seems overly political, bigoted and bitter, it always makes me smile, nearly as big as Michael Mols’ to see a foreign player come in and fall in love with a club and for that club to show him just as much warmth.

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