Preben Elkjær Larsen (born 11 September 1957) is a retired Danish professional footballer who played as a striker.
Amongst others, he played with Hellas Verona in Italy, helping it to the only major title of its history, the 1985 Serie A. Additionally, Elkjær scored nearly 40 goals for the Danish national team in 11 years, being a leading figure for the country at both Euro 1984 and the 1986 World Cup (a first-ever appearance), winning the Bronze Ball award at the latter competition.
Elkjær finished second in the European Footballer of the Year awards in 1985, having placed third the previous year.
Born in Copenhagen, Elkjær's career started with Vanløse IF in 1976, where he stayed for just one season, playing 15 games and scoring seven goals. He then joined 1. FC Köln in Germany, at the time one of Europe's leading clubs. With the team, he won the 1978 domestic Cup (his entire campaign consisted of nine minutes in the final, against Hertha BSC), but never got on with the manager or the harsh, disciplined atmosphere of a German dressing room, and eventually left. One falling out with the legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler earned a legendary status in Denmark: Weisweiler approached Elkjær and said that he had been informed that the player had spent the night at a nightclub in the company of a bottle of whiskey and a lady, and wanted to know if that was true. Elkjær replied that it was a lie, in fact it was a bottle of vodka and TWO ladies.
In February 1978, Elkjær moved to K.S.C. Lokeren Oost-Vlaanderen in Belgium where he stayed for five years, the longest spell at any club during his entire career. There, he earned two nicknames: Chefen fra Lokeren (Lit: The Boss from Lokeren) and Den Gale Mand fra Lokeren (Lit: The Crazy Man from Lokeren), surpassing the 100-goal mark in official matches (98 in the Belgian First Division alone).
Twenty-seven-year-old Elkjær signed for Hellas Verona F.C. in Italy in the summer of 1984 and, in his first season with the team, he played an instrumental role as it won the Serie A title, the scudetto, for the first time in its history; he aided to that conquest with a solo left-flank run against Juventus FC (a 2–0 home win), where he lost his right boot, kept on running with the ball and ended up shooting home with his bootless right foot.
In 1984, Elkjær finished third and in 1985 second in the European Footballer of the Year awards, both times surpassed by Michel Platini, who played for Juventus. During his four-year spell at Verona, he never scored ten league goals in a season, but never netted fewer than seven goals, for a total of 48 official ones.
In 1988, Elkjær made a comeback in Danish football with Vejle BK. He came to the club as the biggest star in the country, and attracted great crowds to the club's matches. Aged already 31, he suffered a number of injuries while at Vejle, and had a hard time living up to the high expectations of the crowds and never really achieved great success there, eventually retiring two years later, having only appeared a total of 26 matches combined.
While playing youth football for Frederiksberg Boldklub, Elkjær made his debut for the Danish under-19 national team, in October 1975. He played a total 11 games and scored six goals for the under-19 national team, including three in three games at the 1975 UEFA European Under-19 Football Championship.
Elkjær made his debut for the under-21s in June 1976, scoring nine times in as many games; this included three goals in the quarter-finals of the 1978 European Under-21 Championship against Bulgaria, though Denmark were eliminated on the away goals rule.
On 22 June 1977, aged 19 years and 284 days, Elkjær made his debut for the senior national team, scoring both goals in a 2–1 win against Finland. He played a prominent role in UEFA Euro 1984, scoring two goals in four games, which helped pave the way for his move to Italian football. During the tournament, Denmark played attractive attacking football, but went out at the semi-final stage, losing to Spain on penalties. Elkjær missed Denmark's last penalty kick attempt, sending the ball high over the goal.
Elkjær also represented Denmark at the 1986 FIFA World Cup as Denmark had qualified for that competition for the first time, eventually progressing from the group stage as winners, only to be once again knocked out by Spain. During the tournament, he scored four goals, including a hat-trick against Uruguay, being named the most dynamic and powerful striker of the tournament, and winning the Bronze Ball award as the third best player.
Euro 1988 was Elkjær's last tournament participation. On 14 June 1988, he played the last game for his country, aged 30 years and 277 days, as Denmark lost 0–2 to West Germany, finishing with three group stage defeats. In total, he played 69 international games, and scored 38 goals.
Elkjær is regarded as one of Denmark's all-time greatest forwards. A notorious smoker, his playing style was however not short of breath, being dominated by a rock-like determination. He never seemed to give up on a lost ball – from time to time resulting in a goal.
His style was an unorthodox combination of physical confrontations and great dribbling abilities. Described as "powerful and dynamic", Elkjær could hardly be stopped when going on his own, one of his trademarks. His aggression was matched by few, and whenever he would receive the ball with his back to the goal he would immediately turn with the ball and attempt to head for goal.
Elkjær's aggressive style of play was well combined with the calmness and vision of the younger Michael Laudrup when they played side by side on the national team, and they were named the "most effective" attacking duo of the 1986 World Cup.
After his retirement from playing, Elkjær took on the job as head coach of Silkeborg IF in the Danish Superliga in 1995.
In December 1996, he left the club to head TV sports channel TVS, a newly formed corporation between national TV stations DR and TV2, the Danish Football Association and telecompany Tele Danmark. The station was not a success, and was closed within a year of its opening.
Additionally, he worked as a UEFA Champions League pundit at Danish TV3+, alongside Brian Laudrup and host Jes Dorph Pedersen.1. FC Köln
DFB-Pokal: 1976–77, 1977–78
Serie A: 1984–85
Danish Player of the Year: 1984
Ballon d'Or – Third Place: 1984
Ballon d'Or – Runner-up: 1985
FIFA World Cup Bronze Ball: 1986
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 1986
Danish Football Hall of Fame
World Soccer: The 100 Greatest Footballers of All Time