Reigning MLS All-Star and goalkeeper of the year Jimmy Nielsen opens up about his gambling addiction as well as his professional soccer career in a new autobiography, which Ascend Books released this week.
Nielsen co-wrote “Welcome to the Blue Heaven: Don’t Bet Against the Goalkeeper” with Paolo Bandini, a St. Louis-based freelance writer who spent six years writing soccer for the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper.
“I made one (an autobiography) six years ago,” Nielsen said. “It was a few years after I was done with gambling. I came here to America and, when people got to know me a little better, people would ask me about that book in Denmark and if it was possible to get it translated into English.”
Nielsen wasn’t keen on that idea, but as several friends and fans persisted he warmed up to the idea of updating his life’s story.
“I was getting motivated for another one, not just to translate the old, but a new one that is very updated,” Nielsen said.
The result is a 240-page book that chronicles Nielsen’s rise to prominence as Sporting KC’s beloved goalkeeper, starting with the harrowing tale of Otto — a family pet Nielsen spent more than $3,000 to move from Denmark to Kansas City with his family.
Of course, such sums pale in comparison to the amounts “Casino Jimmy” used to drop in sports books or gambling parlors — and those tales are chronicled at times in unflattering but always honest reflection.
“When I read the book, it feels like I’m reading about another person,” Nielsen said. “It doesn’t feel like it was me, because it’s been eight years since I quit gambling. It’s a little strange to read that stuff for me. It’s not hard, but it’s just strange.”
Still, Nielsen — who said the rapport that developed with Bandini made such frank discussion of his past easy — felt it was worth opening up about, because his story might help others dealing with their own gambling addiction.
“I’m over that now and I hope I can help someone with the book here and give the people a chance to get to know me better,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen, whose more familiar nickname in Kansas City is “White Puma,” has become a fan favorite for his charisma and selflessness working with the community.
It doesn’t hurt that he has emerged as one of the best in MLS during the last four seasons. Nielsen owns the clubs all-time shutout record (39) and has the best goals-against average in MLS history at 0.99 (minimum 3,000 minutes).
“He’s been a tremendous addition to our organization in so many ways, so we’re very lucky to have him,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said.
Now, lucky fans can also get to know Nielsen a little better through his own words.
“We had a lot of fun with and spent a lot of time with it,” he said. “I was happy the other day when I saw the final result.”