As Major League Soccer's Goalkeeper of the Year for 2012, Jimmy Nielsen - with his on-field skills and oversized personality - has become a favorite of Sporting KC fans.
But as he reveals in his new memoir, Nielsen came to his current success the hard way, overcoming a gambling addiction that earned him the nickname "Casino Jimmy."
Neilsen explores his troubled past and triumphant present during the official launch of his new book Welcome to the Blue Heaven: Don't Bet Against the Goalkeeper on Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.
Compared from a young age to Denmark's greatest-ever goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, Nielsen was scouted by Manchester United and a host of other leading European clubs. But at the point when he should have been building a great career he was instead developing a ferocious gambling habit.
In 1999, he was dropped from Denmark's Under-21 team after missing curfew because of a lost night at the roulette table. Still, Nielsen continued to gamble, with the stakes getting so high that he was able to win $500,000 on a single night at one casino and then throw most of that away at the same table a day later.
His losses finally caught up to him in 2004, when his inability to pay off a gambling debt helped put a major bookie out of business. Avoiding bankruptcy only with financial assistance from his soccer club and with the support of a family he feared would desert him, Nielsen gradually pieced his life back together.
Nielsen spent almost his entire career with one Danish team - he started a record 398 games and won the Danish championship in 1999 - but was ready for a change and contemplating retirement from soccer when in 2010 a phone call from Kansas City offered him a contract with an American club he didn't even know existed.
Nielsen could not even have pointed out Kansas City on a map at that stage, but two years on he claims he is the happiest he has ever been with a new lease on life.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP at kclibrary.org  or call 816.701.3407.