Denmark: The big guns are troubled but the horses from Randers are happy

THERE’S a new name at the top of Danish football at the moment in the form of Randers FC from East Jutland, a club that has never before been champions of Denmark. Randers assumed the license of the old Randers Freja club that won the Danish Cup three times and reached the last eight of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1968-69. Formed in 2003, Randers once had former England defender Colin Todd as their chief coach.

Randers are leading the Superliga and are unbeaten in their first 10 games. They’re from a town of around 60,000 people, so crowds of 5,500 represent a reasonable percentage of the local population. In a season where two of the modern heavyweights of the Danish game, FC Copenhagen and Midtjylland, have got off to less than perfect starts, Randers have taken advantage to head the table. Whether they can remain in front is a matter of great debate, but they have a side that is difficult to beat with a strong defence and an outstanding goalkeeper in Patrik Carlgren, a 30 year-old Swede. Randers also have some promising players who are enjoying themselves at the moment, notably the Norwegian midfielder Lasse Berg Johnson, who has been in fine form.

FC Copenhagen have been a major disappointment this season and have lost six of their 10 league games. They qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and have a tough fixture list that includes Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Manchester City. They were beaten 3-0 in Dortmund and were held 0-0 by Sevilla in the Danish capital. But a series of defeats cost coach Jess Thorup his job.

The 52 year-old was a popular figure, but the team he left behind lost more Superliga games in the opening weeks than they suffered in the whole of 2021-22. They were also beaten at home 3-1 by Randers, a game that underlined that the balance of power was shifting in Denmark. FC Copenhagen, despite discarding their man, were full of praise for Thorup: “We must offer a big thank you to Jess for his exemplary work, not least in connection with the major transformation that FCK has gone through over the past few years. With Jess the club has succeeded in winning a Danish championship and securing the first qualification for the UEFA Champions League group stage since 2016.” Jacob Neestrup, the club’s assistant coach has taken over from Thorup.

Equally, FC Midtjylland have not been at their absolute best and are languishing in seventh place. They are currently playing in the Europa League and recently thrashed Lazio 5-1 in Denmark. But in the Superliga, their form has been patchy although they beat FC Copenhagen 2-1 in a game that proved to be Thorup’s last in charge of the reigning champions.

Brøndby, who have struggled to keep pace with the financial power of FCK and Midtjylland, look like they are on the verge of being taken over. The club, which is listed on the stock market, saw its share price rise on rumours that US businessman David Blitzer, who has investments in other clubs such as Crystal Palace, Augsburg and ADO Den Haag, was looking to buy a major stake in the 11-times champions. Some fans are not happy about the prospect, as Blitzer is a senior executive at private equity firm Blackstone. He’s also been trying to buy a stake in France’s Saint-Étienne. The fan group Alpha believes that Blitzer, effectively a multi-club owner, would not be compatible with Brøndby.

However, there are some football followers who believe Brøndby actually need fresh investment and that in acquiring some of chairman Jan Bech Andersen’s 54.6% holding, Blitzer can move the club up a gear to become more competitive. At present, the club relies on selling talent into the market to generate income and lacks the muscle of some of its rivals. They recently changed their approach of only signing talent under the age of 27 and bought 33 year-old Daniel Wass from Atlético Madrid as well as other more mature players. Brøndby won the Superliga in 2021, but it was their first title since 2005.

Alpha have written to Andersen to urge him not to sell to Blitzer: “Brøndby IF must be owned, run and loved by people who respect the club’s DNA and have Brøndby IF as their first and only priority.” After the international break, the Superliga programme resumes, by which time, Brøndby’s future may be clearer.

Sweden: Häcken and Djurgårdens go head-to-head

WHILE Sweden’s women are making a splash in Euro 2022, the men’s league programme is approaching the mid-point, with BK Häcken of Göteborg and Stockholm’s Djurgårdens leading the way. Last season’s champions, Malmö are languishing in fifth place, but cannot be written off.

Häcken host Djurgårdens on July 24 in a big top-of-the-table clash on the artificial turf at the Bravida Arena. It has been an interesting season so far, with crowds averaging 10,400 – currently the best average since 1968 – and Häcken launching a bid for their first Allsvenskan title.

Häcken are in their first full season with Norwegian national team manager Per-Mathias Høgma in charge of the club. Last season, they finished 12th, but in the previous four years, Häcken had been one of the most consistent clubs in Sweden. Their patient build-up play and very controlled defence have proved very successful in 2022-23, and before meeting Djurgårdens, they had lost just once, at home to IFK Göteborg.

Häcken are not one of Sweden’s best supported clubs, their current average is around 4,500, but the game with Djurgårdens could fill their home ground. Häcken have benefitted from the goals of 28 year-old Alexander Jeremejeff, who has netted 14 times in 12 games. The journeyman striker was previously with Dynamo Dresden but also had a loan spell with Twente. Another forward, Leo Bengtsson, has moved from Häcken to Aris Limassol after two and a half years with the club.

Reigning champions Malmö started the season well, but then had a losing streak that lasted three games. They’ve lost four times already, after just five defeats in the whole of 2021. They have had the distraction of the Champions League qualifiers, getting past Vikingur Reykjavik and are in the middle of a two-legged tie with Lithuania’s Žalgiris. They lost the first game 1-0 in Vilnius. Malmö are struggling to score goals, just 19 so far compared to 58 in 2021.

AIK are in third place, just behind the front two, hoping to win their first Allsvenskan since 2018, and Stockholm rivals Hammarby, who enjoy the best crowds, more than 27,000 , are in fourth.

Swedish football continues to be something of a nursery for other football markets, such as the Premier League and Ligue 1. The national team didn’t qualify for the 2022 World Cup, but in Euro 2020, only three of the 26-man squad was playing in domestic football in Sweden and most were spread right across Europe. However, only the Danish Superliga has a higher ratio of club-trained players among Europe’s leagues and the Allsvenskan also has one of the lowest percentages of expatriates (just 28%).

Swedish football tries to make a broader contribution to society and last year, Malmö pledged to increase employment opportunities for refugees. The city has had its problems with migrants and has a history of engaging refugees, such as during the second world war when they helped save 7,000 Danish Jews.

Although Malmö are currently trailing the likes of Häcken, many will expect them to make a strong bid for the title in the second half of the season. IFK Göteborg are still a long way from their historic highs and last won the Allsvenskan in 2007. They can still draw 15,000 to their stadium, but they have been overtaken on the field by Malmö, among others.

Häcken and Djurgårdens may not last the pace, but they have a chance to strengthen their title bids when they meet at the Bravida. Häcken went close in 2012, finishing runners-up to Elfsborg by just two points, Djurdårdens, who have won the Allsvenskan eight times, were last champions in 2019. A victory for Häcken would endorse their credentials, but there’s still half a season to run in the 2022 Allsvenskan.