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.

The crisis baton passes to Leicester City and Brendan Rodgers

LEICESTER CITY’s latest defeat,  at Tottenham Hotspur by six goals to two, underlines the crisis that is unfolding at the club. It also highlights the plight of their manager, Brendan Rodgers, who will be only too aware that he has a big hole to quickly dig himself out of. In the Premier League, there is always a “crisis club” and this season, the baton has passed from Manchester United to Liverpool to Chelsea to Leicester City. The moment a club dips into the crisis zone, they are rarely left alone to work themselves out.

The media, the owners and the fans start to analyse the situation and the answer is invariably a demand for drastic action. It is difficult for any club chairman not to do anything and it usually ends in the manager getting the sack, either by “mutual consent” or “in the interests of the club”. The future of Brendan Rodgers is now the most talked-about topic in the city of Leicester, aside from the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Leicester’s situation is not good, the results speak for themselves, played seven, lost six, one point, 22 goals conceded. Admittedly, they have had three very difficult away trips and in their seven games, four have been against the “big six”. But from the corresponding fixtures last season, Leicester picked up 10 points, so a decline has clearly taken place – in 2022, Leicester’s win rate in the Premier is 25%, in 2021, it was 45%.

This is arguably the biggest crisis of Rodgers’ career, his statistics are actually very healthy, with an overall career win rate of 52%. It is doubtful that Leicester would get a better coach in terms of his track record. He led Leicester to the FA Cup in 2021, beating one of his former employers, Chelsea, in the final.

The current position is such that a section of Leicester’s support turned against Rodgers and are calling for his dismissal. These days, it doesn’t take much for the dial to drift into the red, even if you did win the only FA Cup in the club’s history. Rodgers, as he said in his post-match interview, knows the score.

Rodgers has spoken of a chaotic summer at the King Power, with the club investigated by UEFA concerning Financial Fair Play and understandably cautious around transfer market activity. Fortunately, they escaped any sanctions from the governing body.

Leicester did lose two key players in Kasper Schmeichel (to Nice) and Wesley Fofana (Chelsea), which yielded a considerable amount of cash. Although pressure must be growing, Rodgers said before the game with Spurs that he has good backing from his board. “They have been very supportive, but I am not daft. I understand football but their support probably shows the level of work we’ve done here and the work behind the scenes.”

Leicester have a reputation for being well run and people consider they have very committed and reasonable owners. In 2020-21, the most recent financials released, the club generated £ 226 million in revenues, a 51% increase on 2019-20, but 85% of income is spent on wages. The club has more than £ 230 million of net debt, with over £ 200 million owed to the owners. Leicester made a profit of £ 44 million on player trading, an important part of their business model. Leicester is a club that does sell its top players from time to time and they do have talent that other clubs would willingly acquire for large sums of money. James Maddison is one such player and there was considerable interest from Newcastle United, among others, in the summer window. If they need to raise money to strengthen in the new year, a big fee could be received for the England international.

Reports suggest that Rodgers appears to have been dissatisfied with the club’s recruitment system. Since the last window ended, Leicester have hired a new head of recruitment, Martyn Glover, but the full benefit of his arrival won’t truly be felt until 2023. He has also spoken out about the need for fans to encourage players as the anxiety generated from the stands can affect the team. His comments were not appreciated by some of Leicester’s supporters and “Rodgers out” banners started to appear among the crowd.

Such is the short-termism of football, and that doesn’t just include boards and owners but also supporters of most clubs, the temptation will be to replace Rodgers. The days when chairmen take a chance that things will turnaround seem to have gone. However, will Leicester City actually get someone better and is nobody given the benefit of the doubt anymore?