Crunch time in Denmark

MAY 16 2023: It almost summer in Copenhagen this weekend, with crowds flocking to see the Danish capital’s marathon and Brøndby playing FC København in the Superliga. The home side, from the west side of greater Copenhagen, are not in the running for the title, but FCK are battling it out with FC Nordsjaelland with Viborg hoping they will both slip-up. In a few days, the Danish Cup final will take place with Aalborg facing FCK.

FC Nordsjaelland are from Farum, a sleepy town of 20,000 people about half an hour from the city on the S-Tøg. They’ve been champions once, in 2012 and that earned them a Champions League campaign that saw them in the group stage and up against Chelsea and Juventus. Their Right to Dream stadium holds 10,000 people and has an artificial pitch.

By contrast, FC København play at Parken, the national stadium in Denmark in the well-heeled neighbourhood of Østerbro. Founded in 1992 from a merger of B1903 and KB, FCK are drawing some good crowds at the moment and their second stage games have attracted 90,000-plus. Interestingly, Parken also has one of those exceedingly expensive Nordic cuisine restaurants, Geranium, where lunch, called “Spring Universe” can cost you DKK 3,800 (around £450). Tickets for games at the ground are somewhat cheaper.

FCK beat Brøndby 3-1 with goals from leading scorer Viktor Claesson, Christian Sørensen and Claesson’s fellow Swede, Jordan Larsson. Later in the city centre, a few FCK shirts could be seen in Nyhavn, celebrating with probably the best lager in the world. FC Nordsjaelland drew 1-1 in Aarhus, and are one point behind FCK.

With UEFA introducing the Conference League, clubs from countries like Denmark can hold realistic hopes of a very decent European campaign. This season, Basel have demonstrated what can be done with focus and a little good fortune. Danish domestic football is still overlooked by many people, but a team like FCK should be able to hold its own in the Conference League. They may not be able to compete in the Champions League or Europa League, but the third tier should be far more comfortable for the best Danish teams.

Neil Fredrik Jensen

FC Copenhagen win the Superliga and strengthen the brand

THE strongest sporting brand in the Nordic region – that’s how FC København describe themselves, and after winning their 14th league triumph in the 30 years of the club’s existence, it’s hard to disagree. On the day that FCK clinched the Superliga title, the wonderful city of Copenhagen was awash with supporters heading to Parken for the final game of the campaign against Aalborg, a 3-0 success that made it impossible for Midtjylland to catch the team from the heart of the capital.

Although FCK’s rivals in the west of Copenhagen, Brøndby might disagree, there’s something about the club that’s rather compelling. Maybe it is the brilliant white and royal blue colours, perhaps it is the stadium, but it could also be the identity of the club, which carries the name of one of the most popular cities in Europe at the moment.

The world loves anything Nordic: the laid-back attitude of its people, the simplicity of innovative design from Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the healthy and down-to-earth lifestyles and the rather acquired taste of new Nordic cuisine. If a Danish club is ever going to look the Germans, French and English in the eye in the 21st century, it could be FC København from the well-heeled area of Østerbro.

FCK finished just three points ahead of Midtjylland, a club owned by Matthew Benham, who is better known as the owner of Brentford. Benham’s analytical approach to team-building and transfers was tried out in Denmark before he applied his methods to Brentford, the club he had supported for many years. Midtjylland were formed out of a merger between Ikast and Herning Fremad and have won three Superliga titles, the most recent in 2020. They looked good for another championship for much of 2021-22, but FCK overtook them late on and then dominated the decisive Championship round. Nevertheless, they are considered to be one of Europe’s smartest clubs.

There was compensation for Midtjylland in the form of the Danish Cup (Sydbank Pokalen), which they won on penalties against OB. Rather uniquely, they played in all three of UEFA’s competitions, starting in the Champions League before dropping into the Europa and then Conference. Midtjylland’s relatively small squad includes half a dozen Brazilians, one of whom, Evander, netted 17 goals and was among the SuperLiga’s top scorers and finished third in the player of the year voting.

Evander was beaten to the award by Spain’s Pep Biel, FCK’s leading scorer with 18 goals across all competitions. Biel, who comes from Majorca, was the most expensive signing in Superliga history when he moved to Denmark from Zaragoza for a € 5 million fee. He took time to settle, his relatively small frame strolling to adjust to the physical Danish league, but he not only scored goals but created a few for his team-mates. “At first it was difficult for me,” he said. “I’m not the tallest or strongest, but is also played with movement and skill with the ball.”

Biel secured 25% of the votes from fellow professionals and in second place was the league’s top striker, Nicklas Helenius of Silkeborg, who scored 17 SuperLiga goals. The 31 year-old, who nudges almost two metres in height, had an unhappy spell with Aston Villa between 2013 and 2015.

One very positive aspect of the 2021-22 season were the crowds. FCK, for example, recorded the best ever average gates in the Superliga, a very impressive 24,300 and also drew 35,000 for their title-winning game against Aalborg. That game was also marred by a pitch invasion. Interest in the club appears to be gathering momentum and already they have sold 16,000 season tickets for next season.

Less successful were AGF from Aarhus, who took the bold step of hiring former Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere. He managed 14 appearances, although very few 90 minute performances, and was never on the winning side. AGF were in danger of relegation but stayed up by a single point, which was fortunate given they are about to benefit from a redevelopment of their stadium. Vejle and SønderjyskE went down to the first division, to be replaced by Horsens and Lyngby. Horsens will open the season against the champions at Parken on July 17.

Denmark won many friends for their performances in Euro 2020 and also for the way they reacted to the trauma suffered by midfielder Christian Eriksen. They have qualified for the World Cup in Qatar and will come up against France in the group stage and they will also face them in the UEFA Nations League on June 3, 2022. Although the Danes are rarely named amongst lists of possible winners, to underestimate them would be a mistake!