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!

Euro 2020: When football witnesses a life and death situation

ANYONE watching the Denmark versus Finland group game, in the stadium or on TV, probably came away vowing never to listen to anyone who claims football is more important than life or death. 

It’s hard, even four or five days later, to erase the images of Christian Eriksen struggling for life and the reaction of his team-mates, distraught and tearful as they shielded their friend from prying eyes. Whatever happens in the rest of the tournament, the abiding memory of Euro 2020 will surely be Christian Eriksen.

Watching somebody’s life or death moment is harrowing, it also encroaches on a very private moment that really shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the world. Only a couple of months ago, I was involved in an incident where an elderly fellow went crashing to the floor across the road from me as I walked into town. There was a thud, a crack and a cry for help from his wife, as blood ran into the road. I ran across to help and he looked dead – his wife thought so, too. 

However, the emergency services came and 10 minutes later, they were still attempting to revive him. I think he died as I was ushered away by the police. This sad affair stayed with me for the rest of the day, indeed the entire week. Christian Eriksen’s fight for life was one of those moments. People were very shaken up. You didn’t want to look, but you didn’t want to look away as it felt as though we were all with him, rooting for his recovery. 

Happily, oh so very happily, he pulled through and although his playing days may be over, he’s young enough to have a rich, fulfilling career and family life. In subsequent games, it is noticeable that when a player goes down, people are just that little bit more wary. This is likely to be a lasting hangover from this confusing summer.

The fans were marvellous, an example to the fruit-cakes that often prowl the streets when there’s a major competition in progress. I’m biased, of course, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from Danes and Finns. 

For football, it’s another question mark about the safety of the game and the well-being of those that play it. We’ve learned from our mistakes when it comes to crowds, their safety and security, but increasingly, there are concerns about players and how well they are protected from danger.

For some years, the issue about dementia and heading the ball has come to the fore. More and more, we hear of players dying with Alzheimer’s or similar conditions. In days of old, when footballs weighed a lot more than they do today, constant heading of the ball could leave the mark of the laces on your forehead. There’s a lot of research being done, but you do get the feeling tthere’s a reluctance to admit that constantly thudding the head with a leather ball can cause neurological damage. 

You can only assume that Christian Eriksen is/was a very healthy and fit individual. Equally, the tests and precautions that professional players undergo must be considerable. Good health is not something anyone can take for granted, not even finely-tuned sportsmen and sportswomen. But when a body is constantly under stress, there must be risks, both visible and hidden. It is feasible that going forward, club medical teams are going to pay even more attention to the physiology of their players.

What was surprising and somewhat disappointing was UEFA’s reaction. With so much emphasis on mental health in the modern game, did they not think that Denmark (and Finland) might be affected by what they had witnessed? To go ahead with the game, some two hours later, with players still shell-shocked, was foolhardy and unnecessary. Do they never factor in disruption? Does football ever factor in anything going wrong on or off the pitch? I think we know the answer.

Meanwhile, Christian Eriksen continues to recover. We’re pleased.


Photo: ALAMY