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

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.