When football in Denmark is mentioned, clubs such as FC København (or FC Copenhagen) and Brøndby are usually the first two clubs that come to mind, while Aalborg BK (AaB) are another Danish club that a fairly educated football fan could name off the top of their heads. Looking at UEFA’s club coefficient rankings (Rankings that determine seeds for European competitions) it would suggest that Danish football isn’t exactly doing brilliantly, with FC København the only side above the 100th ranking (47). However, with the emergence of Danish talents in the big leagues across Europe in recent times – Christian Eriksen, Viktor Fischer, Jores Okore, Andreas Cornelius, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to name a few – Denmark must be doing something right.
This season’s Europa League could be contended by FC Midtjylland – pronounced ‘mitchyland’ – should they defeat Greek club Panathanaikos in the Play-Offs. Midtjylland’s key players consist of Morten ‘Duncan’ Rasmussen – who Celtic fans may recognize, and cringe, at the name – Sylvester ‘Sly’ Igboun, Jakob Poulsen and Erik Sviatchenko. Not exactly household names, huh? But the Ulvene-based club led the Danish top tier – the Superliga – for nearly the entire season before ‘doing a Liverpool’ and slipping down to a measly third in the final weeks. Personally I find Midtjylland to be a thriving club with a youth system that can be admired, with players like Jesper Juelsgard and Mads Albæk recently signing deals with French Ligue 1 clubs, in addition to Danes such as Simon Kjær and Viktor Fischer having played for Midtjylland before moving to bigger clubs.
That is exactly the problem, however, once players become good enough, they leave their club and go try their luck in a bigger league. This being the case for all teams in Denmark, which is seemingly the main factor as to why Danish football cannot grow, because once a player becomes a ‘star player’, that player will soon be on his way out of Denmark.
So can Danish football grow and start to challenge in European competitions further? Some positives are that lots of clubs are taking steps towards further development. FC København sold their star striker Andreas Cornelius to Cardiff, where the striker made a disappointing 8 appearances, without a single goal, before the striker got a move back to København, whilst Nicklas Helenius, of Aston Villa, has gained a loan move back to former club Aalborg. This is a step – albeit a small one – for Danish football as Cornelius and Helenius are reputable names, and their interest in playing in the Superliga could potentially attract better players to go and compete in the Superliga.
The aforementioned club FC Midtjylland are taking steps in increasing reputation abroad as Brentford owner Matthew Benham has become the majority shareholder in the club, stating “FC Midtjylland have what it takes to become a successful top club”. The clubs will be run independently but the connection between the two is a stepping stone for Midtjylland, and if they can progress into the Europa League Group Stages, then who knows what the future holds.
The issue is that, at least for the next few years, the majority of the players’ ambition will be to get a deal at a bigger club, so one way how clubs need to tackle this is by bringing in bigger name players. A good example being the MLS: David Villa, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry and Jermain Defoe all massive household names that will all be playing in the next season. Despite those players being over 30, this is the way to start changing the league from a non-desirable league to a league that players will want to participate in, and MLS clubs are moving in the right direction, Superliga clubs should take note.
Another way to tackle the problem is through European success. Way back in 1991, Brøndby reached the Semi-Final of what was known as the UEFA Cup, but ever since, clubs have never really succeeded in Europe, with the Champions League Last 16 only being reached once by FC København in 2010-11. If Danish clubs can consistently progress to further rounds in Europe over the next decade, then European football will be a huge appeal to players.
I think that if Aalborg, København and Midtjylland all manage to qualify for Europe this season, it could be the start of a potential rise in Danish football. So keep your eyes out, Denmark have a lot of talented players that are ready to dominate football across the world: Jores Okore, Lucas Andersen, Markus Bay, Pione Sisto, Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg to name just a few. Also look out for clubs like FC Midtjylland, as over the next few years – both long term and short term – Danish football could well start making steps to becoming a strong, reputable league.