“A great team with a great coach. Never as coach of Barça have I come up against such a tough, intense team.”
The words were Pep Guardiola’s, and the subject of his eulogy was not old rivals Real Madrid, but rather FC Copenhagen and Stale Solbakken. Such high praise might have raised a few eyebrows, but while this Danish outfit – formed in 1992 – might not be steeped in the history of European football, they are proving to be a spectacular modern day success story.
Last week brought a third successive league title, their eighth in 11 years and ninth overall. Yet while that tally in itself is laudable enough, and leaves the capital club just one crown short of city rivals Brondby’s entire haul, it was the manner of their triumph that caused the greatest stir.
A successful Superligaen defence had, after all, long since been assured. By the midway point in the season, FCK were 19 points clear, boasted a goal difference of +35 and had beaten their nearest challengers home and away, scoring eight times in the process. Solbakken’s side’s greatest achievement in the time since has been maintaining that relentless pace, with the title clinched with a record seven games to spare and 26 points separating them from second-placed OB.
Silverware has become the club’s staple, and already plans are afoot to ensure their stranglehold on the domestic scene continues in season number 20. “It's a feeling you never get tired of,” said FC Copenhagen CEO Anders Horsholt, reflecting on this latest triumph. “Preparations to achieve this for the tenth time are already in full swing... we have ambitions that, next season, we will round off our anniversary with ten trophies.”
Nor do their dreams begin and end in Denmark, with this season’s historic UEFA Champions League adventures having whetted appetites for more of the same. No Danish team had ever reached the knockout phase of Europe’s top competition before, but FCK rewrote the record books in a campaign that saw them claim the scalps of Rosenborg, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos en route to the last 16.
And while replicating that achievement will take some doing, Solbakken believes that a second season amid the elite is well within the club’s grasp. He said: “There’s nothing that suggests FCK can’t get to [the last 16] of the tournament next season. We had the toughest draw possible to qualify and the toughest competition in the group stage, where we met teams that were all champions in their countries. So I can’t see any reason why FC Copenhagen shouldn’t be a regular fixture in the Champions League.”
There is, of course, one potential reason – namely, the impending departure of Solbakken himself. The Norwegian announced two years ago that this season would be his last at the Parken, having committed to taking on a “dream job” as coach of his national team after the conclusion of their UEFA EURO 2012 campaign.
Key defenders Oscar Wendt, Michael Antonsson and Zdenek Popesch – all mainstays over recent years – have also indicated they will be moving on to pastures new, while there is considerable interest in Mathias Jorgensen and captain William Kvist. Consequently, fresh challenges await a club that has won five titles during Solbakken’s hugely successful five-year reign.
The key decision has been who to install as coach and, once again, the FCK board sought a Scandinavian solution, appointing Malmo’s Roland Nilsson. “We had a certain criteria, which included style of football, international experience, Scandinavian background and proven results record,” explained the club's sporting director Carsten Jensen. “Roland Nilsson more than lives up to these criteria.”
Nilsson certainly arrives with an impressive CV, his achievements including 116 Sweden caps and the title of Swedish Manager of the Year in 2011 for his title-winning exploits at Malmo. Nonetheless, he has big shoes to fill in the Danish capital, and maintaining his new employers’ domestic dominance may not be as straightforward as it seems.
Indeed, FCK could yet become victims of their own success, with their achievements in the 2010/11 Champions League having earned Demark a second place in next season’s competition. That supplementary slot opens the door to potential millions in extra revenue for the likes of OB and Brondby, and means that the days of 26-point winning margins could already be numbered.
For the moment, however, Denmark belongs to FC Copenhagen, and Solbakken can depart in the knowledge that his has been a job extremely well done.