A country famous for the stories of Hans Christian Andersen recently produced another fantastic fairy tale, this time of the footballing variety. Last week, Denmark crowned FC Nordsjaelland as its new champions, this after the team from a town of just 18,000 people pipped heavy favourites FC Copenhagen in the closest title race for years.
The result is that this little-known side are guaranteed a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League and could very well find themselves coming up against the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea. The climax to the season will be remembered for many years, and for several reasons.
Denmark, with a population of just five million, has not only grown accustomed to the role of underdog itself, but has also developed a special fondness for fellow outsiders. And Nordsjaelland have succeeded against all the odds. Up against a Copenhagen side firmly established as Scandinavia's dominant force, and operating on a fraction of their illustrious opponents' budget, the Farum outfit relied on the development of young players, excellent internal organisation and a fierce will to win. These qualities were never needed more than last season, when the club found itself in a relegation battle, and their head coach pinpoints that experience as crucial in preparing them for this glorious campaign.
Philosophy over finance
“We have proven that even if you don’t have that much money, you can still make it very far through great organisation, clever management, a huge belief in your ideas and an enormous determination to carry them through,” Kasper Hjulmand explained to FIFA.com. “Some might perhaps have been tempted to ring changes and hit the panic button when things were looking bleak last season, but we stuck to our concept and today we can harvest the fruits of that decision.”
Founded in 1991 as Farum Boldklub from a merger of the town's two main teams, Farum IK and Stavnsholt BK, the club later changed its name to FC Nordsjaelland in 2003. At the same time it created a network of local football clubs from the surrounding area with the aim of highlighting young talent in the region and bringing it to national attention. The network, known as Fodbold Samarbejde Nordsjaelland (FSN), has been of central importance to the club’s rise to challenge the big guns. As the clubs sports director Jan Laursen said: “We don’t buy stars, we develop them ourselves”.
Located in a small town just 20 kilometres from Copenhagen, the club did not find instant popularity in Denmark. But their style of football has transformed opinions. Spatial awareness, ceaseless movement and imaginative passing have become the watchwords of coach Kasper Hjulmand who took over the job from current Denmark U-21 coach Morten Wieghorst a year ago.
Laudrup in dreamland
With most of the squad products of FSN, Hjulmand has been able to bring out the best in talented youngsters like Andreas Laudrup, son of Danish legend Michael, Tobias Mikkelsen and Jores Okore. Hjulmand is also a staunch advocate of a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation and will next season aim to disprove those who claim that he is too idealistic to achieve success in Europe’s premier tournament.
“I have often heard people say that we are romantics and don’t have the cynicism to play in Europe,” he said. “But cynicism is not a word that should be associated with football. You can look at our record. We only conceded 22 goals in 33 matches and we won no fewer than 21 matches during the season. That should prove that our style is not only great on the eye but also very effective.”
There will also be great excitement as another member of the Laudrup family prepares to enter the international arena and follow in some famous footsteps. For Andreas, who dreams of facing either Barcelona or Real Madrid, two of his father’s former clubs, graduating to this exalted level represents a dream come true.
“If somebody had told me before the season that we were going to win the title, I would have thought they were crazy,” he told FIFA.com. “But we started off well, gradually gained confidence and belief and suddenly our dream became within reach. At the moment it´s still difficult to grasp that we are going to play in the Champions League. It will probably dawn on me when I stand in the tunnel at the Camp Nou!”