Despite being the reigning champions of the fifteenth highest ranked league in Europe, many people were left scratching their heads when Nordsjælland’s name was pulled out of Pot 4 during the draw for this year’s Champions League group stage.
In a similar situation to fellow lesser-league minnows CFR Cluj from Romania and BATE Borisov from Belarus, Nordsjælland’s lack of any major European success in recent years means that they have gone into this year’s tournament as unknown underdogs and, in many eyes, an “easy six points” for their fellow Group H sides.
But, just how easy a task will it be for last year’s Champions League winners Chelsea when they face the current Danish Superliga champions in København on Tuesday evening?
Founded twenty-one years ago as Farum BK after a merger of two local football clubs, FC Nordsjælland hail from the small North Zealand town of Farum in eastern Denmark.
In 2003, after finishing their first season in the Danish top flight in third place, thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup, Farum BK were left close to bankruptcy after the club’s founder and former mayor of the town Peter Brixtofte was forced to step down after light was shone upon his administration’s scandals and dodgy dealings, which included Brixtofte personally making deals involving his municipality paying deliberate overprices for welfare services bought from private companies who in return would sponsor the club.
However, in March 2003, Farum BK was bought by AKB Holding, the holdings company of a local businessman, and in an effort to distance the club from Brixtofte and the scandal, they rebranded the club as FC Nordsjælland.
The club ended their first season as Nordsjælland in ninth place, narrowly avoiding relegation from the Superliga, and were knocked out of the first round of the UEFA Cup by Greek side Panionios after thrashing Armenian side Shirak FC 6-0 on aggregate in the qualifying round.
The next two seasons were spent in a similar fashion, the club finishing tenth and ninth, respectively, before newly acquired striker Morten Nordstrand joined the club on a free and became the league’s top goal scorer for the first half of the 2006-2007 season with ten goals in eighteen games, helping them to a fifth place finish before being sold for fifteen million Danish kroner (just over £1.5m) to champions København, a then-record as the largest transfer fee ever paid for a player between two Danish clubs.
København’s deep pockets hit them again the following season when they bought their new star striker Martin Bernburg, and the club only managed another ninth place finish. However, they qualified for the UEFA Cup once again via the UEFA Fair Play rankings and went one better on their previous outing when they beat Estonian side TVMK Tallinn 8-0 on aggregate and Scottish side Queen of the South 4-2 on aggregate before finally succumbing 7-0 to Greece’s Olympiacos after two tough legs.
After controversy hit the club once again in September 2008 when new chairman Allan K. Pedersen sold Nordsjælland to himself from his company before they went bankrupt for the very reasonable sum of 500,000 Danish kroner (just under £53,500), the 2009-2010 season finally saw the club lift their first trophy, the Danish Cup, after beating Midtjylland 2-0 in the final after extra time, qualifying for the newly named and remodeled Europa League, before again winning the Cup the following year with yet another win over Midtjylland, as well as finishing sixth in the league.
Despite going out of the Europa League in the third qualifying round after losing 2-1 to Sporting Clube de Portugal, last season proved to be a fairytale one for the club from little Farum: trailing leaders København in second place from the start of November until the second to last game of the season, their 1-0 away win to Brøndby at the same time as København’s 1-0 loss to Midtjylland meant that Nordsjælland went two points ahead of the Danish giants with just one game left to play, and a comfortable 3-0 victory at home to Horsens four days later on the last day of the season secured the side their first ever league title.
Boasting a side that features several international players, much of Nordsjælland’s squad from last season have remained at the club for the current season. Morten Nordstrand has returned from København to join up with newly acquired Dutch forward Joshua John who joined the club on loan from Twente at the start of August, and the twenty-three-year-old has already made a huge impact after scoring eight goals in seven league games, including four in Nordsjælland’s 6-1 thumping of Silkeborg in only his second league start for the club, to become the current third top goalscorer in the Superliga.
Despite Danish international Andreas Bjelland leaving for Twente himself during the summer, three-quarters of last season’s back four that only conceded twenty-two goals in thirty-three games remain at the club. The three – Patrick Mtiliga, Jores Okore and Michael Parkhurst – all have international experience, and they are joined in the centre by twenty-one-year-old Croatian Ivan Runje who appeared seven times for the club in their title-winning season.
The middle of the park for Nordsjælland is relatively unchanged, with the frequently used group of Enoch Adu, Mikkel Beckmann, Søren Christensen, Kasper Lorentzen and captain Nikolai Stokholm all playing a major role once again, whilst being joined by Joshua John and Morten Nordstrand, as well as fellow attacking threat Andreas Laudrup, the twenty-one-year-old son of Swansea manager and Danish footballing legend Michael Laudrup.
Playing an extremely effective 4-2-3-1 formation, Nordsjælland have fantastic depth in their squad. Beckmann, Lorentzen and Nordstrand are all able to play as lone strikers, whilst either Laudrup or Lorentzen primarily occupies the right flank with either John or newly signed youngster Anders Christiansen over on the left.
Søren Christensen completes a strong midfield in the centre of the pitch, but the beauty of Nordsjælland’s attack-minded lineup is its ability to allow interchangeability between its multitude of forwards, and with fifteen league goals between them already this season, manager Kasper Hjulmand (the first Danish manager to compete in the Champions League, incidentally) has a wealth of talent at his disposal.
Battling against Chelsea, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group E, Nordsjælland’s first ever Champions League campaign is going to be an extremely difficult one indeed. Despite boasting an impressive and well-organised group of players, the Danish side lost their opening match 2-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk, and it will take a truly magical performance to see them cause an upset against a far superior Chelsea side in their first competitive game against English opposition on Tuesday evening.
However, this year is a year of firsts for the Danish champions, and, with nothing to lose in a competition that they are clearly underdogs in, Hjulmand and his men could well pull off a few tricks and surprise us all.
Written by Ben Cullimore
Follow him on Twitter @thenorsenetwork
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