Copenhagen’s strength in depth proved crucial as they secured a third tile in four years.
By Jm Holden
Jesper Gronkjaer returned from two years of debilitating injuries to play a crucial role in Copenhagen winning the Superliga title. For the 31-year-old it was a welcome silver lining after so much personal heartache and fear that his career might be over.
The former Ajax and Chelsea winger was outstanding in the game that all but decided the destiny of the title, scoring an early goal against eternal capital rivals Brondby to inspire a 4-0 rout in May.
Under the guidance of new coach Kent Nielsen, Brondby had taken the lead at the top of the table, with a win against Randers in their previous game, after Copenhagen had lost 3-2 to OB Odense. A point for Brondby against Copenhagen would have been enough to keep hold of their lead, and probably maintain the momentum required to claim a league crown they last won in 2005 with Michael Laudrup in charge.
Nielsen, once of Aston Villa and centre-back in Denmark’s Euro 92 triumph, had arrived during the winter break after a pre-arranged move from Horsens and his intelligent leadership had given Brondby a real chance of success. However, their challenge foundered against the brilliance of Gronkjaer on the decisive day.
Once Gronkjaer had scored in the third minute, in front of a capacity crowd at the Parken Stadium, the result was never in doubt. Brazilian forward Ailton scored twice and Oscar Wendt added a fourth for an impact that was as emphatic as the scoreline.
After that, Copenhagen easily scampered to their third championship success in four years under coach Stale Solbakken, who claimed this was the best of the lot because it had been the most closely fought.
There was no doubt that Copenhagen were the best team during the season, nor that they had the strongest squad – as the return of Gronkjaer proved.
Goalkeeper Jesper Christiansen had a fine campaign, as did Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, but perhaps the most significant overall contribution came from striker Morten Nordstrand, the Superliga’s joint-top scorer with 16 goals, alongside Marc Nygaard of Randers.
Nordstrand’s speed and quicksilver style gave Copenhagen a fine cutting edge alongside the Brazilians Ailton and Cesar Santin in a generally low-scoring season.
In stark contrast, Brondby managed to score just 55 goals in 33 games
and their top marksman, Morten Rasmussen, didn’t even make double figures. Brondby also displayed a worryingly brittle streak as they crumbled after the Copenhagen defeat and lost their final two matches.
Brondby’s collapse allowed OB to grab second place on the last day of the season with a 2-1 victory against Horsens. OB are managed by Lars Olsen, who was Kent Nielsen’s central defensive partner at Euro 92, and both are sure to be candidates to succeed Morten Olsen when he finally steps down as the current national manager.
OB and Brondby both clinched places in next season’s Europa League, and while it may be a competition scorned elsewhere it isn’t in Denmark, where the excellent run of AaB Aalborg last season was widely cheered until a narrow exit against Manchester City.
AaB were the defending Superliga champions, but they never had a hope of retaining their crown after a nightmare start in which they won only twice in their first 13 games under coach Bruce Rioch.
That was more than enough to bring a premature exit for Rioch, despite some encouraging performances in the Champions League group stage. Caretaker boss Allan Kuhn then prompted a revival that took AaB into the latter stages of the UEFA Cup before he was replaced by the long-term appointment of young Swedish coach Magnus Pehrsson.
Some thought this was a huge gamble on a manager with no pedigree, but Pehrsson immediately won over the sceptics and led AaB to the Danish Cup Final where they faced a Copenhagen team looking for the double.
It was a tight match decided by a single goal for Copenhagen from William Kvist Jorgensen in the 31st minute. Copenhagen resisted late pressure from AaB, who were inspired by their Brazilian midfielder Caca.
At the other end of the table it was a bad year for Jutland. The two relegated clubs, Horsens and Vejle, are neighbouring small-town sides who have not joined the stampede to amalgamate like so many others in recent years. Horsens never recovered from the departure of Nielsen, who had worked such a miracle to take the club into the Superliga and keep it there against heavy financial odds.
All in all, though, it was another good season for Danish football. Attendances held up well, there were decent performances in the European club competitions, and all this against the background of the national side performing so well in their qualifying section for the 2010 World Cup.