The formation of a new club brings an intriguing new twist to the forthcoming season in Denmark.
By Jim Holden
Formed by the merger of two former Danish champions, HB Koge had been in existence for just three weeks when this season’s Superliga got under way.
Final approval of what the Danes call the “fusion” of football clubs meant that Herfolge Boldklub and Koge BK – who for many years were fierce local rivals on the rural east coast of Sjaelland, 30 miles south of Copenhagen – became the fifth of the 12 Superliga clubs to be started this way.
The twist in this particular deal, however, is that it’s very much a case of the smaller club taking over their larger neighbours – Herfolge being a tiny village of 3,000 people, while Koge is the main provincial town.
Koge BK’s claim to fame is that, in 1954, they became the first club from outside the capital, Copenhagen, to win the title. Another league triumph followed in 1975, but in recent times they have been overshadowed by Herfolge, who won the Superliga in 2000 under the guidance of coach John Jensen.
HB Koge will play their home matches in Herfolge, while the reserves and juniors will play in Koge’s old stadium, the ground where Jon Dahl Tomasson learned his football as a teenager.
How will they fare? Well, Herfolge were winners of the Danish first division last season, and have an inspirational young coach in Auri Skarbalius, a 36-year-old Lithuanian who spent 10 years playing for Brondby, and the boost from the merger may make them more than the mere cannon fodder that is the fate of many teams who are promoted to the top flight.
“The board has not set high goals,” said Skarbalius. “But we will try to finish as far up the table as possible. I pay a lot of attention to stamina and technique in training sessions because my philosophy is that if you have possession of the ball then your opponents can’t hurt you. We have selfless players and they have shown what they can do.”
One of those players is 20-year-old Mads Laudrup, son of Danish legend Michael. However, the youngster is finding it harder than expected to make his way in the game.
Favourites for the Superliga title are undoubtedly FC Copenhagen – themselves formed by a merger in 1992 – who have won six of the last nine titles and have by far the strongest squad, with several current Denmark internationals. Coach Stale Solbakken has made no significant additions to the squad so far, although his Brazilian striker Ailton has been the subject of much interest from overseas.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the defending champions will be success in the Champions League, as an extended run could overstretch their resources.
That certainly happened to AaB last season as the Aalborg club struggled to cope with the demands of the domestic league and the Champions League group stage. It is hard to see AaB challenging at the top again, though, after an exodus of several influential players, including Thomas Augustinussen to Salzburg, Kasper Risgaard to Arminia Bielefeld of Germany and the return of Siyabonga Nomvete to South Africa to join Moroka Swallows.
Most pre-season attention has focused on Brondby, who fell away badly in the final few games of the last campaign after looking well placed to win the title. Supporters complained that the team was too defensive under new coach Kent Nielsen, but he has rejected the charge, saying: “I do want us to play attacking and entertaining football, but you also have to be realistic. What I have said is that if you have to play five per cent more defensively to make the strongest challenge you can in the Superliga, then I will do that. I don’t apologise for that point of view.”
Nielsen’s first foray into the transfer market backed up his philosophy as he signed veteran Sweden defender Mikael Nilsson from Panathinaikos.
Brondby are certainly the most likely challengers to FC Copenhagen, along with OB Odense, who have made steady progress in recent times and finished runners-up last season. They have been very active during the summer, acquiring Heerenveen full-back Timmi Johansen and Brazilian striker Caca from AaB.
The rest of the Superliga are likely to be looking over their shoulders at relegation although older fusion clubs Midtjylland and Nordsjaelland ought to be safe enough after several seasons of mid-season stability.
However, more danger lies ahead for a raft of clubs, with the two relegation teams likely to come from Esbjerg, Randers, SonderjyskE, AGF Aarhus and promoted Silkeborg.