14 February ~ The only unfamiliar name in the knockout stage of the Champions League is that of Chelsea’s last 16 opponents next week, FC København. It is a long while since Scandinavia have had a representative holding their own in the competition. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Norway’s Rosenberg BK were the standard-bearers, reaching the group stages 11 years out of 12, and achieving notable victories over Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Borussia Dortmund. But they only got out of the groups once, and never went beyond the quarter-finals.
FC København’s previous involvement in the Champions League saw them finish rock bottom of their group in 2005-06. So no one expected much this season when, after putting out Rosenberg on away goals, they found themselves in a group with FC Barcelona, big-spending Russian champions Rubin Kazan and Greek Champions League regulars Panathinaikos. However, far from capitulating, victories at home and away to the Greeks, a home win over Rubin and a highly commendable 1-1 home draw with Barça saw them progress comfortably in second place.
Under the guidance of their Norwegian head coach, Ståle Solbakken, whose playing career at FC Køb was cut short following a heart attack during a training session in 2001, they have taken the Danish Superliga title four times in the past five years. Formed in 1992 as an amalgamation of Kjøbenhavns Boldklub (KB), mainland Europe's oldest football club founded in 1876, and Boldklubben 1903, FC Køb have often been perceived by purists as little more than another “Franchise FC” bankrolled by the Carlsberg group. In reality, Carlsberg’s role is limited to shirt sponsorship and the club was floated on the Copenhagen stock exchange in 1997.
Today they are owned by Parken Sport and Entertainment, who have interests in concert promotion, TV production and holiday centres, and who also own the clubs enormous Parken stadium. “We are at the top in terms of budget, and the goal is to be the best in Scandinavia,” Parken chief communications officer Daniel Rommedahl told Reuters back in August. “But we budget without including revenue from qualification for the group stage (of the Champions League) even if our aim is to qualify.”
Champions in eight of the 18 years they have existed in a league that recently climbed about Scotland’s in UEFA’s league rankings, FC Køb are already 19 points clear in the Superliga this year after just 19 games. The current line-up sees former Chelsea and Birmingham winger Jesper Grønkjær as the talisman, alongside seven other Danish internationals and a smattering of imports from Brazil, Senegal, Costa Rica and of course other Scandinavian countries.
Grønkjær aside, it is a relatively young squad currently riding on the crest of a wave. The club website lists the ambitions laid out when they were founded in 1992. The final one states a desire “to spearhead the Danish attack on European club honours”. It is a bold objective, and one with the caveat “in the long term”. Many clubs have made breakthroughs such as FC Køb’s this season in the past, and soon dropped back into the pack. It remains to be seen whether they will be another. But 19 years on from that initial pledge, FC Køb are at least beginning to make some headway. David Spencer