The problems with winning a title
7 July ~ Montpellier's first Ligue 1 title, secured by seeing off the challenge of Paris Saint-Germain, the nouveau riche and dominant force in French football for the foreseeable future, was not European football’s only fairytale finish last season. In Denmark, FC Nordsjaelland pipped FC Copenhagen on the final day to earn their first Danish title and qualification for the Champions League group stages. Their triumph was every bit as unlikely and just as impressive. The club has only existed for 21 years. Founded as Farum Boldklup in 1991 from a merger between Farum IK and Stavnsholt BK, they became FC Nordsjaelland in 2003.
From a town of just 18,000 people, they won the Danish Cup in 2010 and retained it the following year, but were embroiled in a relegation battle for the majority of the league season, surviving by only five points.
Last season they began the final day top of the league, two points ahead of FC Copenhagen. Their challengers had won the previous three league titles and looked a safe bet to add a fourth before a dip in form when they took two points from four games in May.
Copenhagen took the lead against Silkeborg IF and briefly topped the table but Mikkel Beckmann scored for Nordsjaelland against AC Horsens just before half-time. Andreas Laudrup, the son of Swansea City manager Michael, scored early in the second half to extend their lead. A third goal secured the win and the title in front of a capacity 10,300 home crowd.
"This is a fantastic feeling. What a crowd and what a night," said Nordsjaelland winger Tobias Mikkelsen, who was part of Denmark's Euro 2012 squad. "I think we were great, and taking the title after a 3-0 win at home is just fantastic. This calls for a big celebration."
Manager Kasper Hjulmand, the architect of their title win, added: "I have the hardest working and most dedicated squad a coach could dream of. We have not played brilliantly all the time, but we have done things our own way and we have been trying to improve all the time."
Working within a limited budget, Nordsjaelland rely on the development of young players and have established a network of local football clubs known as Fodbold Samarbejde Nordsjaelland (FSN). There are more than 60 participating clubs and they benefit from various incentives, including loan moves, friendlies, tickets, merchandise, training camps workshops and visits. "We don’t buy stars, we develop them ourselves," claims sports director Jan Laursen. The policy has resulted in Nordsjaelland establishing an ethos and style of play that their young prospects adhere to.
Wedded to a 4-2-3-1 formation and promoting an expansive, fluid passing game, Nordsjaelland have remained true to their principles despite struggling in their 2010-11 campaign. "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," Hjulmand explained. "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."
Norsjaelland, like Montpellier, will have to fight off interest in their star performers before they take on the European superpowers. Andreas Bjelland, who has been on international duty at the European Championship with Denmark, has already agreed a move to FC Twente in the Eredivisie.
Questions also linger regarding Hjulmand’s methods, which may prove too open and naive against higher calibre Champions League opponents. "I have often heard people say that we are romantics and don’t have the cynicism to play in Europe," Hjulmand said, responding to the claims. "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."
With critics sharpening their knives and other clubs eyeing their brightest prospects, FC Nordsjaelland are already encountering the problems associated with success. But the club known as the Wild Tigers look built to last, as they prepare to embark on a historic campaign. Scott Johnson