As the kickoff to Euro 2012 inches ever closer, one would expect a certain degree of abuse for being more optimistic about Denmark’s chances at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. While many are looking forward to seeing the Danes trying to beat the odds this summer, it’s difficult not to be despondent about their chances and look a little further down the road.
Given the current crop of Danish teenagers already plying their trade in Europe top leagues, there are many reasons to be optimistic – six in fact. In the last few months alone, a sextet of Danish youngsters, ranging from 15 to 18 years of age – Kenneth Zohore, Christian Nørgaard, Pierre Emile Højbjerg, Andreas Christensen, Lasse Vigen Christensen and Viktor Fischer – have been snapped up by big foreign clubs.
The most gleaming talent of them all is attacking midfielder Fischer. After demolishing the Barcelona youth team with two goals and an assist, Fischer’s incredible potential is becoming clear for all to see, the Ajax coach and former Dutch great, Wim Jonk, told the Ajax Life Fanzine.
“We see the same potential in Viktor as we saw in Christian Eriksen a couple of years ago. If he continues to develop and grow as a footballer, he will be ready to step up when Eriksen moves on.”
Yet the positive change should not come as too much of a surprise. In 2011, the Danish national under-17 team beat England, France and hosts Serbia on their way to the semis of the European Championships. They lost to a tough German side, but earned a place at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico a month later, making them the first Danish youth squad to ever qualify for a World Cup.
Five of the aforementioned six played for the under-17s last year. In an interview with DR, the Danish national team manager Morten Olsen indicated that it was not a coincidence that Danish youth football has begun to foster an increasing number of gifted talents.
“There is a definite trend. Our talent development strategy was modified about five or six years ago and the results are more skilled youth players, not only technically, but on a tactical level as well. The progress is splendid as it gives a clear signal to everyone involved in the talent development process, at a club and national level, that the strategy we incorporated a few years ago is beginning to pay off.”
And the sextet to watch out for aren’t the only youngsters making inroads – they’ve got older brothers as well! Among them are Christian Eriksen and Nicolai Boilersen (both of Ajax), Frederik Sørensen (Juventus), Jannik Vestergaard (Hoffenheim) and Nicolai Jørgensen (Leverkusen).
Boilersen has already cemented himself as the starting left back in Morten Olsen’s first eleven, and club team mate Eriksen is arguably the brightest talent to come through the youth ranks since the Laudrup brothers. As longtime Ajax scout John Steen Olsen contends, this potent production of gifted young players has not gone unnoticed outside the Danish footballing borders.
“I think that Denmark is beginning to reap the rewards of the system that Morten Olsen implemented, but I also believe that youth coaches, such as the under-17 coach Thomas Frank, have done a fantastic job,” he told Tipsbladet.
There is a good chance that additional Danish youngsters are poised to leave for greener pastures. A 17-year-old, Lucas Andersen, who plays for Aalborg BK, recently became the youngest ever player to be selected for Morten Olsen’s ‘Ligalandshold’, a national team based solely on players from the domestic league.
So as the Euros in Poland and Ukraine steadily approach, will there be another rising star picked for the national team as they do battle in the ‘group of death’ with the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal? Although Eriksen was only 18 and the youngest player at the 2010 World Cup, Morten Olsen insists that a repeat is unlikely.
“You never know, there could be a surprise inclusion of one of the young starlets,” he told DR. “But then the talent would have to be extraordinary, to the point where it is clear that the individual has a bright future in the national team.”
The Danish national squad for the Euro 2012 may not feature any of these up-and-comers, but Olsen and his colleagues are continuing to get the most out of the talent available. And who knows, don’t be shocked if all six in this article end up standing on the pitch in Russia, proudly singing the national anthem in 2018.
Factfile | The six to watch
Viktor Fischer has scored an impressive 20 goals in 30 games for the Danish under-17 side, and the 17-year-old joined Ajax from FC Midtjylland last summer. (Photo: Aleksandar Djorov)
Kenneth Zohore, who turned 18 in January, was sold by FC Copenhagen to Italian Serie A side Fiorentina.The recently lumbering striker is related to Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. (Photo: Jens Dresling)
Lyngby BK have always developed good talent and recently sold 17-year-old central midfielder Christian Nørgaard to Hamburg SV. (Photo: Per Kjærbye)
Highly rated midfielder Pierre Emile Højbjerg is only 16 and also chosethe German route, joining giants Bayern Munich from Brøndby IF. (Photo: Per Kjærbye)
Chelsea beat out interest from Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Ajaxto lock up 15-year-old defender Andreas Christensen, who will join them this summer from Brøndby IF. (Photo: Per Kjærbye)
English Premier League side Fulham has also got in the mix, picking up 17-year-old midfielder Lasse Vigen Christensen from Midtjylland. (Photo: Per Kjærbye)