Final whistle blows on a football icon
Per Bjerregaard shocked the Danish football establishment on Saturday when he stepped down as managing director of Brøndby after nearly 50 years with the club.
“I have chosen to step down from the Brøndbyernes IF Fodbold A/S board of directors effective immediately. Over the course of the past several years, there has been much drama and unrest in the media concerning myths and rumours associated with me,” Bjerregaard, 66, wrote on Brøndby’s website. “This has had an unfortunate effect in Brøndby and the club needs a calm environment to work during these trying times.”
Under Bjerregaard’s leadership, Brøndby had been an assembly line for Danish talent for decades, fostering the likes of the Laudrup brothers, Daniel Agger and Euro 2012 hero Michael Krohn-Dehli. The club itself amassed six league titles, three cup wins, and a UEFA Cup – now Europa League – semi-final appearance in 1991, the best European result in Danish football history.
The Brøndby legend helped found the club in 1964, and after taking over the reigns as managing director in 1973, the club subsequently rose from the fourth division to the top league in under a decade. In 1986, Bjerregaard made Brøndby the first Scandinavian team to become a professional club and only a year later Brøndby became the second football team in the world to become listed on the stock exchange.
“He has deserved praise for everything he has done for Danish football and Brøndby,” Per Nielsen, a team standout from 1993 to 2008, told Ekstrabladet newspaper. “He can have a clean conscience when he walks around the stadium, looking at the facilities he has helped create and thinking about the many great players he has found and shaped.”
But the former driving force of Danish professional football has run into a series of problems in recent years, culminating in last year's ninth place finish in the Superliga it once dominated. Arch rivals FC Copenhagen have replaced them at the helm of the sport in Denmark and financial problems have seen Brøndby’s many talents move elsewhere in search of better salaries. Six players on Denmark’s Euro 2012 team started their careers in Brøndby, but only one remains.
And Bjerregaard has scared off many potential financial backers with his hands-on approach, leading critics to call his management style obsolete and unsuited to running a modern day football club.
As the club's performance on the pitch worsened, fans began to turn their dissatisfaction toward Bjerregaard, vehemently voicing their desire to see him out. With Brøndby starting this season at the bottom of the Superliga with zero points after two games, Bjerregaard finally decided that he’d had enough.
Yet while the curtain has fallen on the Bjerregaard era, the future of Brøndby is still alive, kicking and brimming with potential.
The club still produces the most talents in Denmark and financial backers are already circling the club now that Bjerregaard has left. One reaction, albeit a perhaps knee-jerk one, to his abdication is the 43 percent rise in stock value of the club in only two days.
Sten Lerche, the new managing director, certainly has a lot of work to do and tremendous shoes to fill, but he should find that the path to resurgence lies in the direction set by his predecessor.