How Denmark has helped shape the Socceroos’ World Cup campaign | Michael Huguenin

The Danish Superliga, with its strikingly similar culture, has become a popular destination for Australian players

In 2011, Peter Christiansen opened his inbox to find he had been sent an aeroplane ticket to Australia. The ticket would not only fly him from Denmark to the other side of the world but also signal a new chapter in his career, forge a new development pathway for Australian football and, eventually, see Socceroos captain Mat Ryan make his Champions League debut.

“My eyes were opened during that two-week trip. I went everywhere,” Christiansen tells Guardian Australia before this week’s make-or-break World Cup clash between the Socceroos and Denmark. “Central Coast, Brisbane, Melbourne; I met Ange [Postecoglou], Peter Cklamovski [Postecoglou’s long-time assistant and now head coach at Montedio Yamagata].

“So I met people there; of course, Arnie [Socceroos coach Graham Arnold]) and Clarky [Socceroos fitness coach Andrew Clark], and had the chance to go and watch a lot of training… trying to understand how people were from that part of the world, and just listening, learning, and it was a really good feeling going back.”

Christiansen, who won three Danish Superliga titles as a player with FC Copenhagen, has become one of the most influential individuals in Danish football over the past decade, and is simply known as “PC”. Now back at FC Copenhagen as sporting director, Christiansen’s rise has also seen Denmark become a popular destination for Australian footballers.

When Christiansen made his first trip Down Under, just two Australians were playing in the Danish Superliga. Since then, Superliga clubs have completed 19 transfers involving Australians. Christiansen has been central to seven of those deals, while he also added Clark – the Socceroos’ fitness guru – to FC Copenhagen’s staff earlier this year.

“I think the talent [in Australia], in general, is underestimated, with us Europeans looking at it. I think there’s a lot of talent down there,” Christiansen says.

FC Copenhagen director of sports Peter Christiansen.
FC Copenhagen director of sports Peter Christiansen. Photograph: Gonzales Photo/Alamy

Back in 2011, Christiansen was head scout at Randers FC, which was looking to cement itself in the Superliga. Access to “niche markets” such as Australia, in Christiansen’s words, gave him “an edge” over bigger clubs.

Most significantly, he spent time at Central Coast Mariners in 2011 where Arnold had assembled an impressive array of young talent, including Ryan, Mustafa Amini and Bernie Ibini. While interested, Christiansen was unable to make any immediate signings, but would eventually secure Amini in 2015.

“So that basically kicked it off,” says Christiansen, who has signed Australians at all three clubs he has worked at – Randers, AGF and FC Copenhagen. “I’ve not had a bad [experience] with regards to a player or staff member from Australia.”

The wait to sign Ryan would be much longer, but Christiansen finally landed the Socceroos goalkeeper on a two-year deal in August this year. the transfer saw Ryan play in the Champions League group stage for the first time in his career.

“He played a massive part in us [FC Copenhagen] qualifying for the Champions League,” Christiansen says. “The two playoff games we had against Trabzonspor, he was absolutely outstanding, coming up big in a couple of occasions in both games. So he’s definitely been a top performer for us.”

For Christiansen, the lure of Australia was access to an undervalued market of young talent, comprising “very professional players, hard-working, good talent, good mindset, intelligent”.

It was a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Meanwhile, Australian footballers have benefitted from a new pathway to Europe. Following the Socceroos’ so-called “golden generation” of Kewell, Viduka et al, few Australians have had opportunities to play in Europe’s top leagues. Denmark has provided a culture strikingly similar to home, clubs where English is the primary working language, and a shop window for bigger leagues.

Awer Mabil, who made his European breakthrough at FC Midtjylland.
Awer Mabil, who made his European breakthrough at FC Midtjylland. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Danish pathway has broadened over the years with other clubs – in particular, FC Midtjylland – providing some competition for Christiansen. Last season, Socceroos fullback Joel King joined Odense Boldklub from Sydney FC. Awer Mabil, who has twice come off the bench so far this World Cup, is the poster boy of the Australia-Denmark talent trail. Mabil spent seven years in Midtjylland’s setup, including three stints on loan, winning the Danish Cup and the Superliga, and playing in the Champions League and Europa League. He now plays for Cadiz in La Liga.

As the Socceroos prepare to face Denmark at Al Janoub Stadium on Wednesday (Thursday morning AEDT), Christiansen is convinced that the performances of Mabil, King and others with a Danish connection at this World Cup will be critical to maintaining current pathways and blazing new trails to Europe.

“I think the Aussie national team has a big responsibility to do well because it’s also the future of a lot of young players that are at stake,” he says. “If the Socceroos do well at the World Cup, I think that Australian football will gain more recognition in Europe.”

Regardless, Christiansen plans to keep monitoring the Australian market, which he otherwise might never have discovered if not for that unexpected aeroplane ticket sent by an insistent football agent by the name of Buddy Farah, who has also represented many of the players Christiansen has signed from Australia.

“I was always trying to find a reason not to go because of my calendar. I was that busy, so, in the end, he just sent me a ticket,” Christiansen says. “And then I thought, ‘OK, now I’m going’.”

Michael Huguenin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Mat Leckie strike stuns Denmark and sends Australia into World Cup last 16
Goal in 60th minute proves decisive as Socceroos qualify for knockout phase for first time since 2006

Emma Kemp at Al Janoub Stadium

30, Nov, 2022 @5:17 PM

Article image
‘Now these guys are heroes’: Socceroos bound into last-16 date with Argentina
Mathew Leckie’s goal is now sporting folklore – the goal that sank Denmark – as Australia finished second in their group with a 1-0 win and will face Argentina in the last 16 of the World Cup

Emma Kemp at Al Janoub Stadium

30, Nov, 2022 @9:40 PM

Article image
Fans react after Socceroos beat Denmark – as it happened
Graham Arnold’s side have made it to the knockout phase of the World Cup for the first time since 2006. This blog is now closed

Elias Visontay

30, Nov, 2022 @11:38 PM

Article image
Australia 1-0 Denmark: World Cup 2022 – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: Mathew Leckie’s brilliant second-half goal took the resolute Socceroos into the knockout stage. Scott Murray was watching

Scott Murray

30, Nov, 2022 @5:20 PM

Article image
Socceroos enjoy perennial underdog status and plot Denmark conquest | Emma Kemp
Every Australian team in history has been underestimated, says Craig Goodwin, and that suits Graham Arnold’s squad just fine

Emma Kemp in Doha

27, Nov, 2022 @9:32 PM

Article image
Emotional Denmark focused on must-win clash with Australia
Denmark manager, Kasper Hjulmand, said emotions were running high in their camp before the must-win game against Australia

Emma Kemp in Doha

29, Nov, 2022 @3:37 PM

Article image
Denmark 1-1 Australia: World Cup 2018 – as it happened
Minute-by-minute: The Socceroos earned a creditable draw in Samara but it might not be enough to keep their World Cup hopes alive

Jonathan Howcroft

21, Jun, 2018 @2:35 PM

Article image
Socceroos play waiting game on Ajdin Hrustic ahead of crucial Denmark clash
Graham Arnold has delayed naming his starting XI for the final Group D match to see how his players pull up after a physical encounter with Tunisia

Emma Kemp in Doha

29, Nov, 2022 @11:17 PM

Article image
Denmark face test of nerve as Australia plan for Eriksen’s quality | Emma Kemp
With distractions off the pitch, and a lack of goals on it, the Danes must overcome a bouncing Socceroos to qualify

Emma Kemp in Doha

28, Nov, 2022 @6:19 PM

Article image
Graham Arnold calls for more resources and reform in Australian football
Graham Arnold has expressed ‘massive concerns’ over the state of football development in Australia on the eve of the Socceroos’ decisive World Cup group match with Denmark

Emma Kemp in Doha

29, Nov, 2022 @5:39 PM