Rangers v Brondby: How history of Danish side's academy has fuelled national team success

By Nick McPheatBBC Scotland
Denmark celebrate winning Euro 1992
Over half of Denmark's squad that won Euro 1992 have a past with Brondby
Europa League: Rangers v Brondby
Venue: Ibrox, Glasgow Date: Thursday, 21 October Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Listen to updates on BBC Radio Scotland and follow live text coverage on BBC Sport website & app

Brian Laudrup. Andreas Christensen. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. John Jensen. Jannik Vestergaard. Nicolai Boilesen. Kim Christofte. Jens Stryger Larsen. Daniel Wass.

Not only were they all part of Brondby's academy in their early careers, but those nine players also featured across Denmark's squads at either Euro 1992 or 2020.

In fact, a staggering 11 of the 20-man squad that became European champions almost three decades ago have a past at the Danish club - including captain Lars Olsen, goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and cup-final goalscorers Jensen and Kim Vilfort.

"When you are a small country, you need to have good team spirit because you won't have the 11 best players," Vilfort, who netted the second goal in the final win over Germany, tells BBC Scotland.

"We built that spirit up at the national team because there were a lot of the same players there that had played at Brondby.

"Between the 1980s and 1990s, Brondby were the biggest club in Denmark and it was easier back then to build a team with good homegrown players because not many moved abroad."

'We didn't do enough to keep them'

Vilfort - now one of Brondby's academy directors - has overseen the Danish side's youth set-up since 1998, watching the likes of Chelsea's Christensen, Tottenham's Hojbjerg and Leicester City's Vestergaard break through before becoming vital cogs in Denmark's current squad.

After a traumatic start to Euro 2020, with Christian Eriksen suffering a cardiac arrest in their opening game, Denmark rallied to reach the semi-final, with Christensen, Hojbjerg, Vestergaard, Wass and Stryger Larsen playing their parts.

The Danes have since cruised to World Cup qualification, with Kasper Hjulmand's side winning all eight of games so far in Scotland's group.

"I remember sorting out their first contracts and talking with their families," Vilfort recalls. "We're always delighted to see them do well, but at that time we didn't do enough to keep them here as long as we could.

"Some of them had a big interest in going abroad and only two [Wass and Stryger Larsen] played a senior game. Money talks, that makes it so difficult to build a team.

"Even if they play for the first team, they are gone after a year. It would be better if they played 50 or 100 matches before they left, but that's football today. Maybe if we can get some of the agents' money, that would be nice."

Frank's impact on academy relaunch

After years of financial trouble, the Danish side turned their attention to current Brentford coach Thomas Frank to guide the club in 2013.

That appointment coincided with a relaunch of the youth set-up - now referred to as the 'Masterclass' academy - which Frank embraced and became an integral part of.

"We had no money to get players, but we had a strong youth team at under-18s and under-19s," Vilfort says. "Thomas had only managed Denmark's youth teams at that point so it was a perfect time to have a coach like him.

"When you have Thomas Frank, you know you have a coach that cares about youth. You won't always have a first-team coach like that, but Thomas was absolutely fantastic. It's great to see what he's doing in England now."

Brondby's academy players graphic
Nine players that featured across Denmark's successful Euro 1992 and 2020 squads were products of Brondby's academy

The Laudrup family connection

The first surname - Laudrup - on the list of academy products runs deep at the Danish club. It also resonates fondly with Rangers fans, whose side face the club at which arguably their greatest-ever player started his career.

Both Brian and brother Michael were part of Brondby's youth set-up, while father Finn played a vital role in the club's early history.

"The Laudrup connection with Brondby goes all the way back to his dad," Toke Theilade, editor of vilfortpark.dkexternal-link, tells BBC Scotland. "Finn moved back to Brondby after he played in Austria.

"Brondby was a new part of Copenhagen in the suburbs at the time and the club was still amateur, but they found out Finn had moved to the area and tried get him to the club.

"They convinced him to be part of the first team as a coach because the Brondby chairman's son went to the same school as Michael and Brian. That meant they both joined Brondby as well and they turned out to arguably be two of Denmark's best players of all time."

'Painful season so far'

Brondby benefitted again from their impressive youth set-up last term as several homegrown talents featured in the Danish club defying the odds to claim their first league crown in 16 years.

But Niels Frederiksen's side have made a poor start in their quest to defend the title after losing some key players in the summer window and currently sit sixth in the table, with 15 points from 12 games.

"It has been a painful season so far," Theilade adds. "It has been a difficult watch and the European games have not been going as hoped. The squad is looking very thin, there are a lack of goalscorers and they are conceding a lot of goals.

"Even after last season, the fans were realistic but they wanted the team to build. If they want to have any chance of doing something in Europe, they need to take points off Rangers in these back-to-back games."

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