By Svend Frandsen
The UEFA Cup second-round match between RSC Anderlecht and FC Midtjylland adds another chapter to the special relationship between Denmark and the famous Brussels club.
The Belgian fans travelling to Silkeborg to watch their side defend a 3-1 first-leg lead, will no doubt recall that no less than five Danish players were regular performers in the Anderlecht side which enjoyed a golden age in the mid-1980s.
UEFA Cup glory
Back in those days the rules of the Belgian league allowed all international players to be regarded as 'natives' after spending five years in the country, allowing Henrik Andersen, Frank Arnesen, Morten Olsen, Per Frimann and Kenneth Brylle to make a mark as Anderlecht won the 1983 UEFA Cup and reached the final following year's final only to lose to Tottenham Hotspur FC.
"They were brilliant players," said Anderlecht general secretary Michel Verschueren. "And the fact that we had so many Danes made it easy for them to integrate themselves easily into the club because they all helped each other."
There have been no Danes at Anderlecht since Andersen left in 1990, Verschueren explained why: "Danish players are simply too expensive.
Anderlecht can't compete with the financial strength of English and German clubs. And therefore the club instead set their sights on eastern European players who are much cheaper."
Anderlecht have also lost their commanding position at the top of European football. Two years' ago the club reached the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League, due in no small part to the talents of Jan Koller, Bart Goor and Tomasz Radzinski - all of whom have since left for the financially potent English Premiership and German 1. Bundesliga.
Lack of organisation
"Belgium and Denmark are similar," said Andersen. "Whenever a club develop a player with the potential to make it in the big European leagues, they never have the financial back-up to keep him." Andersen also believes that his former club could be in for a tough season. "They are only in sixth in the Belgian league which shows their inability to find adequate replacements for their former players," he said. "They also lack the organisation of Club Brugge [KV] and [KRC] Genk."
From an historical point of view, Midtjylland fade in comparison with Anderlecht. The club were only formed in 1999 after a merger between Herning Fremad and Ikast Boldklub. Nevertheless, they are already enjoying their second run in the UEFA Cup after they were knocked out of the first round of the competition by Sporting Clube de Portugal last year.
Midtjylland's most recognised performer is goalkeeper Peter Skov-Jensen, who has just received his second call-up to the Danish national side. The charismatic keeper is optimistic about his side's chances to reach the next stage despite the 3-1 deficit. "We have to close the gap between defence and midfield and then we have to take our chances - something we failed to do in Belgium," he said.
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