Manchester United can learn from FC Copenhagen on and off the pitch…

Man United can learn from Copenhagen on AND off the pitch! Champions League opponents are the ‘Ajax of the North’, have an outstanding recruitment programme and trade blows with Europe’s elite

  • Manchester United face FC Copenhagen in the Champions League tonight 
  • Danish side have a superb recruitment programme and academy set up
  • Follow Mail Sport’s new Manchester United WhatsApp channel for updates 

If Sir Jim Ratcliffe is seeking clues about how to restore Manchester United to the top of the game, he could take a close look at their opponents on Tuesday.

While FC Copenhagen can never aspire to be a global superpower like United, they constantly get it right both on and off the field.

The Danish champions gave Bayern Munich an almighty fright on Champions League Matchday Two, taking the lead in the second half before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat. They also claimed an impressive 2-2 draw in Istanbul against Galatasaray, who then won at Old Trafford on October 3.

On a fraction of the budget, Copenhagen are trading blows with some of Europe’s heavyweights. Their secret? An outstanding scouting and recruitment programme, coupled with a structure that promotes a smooth transition when key figures leave. They are deservedly building a reputation as the Ajax of the North.

Twins Oscar and Emil Hojlund, the 18-year-old younger brothers of United forward Rasmus Hojlund, are just two of a number of promising players developing in the club’s thriving youth system.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe could take inspiration in looking at how FC Copenhagen operate

The Danish side have been impressive in the Champions League across two games

During Johan Lange’s time as technical director from 2014-20, Copenhagen became experts at selling players to Europe’s top-five leagues for a handy profit. During 10 years across two stints at the club, Lange recognised that the world was changing. Conventional wisdom once had it that clubs could not sell their best players and expect to win trophies. Yet as the wealthiest grew richer, Lange recognised that the only way for Copenhagen to stay strong in Denmark and hold their own in European competition was by selling the best players.

In the period 2016-19, Copenhagen sold 11 players to Europe’s five strongest leagues – England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France – turning a profit of about £12.1million on transfers in that period. That is a significant sum for a club from the region.

Lange departed for Aston Villa in 2020 and will join Tottenham at the start of November as sporting director, yet his influence lives on in the Danish capital. In the last five years, Copenhagen have focused heavily on their academy.

Copenhagen have long had a strong relationship with the best junior clubs in Denmark to ensure they do not miss out on top talent. Now they have cast their net wider, investing substantially in their scouting network across Scandinavia and the results are already showing.

Icelandic winger Hakon Arnar Haraldsson was picked up from IA Akranes in his homeland four years ago and was sold to Lille for £13m this summer. There are high hopes for another Icelandic player, 19-year-old centre-forward Orri Oskarsson, recruited from Grotta in Iceland three years ago.

Roony Bardghji had been thrilling youth scouts for a number of years but Copenhagen made sure they got him. Bardghji, a Swedish Under-21 international attacker who was born in Kuwait, arrived from Malmo’s U17 side three years ago and has already made his Champions League debut, even though he does not turn 18 until November 15. Right-back Elias Jelert is a little older at 20 and is creating similar excitement.

Twins Oscar (right) and Emil Hojlund (left) are the younger brothers of Manchester United star Rasmus (centre)

FC Copenhagen drew with Galatasaray and were unlucky to lose to Bayern Munich 

Erik ten Hag’s men face Copenhagen on Tuesday, who are led by Jacob Neestrup

The success of Copenhagen’s transfer policy has helped them recruit senior players with substantial experience outside Scandinavia. Jordan Larsson, the son of former Celtic, Barcelona and United forward Henrik Larsson, joined permanently last summer after a loan spell from Schalke. 

Former Southampton man Mohamed Elyounoussi is back in Scandinavia after seven years with Basel, Celtic and Saints. Copenhagen still have their magic touch in the market, too: Polish goalkeeper Kamil Grabara joined from Liverpool for £5.4m in summer 2021, and is set to sign for Wolfsburg for double that sum in January.

The players are not the only ones attracting admiring glances. Boss Jacob Neestrup, who is just 35, led Copenhagen to the league and cup double last term. He was given the top job a little more than a year ago and – apart from 18 months at Viborg between 2019-20 – he has been on the staff at Copenhagen since 2013.

Ratcliffe has not become one of the world’s richest people without having an eye for what works elsewhere. 

United’s wealth may mean they are too strong for Copenhagen on Tuesday, yet when it comes to ideas, organisation and strategy, there is only one winner.

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