Wales began their Nations League campaign in style with a 4-1 thrashing over the Republic of Ireland on Thursday. Ryan Giggs won his first home game in charge. Chelsea teenager Ethan Ampadu earned more admirers. In all, it was an impressive display by a side unlucky to miss out on World Cup qualification last October.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Dragon’s Sunday opponents were in disarray. Real doubt existed over whether Denmark would field a full-strength team.
Shortly before the full-time whistle in Cardiff, a one-match truce was agreed in Copenhagen between the DBU and Denmark’s senior players. The Danes will compete as normal. Defeat to Slovakia, 3-0, in a friendly the day before with an interim manager coaching a squad comprising amateurs and national futsal players probably softened the DBU’s hardline stance.
When asked in post-match interviews, Gareth Bale and Giggsy stressed they’d been preparing for nothing less than Denmark’s finest. There were no firefighters in the makeshift Danish squad, although there were a salesman and student, so the pair were serious. Why would they not? Players including Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel, Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen and star man Christian Eriksen are all available for selection. The situation makes you wonder.
The heart of the matter
An ongoing row over new commercial rights for the Denmark squad caused the federation to rule out the senior team for their friendly against Slovakia on Wednesday evening. They were prepared to lock them out against Wales in their Nations League opener, as well. Temporarily resolved, the dispute regards a new commercial deal the players won’t accept because it places them in breach of contract with their personal endorsement deals.
When something so trivial, yet topical, can cause a disagreement to escalate so is a worrying sign for the sport’s future. Over time, player power has risen. Agents’ demands, image rights and further undisclosed fees feed subsidiary interests. Everyone wants a slice from the football pie.
There’s money to be made and the DBU are entitled to generate income. Should they be able to dictate terms, however, when clubs and players assume the investment risks? Contemporary players exert more influence over behind-the-scenes activities which affect or involve them. They’re the talent driving revenue, after all.
Intimations they were prepared to go on strike, rather than settling their differences and representing their country did not go down well with supporters. Team captain Eriksen revealed was not the case in the local media this week, though it’s easier to criticise than understand the principles behind their decisions.
The DBU is pleased to say in the media that now we must look at solidarity, community and togetherness – as if we do not really care about the whole. It’s simply not fair, or fair to blame us for not thinking about anyone but ourselves. They try to make it look like it’s us players who do not want to play, but they do not want to negotiate and make a deal we can play with.
The players offered well in advance to play under the previous arrangement until a new deal could be negotiated. The DBU refused.
It’s not the first time the federation attempted to bully its players. They cancelled games for the women’s team when terms could not be agreed. UEFA stepped in, warning the DBU it faced a four-year ban if it forfeited another match in any competition. Is it so imperative national team players be photographed wearing the sponsor’s insignia when their own deals prohibit it? Other federations negotiate conflicts of interest satisfactorily.
For now, disagreements are set aside. Let’s follow suit and look at Sunday’s match.
Previous meeting, team news
The most recent meeting between Wales and Denmark occurred in November 2008. Manchester City and Liverpool winger Craig Bellamy scored the lone goal.
Wales hope history repeats but it’s a tough ask against FIFA’s ninth-best side. The Danes share their ranking with Spain after an impressive World Cup campaign ended cruelly on penalties in the Round of 16 against eventual finalists Croatia. The Dragons’ comparative inexperience could come into question.
Against Ireland, Giggs made keen substitutions. Preserving key players became the priority when the result was complete before half-time.
Ampadu, Bale and Tottenham left-back Ben Davies were all replaced. There was a palpable urgency for specific players to recover for Sunday’s match. Playing Thursday night, then again on Sunday is taxing, as the Europa League proves with regularity. Starting an identical eleven isn’t on although Giggs ought not make too many unforced alterations.
Denmark faces no recovery issues, perhaps the one benefit from this ridiculous episode. Some familiar faces still miss the contest. Southampton midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Valencia’s Daniel Wass are surprise omissions. The Dane’s experience in central midfield waned when William Kvist and Michael Krohn-Dehli retired following the World Cup. Ajax’ Kasper Dolberg’s abdominal injury rules him out. Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jørgensen (foot) is also sidelined. RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen or Middlesbrough forward Martin Braithwaite will lead the line.
Wales, for all the quality and blossoming potential at Giggs’ disposal, haven’t yet found the strength to beat top sides consistently.
Challenge them, yes, but Denmark aren’t pushovers. Having put the commercial drama behind for the moment, they’ll relish the opportunity to kick off their Nations League campaign with a win. Expect a difficult but deserved Danish win provided Eriksen’s on form.