Danish recipe for maximising talent
Denmark is a classic example of how, in international football, small can be beautiful. Despite a population of less than six million, their international record compares favourably with many bigger nations and Danish players can be found in all the major European domestic leagues.
A clear playing philosophy, emphasis on coaching education and a well-organised youth football system have contributed to Denmark’s success, making it an example of how smaller countries could achieve FIFA Chief of Global Football Development Arsene Wenger’s aim of giving every talent a chance. Most important of all are the transparency and the close relations which exist between the Danish Football Association (DBU) and the clubs and the leagues when it comes to player development.
Denmark was one of 205 member associations which took part in a ground-breaking global survey on the development of talent as part of Wenger’s programme, with separate reports produced for each country.
Hesterine de Reus, the FIFA Technical Expert who worked with the DBU on the report, said there was much to admire.
"I think that we cannot copy and paste things, but I think they have excellent examples; how, as a small nation, you can use resources, how you can be creative and how you can create an environment where every talent can reach their goals, their potential," she said.
"It’s a small football nation, but they perform really well on an international stage, so that makes them a really interesting federation."
Denmark's success, she said, starts at grassroots level where children are given ample opportunities to play, starting from kindergarten.
But where Denmark really stands out is the relationship between the DBU, the leagues and the clubs in developing talent.
The league's head of talent development plays a key role in player development and there is a strong collaboration with the DBU’s Elite Department, based on a common and clear strategy.
There is systematic collaboration between the DBU and the first and second tier clubs via six Talent Coaches, each linked to a number of clubs.
The youth competitions focus on creating an environment to promote development rather than a results-oriented approach and clubs are ranked on the basis of their quality through the youth licensing system which is reviewed and improved on an annual basis. A stars-based system is used to rank the overall quality of clubs and the boys’ clubs with the highest star ranking participate in the U-19, U-17 and U-15 Elite leagues.
"They are ranked by how they create the environment. So, the ones that have the best environments are top-ranked clubs, and then it goes down like that. I think that’s excellent at the youth level," said De Reus.
A continuous process
Flemming Berg, the DBU's Talent Development manager, said the current process began in 2008.
"We have had a pretty clear playing and development philosophy since then, and we created a licence system together with the clubs as well," he said.
"Denmark is playing the way that Danish people are, you know, it’s innovative, it’s creative; the football should really reflect the way you are as a people, and that’s what we are doing now.
"We actually see it as an advantage that we’re a small country because it also means that it’s not a big, big, big ship that has to be turned around, we can navigate it.”
Berg was confident that Denmark would continue to unearth new talent and would not suffer dips as they did when they failed to qualify for either the 2006 FIFA World Cup or 2008 UEFA EURO.
"We have not just one generation but so many good young players coming through now that (so) it will not just be short-term success," he said. "We have many good years to come." Even so, the report found areas in which Denmark could do better.
It said there was a big gap between the highest age group competitions and senior level in both the men's and women's game while facilities for national teams were merely average. It also found challenges for the women's game where the club environment failed to meet the required standards. It suggested looking at the possibility of making the women's game professional.
Berg said that the DBU had already recognised some of the problems and that, by backing up their observations with data, the report would help put new ideas into practice. "I like ‘give every talent a chance’. I really like the approach to that because it’s a global approach,” he said. “And now I’m not just talking about the DBU here but in general; I like the global approach to that.
“It’s a big, big ambition, but it’s really admirable."