Part three of this feature sees Lars and TT bring us right up to the curretn day with some more of the finest Danish players to grace Italian football. If you missed them you can find Part One here and Part Two here
Uncle Helveg, Nephew Jørgensen and the Others
In the autumn 1993 a young Danish midfielder was sold to Udinese, marking a shift in generations of Danes in Italy. During more than 10 years in the peninsula he would go on to represent both Milan and Inter and win a Scudetto with the former.
His name was Thomas Helveg. He was in the summer of 1997 joined in Udine by Martin Jørgensen who himself would play in Italy for more than 12 years. Together they represent some of the finest Danish exports to Italian football – and certainly two of the longest lasting. They had a close relationship and would refer to each other as “uncle” and “nephew”.
Despite an early blip including a relegation to Serie B in 1993 Udinese was a club on its way up and both Danes became integral in that success. Helveg would play 141 league games for the Friuli team while Jørgensen would better that with 184 appearances. Both however moved on to even bigger things. Jørgensen has later explained that he despite loving the life in Udine found the atmosphere in what must be the epitome of a provencial club a tad dull. The stadium would rarely be full and the motivation could be hard to find in a club where both the board and the spectators were happy with just being in the better half of the Serie A.
In 1998, Helveg followed coach Alberto Zaccheroni as he left Udine for AC Milan. He was a regular in the midfield of Milan’s 1999 championship winning side. In the following years, however, he was pushed back in the defence after losing the battle over the right midfield spot to a youngster named Gennaro Gattuso. In 2002, Helveg was purchased by the success-starved rivals at Inter – only to be loaned back to Milan in a most peculiar move, even by Italian standards! He did play out his Italian bow-out season for Inter in 03-04, though, before he – inexplicably, especially to his fashion designer girlfriend – decided to leave Milano all together in favour of Norwich, Norfolk in what is arguably one of the strangest career choices ever.
Jørgensen outstayed Helveg in Italy by more than six years, all of which he spend at Fiorentina, despite earlier claims that he would never move south of Bologna! He overcame this typical Danish fear of anything “southern” Italian and fell in love with Firenze and La Viola whom he would represent 151 times in the league.
Though not necessarily an assured starter, Jørgensen became very popular in Florence where the Artemio Franchi crowd would chant Uno di noi (one of us) at him from the stands. Late on, he even got to wear the Captains armband from time to time. One of his last deeds in the purple shirt was to score his first Champions League goal ever in a 2009 game against Liverpool at Anfield.
Both being typically Danish and seemingly timid people Helveg and Jørgensen embraced Italy and the latin lifestyle and brought the best of Serie A to the Danish national team which they represented an impressive 108 and 100 times respectively.
Last year Thomas Helveg hung up his boots after finishing his career with two and a half seasons at his beloved OB. Jørgensen also went home to play for his Aarhus hometown club AGF. In a bizzarre echo of Brian Laudrups stint at Fiorentina, Jørgensen and that very talented AGF squad was relegated last season, and Jørgensen is now plying his trade in the Danish second tier.
At AC Milan, Helveg was at one point joined by two other prominent Danes, namely CB Martin Laursen and striker Jon Dahl Tomasson – both of whom featured alongside him in the national team and had enjoyed great success at Verona and Feyenoord respectively. The dreamt of (and somewhat far fetched) analogy to the fellow Scandinavians of the Swedish Gre-No-Li trio was bound to fail, as all three were inevitably fringe players in the hugely talented Milan squad. But although they are destined for a merely anecdotal existence in the history of the rossoneri, their robust work rate and willingness to sacrifice was a valued cog in the well-oiled Milan-machinery of those years.
Recent and Present Danes in Italy
In 2008, another high profile Danish player, defensive midfielder Christian Poulsen, came to Italy after having enjoyed good spells at Schalke 04 and Sevilla. His two year stint at Juventus was not a great success however, as a combination of poor club management post calciopoli, a hostile reception from the fans and a failure to live up to his normal standards sadly conspired to make his Italian adventure one to forget.
This seasons sees two Danes playing in the Serie A: Per Krøldrup, a centre back with a knack for goals from set-pieces, is a regular starter at Fiorentina, and Frederik Sørensen, the 18 year old centre back brought to the Juventus Primavera team this summer from Lyngby, is highly surprisingly accumulating a lot of games in the first team – as a right back!
Although Sørensens inclusion in the Juve starting XI speaks volumes of their current full back-issues, he is gaining valuable experience that will hopefully allow him to develop further – much like Simon Kjær did at Palermo until he was lured to Wolfsburg last year, and like another talented central defender, Magnus Troest, is presently doing at Atalanta.
Obviously, the present Danes in calcio lack a little something compared to earlier generations of stranieri from our small country, but the potential is clearly there. And given the frequent participation of Danish youth teams in tournaments on the peninsula, the steady influx of talented Nordic players should be secured for years to come.