Explainer: Why a bitter contract dispute could see Wales line up against a Denmark side of futsal players and amateurs
The former Arsenal midfielder John Jensen has answered a desperate SOS call to lead a Denmark team made up of unknown lower league and Futsal players for their matches on Wednesday against Slovakia and Wales on Sunday.
A dispute between the Danish Football Association (DBU) and the Denmark players over commercial image rights has escalated to the point where all the leading players, including Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen, Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen and Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel, are refusing to sign a new agreement with the national team.
Manager Age Hareide has also been temporarily stood down by the DBU, who have instead been working to field an alternative team under the management of Jensen.
Players from the entire Danish Super League have been under pressure to show solidarity with the players’ union over a dispute that centres on the extent to which the DBU can use individual players in its own sponsorship and marketing campaigns.
It all means that players from the Danish second division and even Futsal league were in a squad that arrived in Slovakia on Tuesday. The squad was not confirmed until after it travelled.
The Slovakian FA have now responded by dropping their ticket prices to one Euro and urging Uefa to ensure there are meaningful consequences for the Danish FA. “What's the point of travelling here with a team like that? From the sport's point of view we won't get anything from the game," said Slovakia coach Jan Kozak.
Wales are still intending to travel to Denmark for Sunday’s match in the newly formed Nations League.
The dispute comes less than a year after the Danish women’s team boycotted a World Cup qualifier against Sweden following a dispute over their employment conditions. The DBU was fined £18,000 and Sweden were awarded a 3-0 win, but the team were not thrown out of the competition. Instead, the DBU was also warned that Denmark faced exclusion from any Uefa tournament if it cancelled another match in the next four years.
Jensen, who was assistant manager previously to Steve Kean at Blackburn and part of the European Championship-winning Denmark team, stressed that his willingness to oversee these games should not be interpreted as him taking any position on a conflict that has deeply embarrassed Danish football and angered its fans. "Where we are now, I see only losers in the conflict, and Danish football loses most of all,” said Jensen.
"When I say yes to help here, it's because I feel very strong for the national team as an institution, and because I think the most important thing must be that the games will be played.
"I just hope to help us get through the two matches and that the parties find a solution as soon as possible. The national team has meant infinitely much to me in my career and in my life. It hurts to follow this course, and I hope my contribution can help mitigate the negative consequences."
Some Denmark fans believe that the players are being greedy and are simply trying to protect their individual commercial agreements. Eriksen has claimed that, for the players, it is not about money and stressed that they were still willing to extend the terms of their previous agreement with the DBU.
"Together we enter the agreement and together we save the face of Danish football," said Eriksen. "We are right here and want to play football for Denmark - as always. We have to solve this conflict now, not just digging the ditches deeper. So we're happy to extend our hand again - let's renew the old deal by one month."