Friday 13 December 2019

The Great Dane might think we're 'sh*t' - but those withering views are not shared by his compatriots


Thomas Gravesen. Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Thomas Gravesen. Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Who'd have thought it, that the man with big hands and a big reputation also has a big mouth.

Kasper Schmeichel is the man likely to frustrate Ireland more than any other Dane at Lansdowne Road tonight, but his dad, Peter, managed to get under some Irish skins last month.

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Speaking to Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, after the Danes had narrowly beaten a superior Swiss side in a qualifier in Copenhagen, Schmeichel senior - the Great Dane himself - was overheard by the press pack to tell Sommer: "I have seen Ireland play and they are so bad."

The former Manchester United netminder added that the Swiss would beat Ireland in Geneva. They duly obliged, with a 2-0 win.

The story came back to Ireland through the Swiss media via that dangerous beast, Google Translate, and all of a sudden players in the Ireland squad were asking if a legendary goalkeeper like Schmeichel really had called the Irish team "sh*t".

Infected

We know that Schmeichel and Roy Keane were anything but pals, so perhaps his disdain for all things Irish set in off the back of that terrible personal relationship and infected his view of the nation.

But, it turns out, not everyone in Denmark agrees.

"If anyone had watched our last couple of games, they can't say it's the Irish team who are bad - we have to look at ourselves," remarks Lars Jacobsen, veteran of 81 caps.

Brian Laudrup is also asked about what Schmeichel said. "Ah, that's just Peter being Peter," he says.

"What Peter said does not reflect what Danish people think, he can speak for himself but not for everyone," adds former Everton and Real Madrid player, Thomas Gravesen.

"Peter just says things to be heard, he likes being talked about, no-one here thinks that way about your team, no-one apart from Peter."

Here's Flemming Povlsen, the former Denmark and Borussia Dortmund forward: "I would never say that any Irish team is sh*t as they are capable of hurting us in many ways."

Comments from Danish players, like Thomas Delaney's "tin of beans" quip, irked some in the Irish squad, but Denmark's record against Ireland (just one win in the last seven meetings) is hardly something for them to boast about. They have the big one, that 5-1 win in Dublin in the bag, but there have also been a lot of draws.

And there's a respect for the Irish side. Gravesen, capped 66 times, is a fascinating character, now living a life of luxury in Las Vegas as a professional poker player. He has dated porn stars and is a constant presence in the Danish tabloids. He also speaks with a strong hint of a Scouse accent, from his time at Everton.

Minutes after talking to this reporter in the media room at Denmark's home ground in Copenhagen ahead of last Friday's qualifier against Gibraltar, he needs to get changed out of his civvies and into a suit for his TV gig.

So in full view of the room he strips to his underwear, pokes his backside in the air towards Brian Laudrup and makes what can only be a bawdy joke. It's clear that Gravesen is a livewire.

Just after that he mocks Povlsen, claiming that playing in the World Cup finals (as Gravesen did) trumps winning the Euros (which Povlsen did, in 1992).

Gravesen played with Ireland internationals like Lee Carsley and Kevin Kilbane at Everton ("Cars and me were great mates") and had Aiden McGeady as a team-mate at Celtic. Despite the glamour on his CV, like a spell at Real Madrid, and his current wealth (which is vast), he's an admirer of the Irish side.

"Your team is in a state of development now, a lot of young guys coming in, guys who have grown at their clubs," says Gravesen.

"I really like the Sheffield United guys, especially McGoldrick, he's a nice player, so the Irish side is growing in the same way the Danish team did over a period.

"Mick McCarthy has picked up this Irish team, they are better than under O'Neill as they have learned each other's weaknesses, and strengths, and they play to their strengths now, so Ireland are in the right frame of mind.

"I know you don't like being told you have a British style as you are not British, but I know what people mean when they say that - you fight for your country. This team are learning and getting better."

Irish/Danish relationships abound. I ask Lars Jacobsen if he played with Robbie Keane at West Ham (2011). "No. Robbie played with me," he jokes.

Jacobsen speaks highly of Irish team-mates from his time with Everton ("Shane Duffy and Seamus Coleman were young guys then"), Blackburn ("the guy who broke his arm in the game in Copenhagen, Alan Judge") and West Ham (Keane).

Loud

"I played with a lot of Irish boys, they were pretty loud in the dressing room but good guys," Jacobsen says. "For TV I have covered all of the games against Ireland, five times and four draws, that tells a story that it's tight.

"Ireland are well organised, strong in the middle, they know their strengths and that's vital for a team: know what you are not capable of as well as what you can do. Ireland don't try to do anything they're not capable of, they did that a bit in the 5-1 but won't again."

Laudrup is concerned about the form of their stars. "We have players not playing for their clubs, that's a worry. Christian Eriksen at Spurs, Delaney in Dortmund, Simon Kjaer not playing with Atalanta, that concerns me. There are question marks over us."

Povlsen played for Denmark in two draws against Ireland in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.

"That may sound strange to you as Denmark have played twice in Dublin in the last two years but Dublin is a place to be feared," Povlsen says.

"Ireland have a new coach and a new spirit in the team, and they have good players. If you compare the two teams and what the players do on a weekly basis for their clubs, the Danes have more star quality but that doesn't mean anything in a game like this.

"Ok, Ireland don't have players in the Champions League. But we had a team of nobodies in 1992 and we won the European Championships so anything is possible."

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