By Emil Nielson
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Former Arsenal midfielder John Jensen will manage a Denmark squad made up of five-a-side, third and fourth division players for a friendly against Slovakia on Wednesday after contract negotiations with first-team regulars reached deadlock.
The Danish Football Association (DBU) on Tuesday named a second-string squad to face Slovakia and potentially Wales in the country’s first Nations League match the following Sunday to avoid expulsion from Euro 2020.
Regular first team players, including playmaker Christian Eriksen and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, and the DBU have for months been in dispute over contract terms, mainly concerning the rights of players to make individual sponsorship agreements with companies competing with national team sponsors.
Regular coach Aage Hareide is not in charge as the DBU does not want him to manage a team he did not pick himself.
Jensen, 53, who famously scored in Denmark’s 1992 European Championship final win over Germany, played for Arsenal from 1992 to 1996 and became a cult hero at the London club for his inability to find the net, with just one goal in 132 games.
Jensen and his amateur squad, including futsal players who feature in a version of five-a-side which is usually played indoors on a hard court, flew to Slovakia on Tuesday.
“I had to start from scratch and ask each player his name and which position he plays on the field,” Jensen told a news conference when he arrived in Slovakia.
Most of the new squad are on amateur contracts with their local teams. Striker Anders Fonns, 30, sometimes works in a warehouse while goalkeeper Larsen, 23, is a newspaper salesman.
Even Danish finance minister Kristian Jensen offered to join the squad. “I report for duty in the nation’s service as a tough right fullback,” the minister wrote on Twitter.
Denmark are ninth in the world rankings and reached the last 16 at this year’s World Cup in Russia.
Slovakia’s FA (SFZ) on Tuesday reduced ticket prices for the game from up to 26 euros (23.5 pounds) to 1 euro . They urged European soccer’s governing body UEFA to deal with the situation and take the appropriate action, SFZ said in a statement.
“What is the point of sending this team to meet us?” Slovakia coach Jan Kozak was quoted by Danish broadcaster DR as telling reporters. “Does Denmark just want to avoid a fine? We could have spent our time better if we had known this before.”
Several bookmakers suspending bets once the new squad was announced, though some offered 25-1 for a Denmark win.
The players on Sunday made an offer to extend their existing contracts which would have postponed further negotiations until after the two games. On Tuesday, the players repeated the offer, but the DBU rejected both attempts to break the deadlock.
The international player’s union, Fifpro, said it thought the players had “acted responsibly” throughout the negotiations.
Denmark are due to host Wales on Sunday, but the DBU could not confirm which squad would be available to play and said they were deciding whether to offer refunds on ticket for the match.
The DBU last year had to cancel a women’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden, also due to a contract dispute.
(Reporting by Emil Gjerding Nielson; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Ken Ferris)