Monday 25 June 2018, 05:46

Style debate looms over Hareide's Denmark

  • Denmark unbeaten in 17 matches and have four points at Russia 2018

  • Critics at home are unhappy with the team's style of play

  • Coach Hareide left asking: "What do people want?"

By Svend Frandsen with Denmark

Football, as we all know, is a results business. But is winning all that matters? For fans of certain nations, the issue of balancing style and substance, individuality and coherence, has become a national fixation.

Perhaps the most famous example is Brazil, where it is often remarked that the functional 1994 FIFA World Cup™ winners are not as beloved as the free-flowing 1982 team that came home empty-handed.

But Denmark has its own version of that story. For Danish football fans, the debate centres on the 1986 World Cup team and the 1992 UEFA European Championship winners. The question: which team did you love the most?

The discussion is eternal in Danish football culture. Are you a fan of the' 86 side with its Total Football approach based on creative passing, continuous movement and spatial awareness? Or do you subscribe to the no-nonsense defensive gameplan, with occasional changes of pace and blistering attacks, that brought Richard Moller Nielsen's side glory in 1992?

That discussion, which essentially boils down to tactical philosophy, has perhaps never been more relevant than it is now . Coach Age Hareide has certainly realised after two matches at this World Cup just how difficult it can be to please the Danish football fans.

It might be expected, after all, that with Hareide's side well placed to qualify for the Round of 16, with four points from their first two matches, that they would be receiving praise back home. Instead, criticism of their style of play has abounded, leaving the Norwegian coach scratching his head.

As he said this week: "I knew it was a picky football country when I arrived because the Danes like to call themselves the Brazilians of Scandinavia. [But] I think it's quite good to be unbeaten in 17 matches, so what do people want? If we had won against Australia, I think people would perhaps still have been critical."

It's true that, on paper, Hareide's men have much to be proud of, having gone 17 games undefeated, conceded just one goal in their last six matches and made a strong start to their World Cup campaign. All the same, that hasn´t stopped critical voices voicing unease about, among other things, poor ball control in the final third.

There will, of course, be much celebrating should Denmark get a result against France that enables them reach the last 16. But for Danes, football is not simply a results business. Hareide is quickly realising that, to become truly accepted and celebrated, he will need to please devotees of both 1986 and '92.