I am dumbfounded of the international media’s obsession with Danish football club FC Midtjylland. The latest is a story in The Set Pieces about defensive midfielder Tim Sparv, but previously The Guardian, De Correspondent and Outside of the Boot have also covered them.
I mean, sure, Midtjylland have an owner – Matthew Benham – whose Smartodds system is apparently a revolutionary way to assess football players. But Benham is English and owns Championship club Brentford too; surely they would make more sense to write about, and easier to get to too, at least for the English media?
And it’s not as though Midtjylland’s approach has been an out-and-out success. Aside from the aforementioned Sparv and a few others, their signings have been unimpressive since Benham’s takeover, and an amusingly large portion of them have grown up in the peninsula of Jutland, where Midtjylland are based. They signed a clearly over-the-hill Rafael van der Vaart, who has been ineffective in the few games he’s been picked this season. They did win the championship – the first in their history – in Benham’s first season (2014/15), but the season before that they finished second (and were top for a long time) and in the seasons since they haven’t really been in contention, finishing 3rd and 4th, 12 and a whopping 30 points after champions FC Copenhagen respectively.
None of this is too damning; Copenhagen have been magnificent, especially in this season, and they have a far larger budget than the rest of the league, so finishing behind them is to be expected.
As far as signing local players goes, it is certainly admirable, and every club in the world signs players who don’t work out. It is also a common tendency for sports directors in clubs in smaller footballing nations to sign players who on paper are impressive signings (like van der Vaart), but who are only available because they’re very much past their best.
But the promise of Midtjylland’s system is they would be insulated from such shortcomings, finding players who actually perform, from all over Europe, not just well-performing players from smaller clubs in nearby leagues or fringe players from bigger clubs.
And in light of all of this, I continue to be amazed at why media outside Denmark care. Midtjylland talk a big talk, but they’re a football club with the same problems as any other club in their position, and they certainly haven’t found the holy grail with their analytical approach.