Anyone that tries to compare themselves to Juninho within days of signing for Boro is always going to fail to meet expectations but Martin Braithwaite’s MB10 and parmo munching escapades did put him on the right track with Boro fans, at least to start with.
He cost 9 mil and we signed him from Toulouse as the song went and his signing was a major coup during the ill-fated Operation “Smash The League” under Garry Monk, whose tactic of throwing as many forwards onto the pitch promised goals and exciting football.
Except, it didn’t work out like that. Monk was sacked in December and replaced by Tony Pulis. While Braithwaite hadn’t set the league alight, he’d shown glimpses of his talent in scoring five goals in 17 games for Monk, but Pulis let him return to France to join Bordeaux on loan in January.
Braithwaite did return to Teesside and for four games looked like the player we’d hoped to have originally signed, as three goals came against Millwall, Bristol City and the dismantling of Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United.
For a brief moment, with Boro undefeated in their opening six games, Braithwaite’s claims of fans being “in for a treat” when he played looked to be correct.
Surprisingly, he asked to leave the club before the transfer deadline with the forward struggling to settle in Teesside and being opposed to the football Tony Pulis was asking his team to carry out. Maybe Martin had the right idea.
Pulis said no and the forward sloped and moped through his final 14 games at the club before being allowed to leave for CD Leganés. That the Dane ended up playing Champions League football and trading passes with Lionel Messi at Barcelona is, for want of a better term, fucking mental.
However, Martin Braithwaite is a much more respected figure in his homeland and will be a key part of a Danish side hoping to replicate the successes of Euro ’92 when a team featuring Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup shocked the world to win the tournament on 10 days notice, after Yugoslavia were disqualified after the onset of civil war.
Denmark finished as runners-up behind Switzerland in Group D when qualifying for the Euros, squeezing out the Republic of Ireland and Georgia, while they also came 2nd in the most recent incarnation of the Nations League ahead of England.
Undefeated in qualifying, you have to go back to a 2018 defeat against Slovakia for the last time the Danes lost to anybody other than Belgium, who they’ll face in the group stages of the tournament.
On paper, Denmark have one of the strongest starting elevens in the competition, with plenty of familiar faces from the major European leagues in their 4-3-3 system.
In goal, hoping to emulate his father’s performances, is Kasper Schmeichel. Loud, experienced and capable of the sublime, the Leicester ‘keeper is probably the best in his position outside of the top 4 in the Premier League.
With 11 clean sheets in the league last season and 65 caps in his international career, Schmeichel is as reliable as they come. We might not get any cartwheels out of this Schmeichel though.
In front of the 34 year old stopper is a defence marshalled by captain Simon Kjær who has enjoyed a career renaissance at AC Milan, helping the Italian giants qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2013.
Kjær, whose long-range passing into the wings is integral to the Danish attack, is partnered by Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen hot off his heroic performance in the Champions League final.
For some extra Boro flavour, Kjær’s agent is our former striker and terrace favourite Mikkel Beck!
If manager Kasper Hjulmand decides to opt for three at the back, he’s got Fulham’s Joachim Andersen or Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard to call upon, who’ve both enjoyed solid seasons in the Premier League.
The left-back spot is one of the one of the main areas of contention with a Serie A tussle going on to decide the starter, as Atalanta’s right-footed Joakim Mæhle is wrestling for a spot with the more experienced Jens Stryger Larsen of Udinese.
Daniel Wass, the Valencia utility man, is likely to start at right-back after Henrik Dalsgaard was forced to miss the tournament after suffering a injury that left him on the sidelines for two months before the squad was announced.
In Christian Eriksen, Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Denmark have a midfield full of experience, graft and skill. Between them, the trio have nearly 200 appearances in the national shirt and will be the key to any success this summer.
Højbjerg, the man Jose Mourinho earmarked as his much needed “nasty bastard” at Tottenham and Delaney, Dortmund’s rock hard midfield destroyer, will snuff out any danger while Eriksen will set the attack in motion. A true tale of fire and ice.
While Hjulmand has experimented with his front three in recent games, it’s widely expected that former Boro parmo merchant Braithwaite will line up on the left wing with Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen on the right. They’ll be supporting Jonas Wind who has scored 17 goals for FCK this season.
There’ll be plenty of interest in Wind, with the Copenhagen striker already attracting interest from West Ham, as well as 21 year old Andreas Skov Olsen who has broken out at Bologna and scored twice in a recent World Cup qualifier against Austria.
Enjoying home advantage for their three games against Belgium, Russia and Finland, Denmark will be aiming for a straightforward group stage. An expected second place finish in the group would set them up with either Turkey, Switzerland or Wales in the Ro16 before likely facing the winners of the Netherlands vs. Germany/Portugal.
With the talent they have available, decked out in an obviously stunning Hummel kit, they’ll fancy themselves to nudge past whichever of the traditional powerhouses they face in the quarters and then who knows where this Danish adventure will end? If the ’92 side could do it on 10 days notice, what can Eriksen and co. manage with years of preparation?
However, it’s the overreliance on Eriksen that may end up holding back this side. The Inter Milan balances the hopes of a nation on his boots because nobody else in the squad comes close to his eye for a pass or his goal scoring ability.
Sitting in 7th on the all-time charts for Denmark with 36 goals, Eriksen has scored four times as many as Braithwaite, the second highest scorer in the current squad with 9. He’s the jewel in the crown of this team and when he shines, so does everyone else. While it’s easier said than done, if you stop Eriksen, you’re going to stop Denmark.
There’s also some worry about the depth of the attacking options. While Kasper Dolberg sparkled as a youngster for Ajax, he’s struggled with injuries and illness since moving to Nice while Andreas Cornelius scored once all season for Parma.
It may be the case that Denmark’s Euros mirrors Martin Braithwaite’s career at Boro. They’ll say all the right things. They’ll look good in flashes but ultimately flatter to deceive. Or maybe they’ll shock everyone, as Braithwaite did when he joined Barcelona, and it’ll be another summer like ’92.
Group Matches (all at Parken Stadium, Copenhagen)
Saturday June 12 5pm: Denmark vs Finland
Thursday June 17 5pm: Denmark vs Belgium
June 21 8pm: Russia vs Denmark
Goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester), Jonas Lössl (Midtjylland), Frederik Rønnow (Schalke)
Defenders: Jens Stryger Larsen (Udinese), Simon Kjær (AC Milan), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Joachim Andersen (Fullham), Daniel Wass (Valencia), Mathias Jørgensen (Copenhagen), Joakim Mæhle (Atalanta), Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton), Nicolai Boilesen (Copenhagen)
Midfielders: Mathias Jensen (Brentford), Christian Nørgaard (Brentford), Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Tottenham), Thomas Delaney (Dortmund), Anders Christiansen (Malmö), Christian Eriksen (Inter Milan), Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria), Robert Skov (Hoffenheim)
Forwards: Martin Braithwaite (Barcelona), Andreas Cornelius (Parma), Andreas Skov Olsen (Bologna), Yussuf Poulsen (Leipzig), Kasper Dolberg (Nice), Jonas Wind (Copenhagen)
Photo Credits: fck.dk, The Guardian, rossoneri.com, Leicester City F.C.