Denmark scrambles together new squad, coach amid pay dispute

Denmark patched together a new squad and an interim coach on Tuesday to fulfil the national team’s obligations for upcoming matches against Slovakia and Wales amid a pay dispute involving its best players.

The 24-man squad for the friendly with Slovakia on Wednesday in Trnava contained players mostly from Denmark’s third tier. Former Denmark midfielder John Jensen will take charge, with national coach Age Hareide having reportedly returned to his native Norway.

“What’s the point of traveling here with a team like that?” Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said. “From the sport’s point of view, we won’t get anything from the game.”

On arriving in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, Jensen said through a translator the players don’t know each other but they “will enjoy (the game) from the first to the final second.”

Denmark canceled practice on Tuesday and will train behind closed doors on Wednesday morning.

Negotiations collapsed between Denmark’s players’ union and the DBU over a new collective agreement regarding commercial rights. Players from the original squad — including Christian Eriksen and Kasper Schmeichel — were sent back to their clubs on Monday.

The Slovak FA said its own national team has been harmed by the dispute. It said Denmark promised to field the best possible team, and complained the replacement team contained “players from lower-tier competitions.”

The Slovaks say they have asked UEFA to deal with the case and confer “adequate consequences.”

Meanwhile, the Slovaks have dropped ticket prices for the match to 1 euro ($1.15).

Denmark plays Wales in a UEFA Nations League group game on Sunday.

“We must field teams in the two international matches to avoid millions in fines and possible exclusion of the national team for several years,” said Kim Hallberg, the DBU elite manager. “On behalf of the DBU and Danish football, I am pleased that John Faxe Jensen has taken the hard task of being coach for both matches.”

Jensen, a member of Denmark’s European Championship-winning team in 1992, said he was helping out to “mitigate the negative consequences.”

“Where we are now,” Jensen said, “I see only losers in the conflict, and Danish football loses most of all.”

The previous collective agreement between the players and the association expired on July 31 and the two parties haven’t been able to agree on a new one.

The union says players want sponsorship deals made by the association to continue to focus on the team and not individual players. The association said it has offered improved terms and met a “large number of the players’ wishes in the commercial areas,” adding that the current situation was “serious and annoying.”

“We need to solve this conflict now,” Eriksen said, “not just dig the trenches deeper.”

The players are offering to extend the previous contract for another month to allow for more negotiations.

“Together we enter the deal and we all save the face of Danish football,” the playmaker added. “We are right here and we want to play football for Denmark as always.”

Last year, Denmark’s women’s team signed a four-year collective bargaining agreement with the DBU, ending a dispute that saw the cancellation of a World Cup qualifier.