Niclas Jensen is a football talent agent and the owner of Pro11, a top football talent management agency in Denmark with over 100 players under management. Niclas is also a former Danish professional football player, who played as a left-back, and most notably won three Danish Superliga championships with FC Copenhagen. He also played for Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, Premiership clubs Manchester City and Fulham, and Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. Between 1998 and 2008 Jensen was capped 62 times by Denmark, including playing at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and 2004 UEFA European Championship. As a player, Niclas Jensen won the the Danish football championship with FC Copenhagen in 1993 and 2001, as well as the DBU Danish cup in 1995. In 1995, Niclas was also elected Young Danish Player of the Year by fellow professionals and members of Denmark’s professional footballers association DBU.
Ben McFadyean, Bundesliga writer, as well as president and founder of the Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London, one of the largest BVB fan clubs outside of Germany with over 400 members, interviewed Niclas Jensen on life at the top as a talent manager, his rivalry and great friendship with Dede, why the Bundesliga is one of Europe’s toughest leagues, the World Cup experience, why English BVB fans are special, the next move for BVB’s Danish born midfielder Emre Mor, plus why India staging the U17 FIFA world cup will be the breakthrough for the country in World football.
Ben McFadyean: Niclas, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me, in addition to being a Bundesliga writer I also run the official Borussia Dortmund fan club in London which with 400 members is one of the biggest fan clubs outside of Germany. Many of our members have come to the Borussia in the last years since the great all-German final Bayern v BvB which took place at Wembley in May 2013 but many of our German members also remember you as a strong BVB left-back who lived in Dede’s shadow between 2002-2004. At the time Dortmund were reigning Bundesliga champions under manager Matthias Sammer but that success was not repeated in 2002/3 or 2003/4 where the club scraped into the second round of the Champions league in 2002/3 and only just qualified for the UEFA cup by finishing 6th in 2003/4. Let me start off by asking about Matthias Sammer, Sammer went on to be director of football at Bayern Munich and managed Dortmund to the championship but was no stranger to controversy. What was unique about Sammer as a coach? What made it so unique playing under him as a manager for BVB?
Niclas Jensen: When you see what Sammer achieved as a player, you knew you could learn a lot from him as a coach and we did, he contributed a great deal to Borussia Dortmund. One thing I learned from my career was to appreciate the differences the various coaches were. From Morten Olsen in the Danish National Team over Kevin Keegan at Man City to Sammer and van Marwijk in Dortmund. All very different personalities, but if you’re in the right state of mind mentally, you really can develop as a player and learn a lot. Sammer led BVB to the title in 2002 but departed in 2004. It was also a tough time for the club, when Matthias and I were at Borussia Dortmund at the same time, for the club in that era when I was with BVB but a great experience. Congrats on the fan club! I admire all fan clubs, but even more so those that are based in foreign countries. I can 100% connect with that sense of belonging to for example BVB, which is just impossible to describe for people not knowing much about football. The fans are the most important thing in football. It makes the wheels turn in the clubs. You get all my respect!
Ben McFadyean: Thank you and we would also like to invite you to join our fan club as an honorary member if you will accept?
Niclas Jensen: I understand from talking to you today and last time that you have players like Neven Subotic and Paul Lambert and Kevin Grosskreutz as well as 400 fans as members and I would be immensely honored to be an honorary member of such a successful fan club as Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London thank you!
Ben McFadyean: Great, thank you Niclas! Let me ask you about this special football club BVB: during your time with Dortmund you worked with amazing players like current second goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller who at that time was number 2 to Jens Lehmann. Jens and Tomas Rosicky like you went on to play in the Premiership and other Dortmund greats like Jan Koller, Evanilson, Ewerthon or Stefan Reuter were all world class players, the Dortmund team was packed with stars at the time, which players do you remember most? Can you ‘spill the beans’ about the locker room at the time what makes BVB’s family culture such a unique experience for a player?
Niclas Jensen: In terms of my time at BVB, I was lucky to be joining at the same time as another Scandinavian, André Bergdølmo who became a good friend. I also remember well the guys who joined at the same time as me like Sebastian Kehl who went on to have a great career and captained Borussia. There was a core of players at the time like Metze (Metzelder) Kehl, Reuter, Wörns and Weidenfeller they formed the core and handed out the “duties” and then there were “the rest,” a good international group of players at BVB including myself, the Brazilians (Dede, Ewerthon, Evanilson) and Guillaume Warmuz and the Czech lads Sebastian (Koller) and Tomas (Rosicky). Despite the challenges we had a good squad and special sense of unity in the team but BVB is a special club when you have so many fans, it creates the foundation for a really great club; the amazing fan base is something BVB have been able to build upon; A full stadium every home game and a whole city that’s behind the club and players that is what every club dreams of.
Ben McFadyean: The 2003-04 season was challenging and many changes including a change of coach followed but it’s clear listening to you that you are also a fan of the Borussia. Let me ask you about a legend of the BVB – Dede. You were a Danish international and had played at both the World Cup and European championships as a left back for Denmark and had already won championships in Denmark when you joined Dortmund although you spent two seasons and played in 43 matches for BVB including in the Champions league, you never really broke out of the Brazilian legend Dede’s shadow in defence, how much of a rival as a player was Dede? Was it challenging time at Borussia? What can you tell us about Dede?
Niclas Jensen: You know although Dede played as a wingback, I never saw Dede as a real rival, I can see what you are asking; I think that we played too many good games together with Dede in left midfield and me as a left back a combination that worked for me to remember him as a rival. Dede as a person would also be hard to not like, he is an incredibly nice person, optimistic and in always in a good mood, making the players laugh. The Brazilians in general created a good atmosphere in the locker room at Dortmund. Challenge as a player yes, but I understand why Dede is a legend in Dortmund it’s more than well deserved.
Ben McFadyean: A rival, but a friend. That much is clear from what you are saying. You know, we as fans would have wished to have seen more of the player we saw of you as a Denmark international with that amazing “Danish Dynamite” side of the 1990s. But Dede is to this day a favourite on the Südtribune, as a club one of the things that makes this club unique are the friendships, sense of being one family, in Dortmund they have had a great group of Brazilian players Evanilson, Dede, Ewerthon, Tinga and Amoroso but also who could forget Santana and that goal against Malaga in the Champions league quarterfinal in 2013? Felipe will never be forgotten at BVB, but BVB fans also find it hard, despite the Echte Liebe for Santana, to forget his switch to the Schalke 04 – Dortmund’s deadliest rivals something which no Borussia fan ever likes to see ever. Do you understand the animosity between the clubs? Is the Schalke match as special for a player as it is as a BVB fan? What is it like playing the Revierderby?
Niclas Jensen: There have been many great Brazilian players and Dede was won who I have had the pleasure to play with. I’ve played in a few derbies along the way. In Denmark FC Copenhagen vs. Brøndby is quite special and of course playing for Manchester City against Man United is a big, big thing also. But honestly, I never expected the rivalry between BVB and Schalke to be so fierce and deadly. You could sense the special atmosphere weeks before and after and people stayed home from work if we’d lost. The Revierderby as a football phenomenon is amazing and admirable that’s what makes football so great.
Ben McFadyean: As a fan I have attended many great Revierderby matches including the last home game at the Signal Iduna Park in November, but also at Gelsenkirchen and it’s always very unique and at time the rivalry as a fan especially when the rivalry between fans become confrontational is overwhelming. You mentioned Manchester City and the Premiership, you won promotion with Manchester City to the Premiership and also played for Fulham FC so you have experience of both the German and English top football leagues, most of the English fans who join the fan club have become somewhat disillusioned with the extremely high prices and the lack of atmosphere at Premiership grounds the atmosphere has become too clinical, the fans don’t feel at ease to enjoy the matches unlike in the Bundesliga. In terms of prices, atmosphere and even style of football the Bundesliga feels like going back to the best days of the Premiership 20 years ago, how do the two leagues compare for you? Is it a very different experience as a player? What do you think about the prices in the Premiership?
Niclas Jensen: What I would agree with you without a doubt about is that football should be affordable for the “man on the street” to support his team and I enjoy the atmosphere in the Bundesliga too. I played in the English, German, Dutch and Danish leagues so I have seen contrasting styles of play but also some similarities between the leagues. In England, it is more physical and in Germany perhaps more tactical, there are many nuances. In terms of quality for me it’s a very close race between the Premiership, the Bundesliga and La Liga. The Bundesliga is amazing, but the Premiership is also unbelievable to play in with so many great games against big clubs with really world class players. In terms of what’s the best league you can’t really just come to a conclusion on that, it’s a matter of preferences of style, because it’s football, but both are unbelievable leagues to play in.
Ben McFadyean: I myself played as a defender in your position as left back for 20 years at an amateur level, there was nothing I looked forward to more than that sense of being part of the team and loved playing. I always focus on the defensive play when watching football, I seldom scored like most defenders although I did once score from the halfway line in a match in London which I will remember all my life. You scored 18 goals in your career of which 2 were scored for BVB, I remember you scoring a goal by free-kick an amazing goal in 2003-04 against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Scoring that goal must have been one of the “sweet moments”? You mentioned to me last time we spoke in 2015 that you are also a BVB fan. Does Dortmund really have the best fans in the world?
Niclas Jensen: I enjoyed taking free kicks and the ‘Gladbach goal was special but I never scored much, so all my goals were very special.. (laughs). It’s special scoring in front of the yellow wall to me the best fans are those who support the team in good AND in bad times, always trying to encourage and make an intimidating atmosphere for the opposing team so the away team feels like they’re in fact playing against 12 men. The fans of Dortmund CERTAINLY achieve all of the above. I reckon many fans across the world would claim the title ‘best fans’ but for me the fans of Dortmund are right up there.
Ben McFadyean: Another great free kick was the other goal you scored for Dortmund against Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg had a tough season in 2003/4 flirting with relegation under manager Jürgen Röber, this season has not been much better for die Wölfe, ending up in 16th place and just managing to stay up in the playoffs against Eintracht Braunschweig. Röber later in 2005/6 a BVB coach resigned from Wolfsburg after just a half dozen matches, he was famously quoted as saying ‘he couldn’t reach the players’. At the end of last season, Thomas Tuchel walked or was walked out of his job at BVB – tough after winning the DFB Pokal! I attended the final, what a night! I never thought Tuchel would leave BVB the next week! What do you think about the Tuchel era? Was it premature letting him go? Apart from the DFB Pokal win what was his unique contribution at BVB?
Niclas Jensen: Going back for a moment Jürgen Klopp had this amazing ability to connect with the players and an enormous commitment and passion which really was his advantage at Dortmund. I think Thomas Tuchel’s greatest achievement was to fill the shoes of Klopp so competently and quickly. Although I have read various things, I never understood why Tuchel left; one thing is for sure, Tuchel achieved a lot at Dortmund including the champions league qualification and the DFB Pokal win and I’m sure his departure was not for football reasons. Dortmund have rebuilt their position under Thomas Tuchel and he will land another great managerial job soon.
Ben McFadyean: Indeed, Klopp and Tuchel are quite a contrast, but I am a fan of both myself and I think most BvB fans would like to see Tuchel getting that great next move. There are no hard feelings between the fans and either of the coaches in my view. Both will be remembered for their successes.Talking about coaches, as you said Niclas, you have played under some amazing coaches like Morten Olsen, Kevin Keegan and Matthias Sammer. German coaches like Sammer are currently very popular in England’s leagues the BVB U23 (Die Amas) coach Daniel Farke was just appointed at Norwich City and ex BVB U23 coach Daniel Wagner won promotion with Huddersfield Town at the first time asking which is an incredible, a huge success! Maybe more german coaches to come, maybe Tuchel soon? Talking about changes, players come and go so quickly, fans hardly have time to memorize their names sometimes, this season looks like the end for Aubameyang at Dortmund, he too has been such a wonderful servant of the club and leaves as the top goalscorer and winner of the golden boot 2017 with 31 goals, let me ask you what about Aubameyang? What next? Italy, Premiership or China where do you think he will go? Would China really be a good move?
Niclas Jensen: Some German coaches have been moving to the Premiership, Klopp and Wagner are two that come to mind. I don’t know about Tuchel, Southampton were rumoured to be interested but that has passed with the signing of Mauricio Pellegrino. Tuchel has the English language skills, the Premiership could be a good challenge, but I couldn’t say what the best option is – I am excited to see where he lands!
You know Auba has been incredible this season, probably playing the best he ever did. He’s 28 now, so if he needs to go to the absolute top like Real Madrid or Barcelona or Chelsea or Manchester United, I think it needs to be now. China on the other hand could be tempting for him because of the money the clubs are paying in China right now, though.
Ben McFadyean: Daniel Farke from Dortmund’s second team to Norwich is also a surprising move, and Klopp has been a big success steering Liverpool back to the Champions League. I am also excited to see where this trend goes; German coaches are starting to see success in England. Talking about Auba, I was amazed at Aubameyang’s ability to transform from a midfielder to an out and out striker. Dortmund really pulled one out of the bag — who would have imagined a top striker like Lewandowski could have been replaced like that? Aubameyang, like the Brazilians you mentioned (Dede for example), is also known to be a wonderful joker in the locker room he will be missed at BVB if he leaves. China I think would be a step backwards in terms of the football he would be playing, but there are a lot of international players there now like Oscar who moved from Chelsea, Carlos Tevez, Axel Witsel or Ricardo Carvalho playing in China now, so who knows maybe China is a good move? For a moment I’d love to hear about some of the players you played as a Denmark international players like Matthaus or Jürgen Klinsmann which player was the most challenging to play against?
Niclas Jensen: There are some good players in China, but Auba would not be at the top of his game. As a football agent, I can say that in three or four years out in China, Auba can earn what it would take 10 years to earn in Europe. Difficult to resist when you’re at the latter stage of your career! So as a player, I’ve in fact played against Cristiano Ronaldo a few times, so the easy answer in terms of the best player I have played is simple it is him, but the times I’ve struggled the most was if I underestimated someone. I see it with the young players I manage: Football is all in your head. Playing against CR7 you knew you should be 200% focused. But the times I was only 95 % against whomever was challenging as well.
Ben McFadyean: The Bundesliga is not on the level of salaries of China, but I agree entirely, I am concerned about the game he will be playing in China. I don’t see it as a step forward myself. Another great, Francesco Totti the AS Roma player, retired at the end of this season after 25 years with the club. I guess you see this trend a lot as an agent the days of long term commitment to clubs seem to be long, players join and sometimes even leave after one season and often against the player’s wishes like the talk about young talent Emre Mor at Dortmund like you he was raised in Danish football, he played for FC Nordsjaelland in Danish Superliga, the Danish first tier and has been hailed an incredible talent he looks like potentially being put up for sale by new BVB coach Peter Bosz what would be your advice and where would you like to see Emre Mor?
Niclas Jensen: Players like Totti or Dede who stayed at Dortmund 13 years are unique and the academy and the long process players go through at Dortmund is one of BVB’s strengths. I have followed Emre’s career in Denmark, it could benefit Emre to stay at BVB but you can never decide beforehand what is the best thing for a player. Would it have been better for Emre from the outset to have gone to Ajax, Fenerbahce, or Reykjavik than BVB? No one knows. Only thing that’s for sure is that it’s the mental toughness of the player that decides in football — simple as that. With the talent of a player like Emre, he can play on a VERY high level, if his head is in it. If not, he’ll struggle his whole career. I have, as an agent, seen many examples of very talented players who were mentally not capable of coping with the immense pressure that defines international top football. The stability can be an asset, but it is all about mental toughness.
Ben McFadyean: I am also a massive Emre Mor Fan, like many BVB fans; in fact, I think that he Ous’ Dembele and Rapha Guerreiro were the top signings at BVB last season. Coming to the end of our interview, tell us about your current role you are now a top football agent representing players. It sounds for any football fan like a glamorous job because you see so many talented players, do business and watch many matches, do you travel a lot? Is it as amazing as it sounds being a talent agent?
Niclas Jensen: Being a player agent is a great job, which I enjoy immensely and you attend many matches to see players, but it’s definitely not only all the glamour that people see and think it is. The job is also very hard work, the hours are incredible and it’s a complex people business, but I love my new role in football. I’m not complaining at all. I love it and since I can’t be on the pitch anymore, it’s the next best thing!
Ben McFadyean: It seems like it’s the business end of the football industry and I can imagine as you say that players don’t always make it but having your stability and experience behind the players must make all the difference. Let me just come to my last question some of our readers are football fans in India and as a player agent, I know you are keenly interested in youth development, the FIFA U17 World cup will be staged in India this autumn this will be the first time ever that a football world cup is staged in the country for a nation dominated by cricket but with an ever increasing base of football players and two national leagues, the super league and the I-league but a national team which has never qualified for a world cup, how important do you think the development of football in India will be affected by staging the world cup? Will this be the big breakthrough for the game in India? Do you keep an eye on talents in Asia and India in particular?
Niclas Jensen: There have been some Asian players in the top European leagues for many years now, including some in Germany like Shinji Kagawa at Dortmund. India is somewhat of a new phenomenon although there have been players like ex-Arsenal stars like Swedish player Freddie Ljungberg playing in the ISL there on short term contracts. The Chinese league is rising steadily and indeed Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson has been coaching in China for sometime. The U17 world cup will be a trial for football in India like in any other country, but I am excited to see also how football develops in this new market.
Ben McFadyean: Thanks, Niclas. I agree and would love to see the Indian game and national team make that breakthrough. I will in fact be attending the World Cup in October as a volunteer and am already incredibly excited. You have been a great conversation partner and we would be delighted to offer you honorary membership of the London fan club.
Niclas Jensen: Thank you and remember success can be temporary but loyalty is forever!
Copyright Ben McFadyean 28 June 2017.