In an interview with Borussia Dortmund specialist Benjamin McFadyean, former Denmark international defender Niclas Jensen explains why playing alongside Thomas Rosicky and Jan Koller was a highlight of his career, how Dede was always more of a friend than a rival and why Dortmund can find the next Erling Haaland.
|Niclas Jensen played for Dortmund between 2003 and 2005.||Photo: Borussia Dortmund|
His former clubs include Borussia Dortmund, PSV Eindhoven, with which he won the Eredivisie Dutch title in season 1996-97, Manchester City and Fulham FC.
The 1995 Danish U21 Footballer of the year’s greatest success came with FC Copenhagen with which he won the title in 2001-2 and then in 2006-7 and the double of title and Danish cup in his last season of 2008-9.
The 47-year-old lives in Copenhagen and is now a partner of a football talent management agency and a TV pundit.
"George Bello, the US international, is definitely amongst my picks of the Bundesliga’s January transfer window. Arminia have picked up a left-back that I can well see on the radar of a number of top clubs, including BVB."
Ben McFadyean (BM): Thank you for this opportunity to speak about your career, starting from your current role, you're back home and working as a football agent in Copenhagen nowadays?
NJ: Yes, ever since I actually left Fulham, I have been here, so since 2007. I went back to play a few years for FC Copenhagen. Being born here and raised here I really enjoy living here, Copenhagen is my hometown.
BM: Fantastic. And how is the football agent life?
NJ: Pretty much the day after I stopped playing, I started working as a football agent. All of a sudden, it's been 10 years now. Time flies, but it's an inspiring and really great job. It's the next best thing to being an agent looking after the players' careers - although nothing actually beats being on the pitch.
BM: Do you go to a lot of games to watch the players you look after?
NJ: I try to get in as many games as I can. I watch a lot of Bundesliga games, it's a very good market for agents in Germany. As a former player I keep an eye on my former clubs, especially BVB and Manchester City, but also FC Copenhagen of course.
Niclas Jensen had two spells at FC Copenhagen (Photo: Christianvinter, CC BY-SA 2.5).
BM: Let’s start by talking about the current BVB squad. You yourself played as a left-back and it’s a critical position that BVB has had trouble filling over the last few years, neither Zagadou nor Schulz have been the right fit, basically since Mathias Ginter there hasn’t been a good fit in that position for Dortmund, what do you see as the issue?
NJ: That's a good question. I definitely agree that they haven't found the perfect solution. The good solid, back three or four, or whatever they want to play with. And of course, as a left-back, I'm always looking at how the players are performing in that position.
But they have the players, Guerreiro is a great left-sided defensive option but he is mostly played in a wing-back position. He is a magnificent player, but especially since Hakimi left there has been a gap.
Schulz should have been a good solution. He is a Germany international that BVB paid a lot of money for, who was a good performer with Hoffenheim. However, Schulz cannot sustain his performances somehow. He does not appear to be the left-back that Dortmund are looking for. Of course Marcel Schmelzer has been injured for a long time and is nearing retirement. I am not sure about Mateo Morey, I feel like that the position has not been ‘owned’ by any of them so far.
They need a good solid player in that position, who delivers for Dortmund week in and week out. A title-winning team is ultimately built on a strong defence, and the defence gives the team a good foundation of security that leads to points. BVB are conceding more goals than they should be with the quality of the players they have, the backline is still a work in progress in my view.
BM: What about Mats Hummels? Has he still got the pace that BVB needs in that position at center-back? I mean the Germany international brings experience and at 33-years-of-age leadership, but how long before Borussia will be needing a ‘fresh vision’ in the center of defence?
NJ: That's a good and valid question. It's not always a question of being fast. As a centre-back, it's a lot down to who you are pairing up with because if you are a good partnership it’s unbeatable. But the defenders need to know each other and then they can cover for weaknesses, even a lack of pace.
Ultimately, each of the defenders needs to just concentrate on defending their area well and know that his team mates are doing their job. Then if it’s going well you can cover for small errors a few meters to the left or right and mind the backs of your teammates.
It comes down to a good pairing, which if it’s in place gives the team security. I think BVB will sign someone this summer but in the ranks there are also some good talents so maybe the right player will come up from the academy.
"You know the difference between the top level of players and the rest is the sheer level of dedication, but also the mental strength as well as of physical power. Erling [Haaland] has an incredible knack for scoring outstanding goals. But there's something quite unique about him in terms of his professionalism and determination also."
BM: Germany U-19 international Left-back Nnamdi Collins from the U19 team for example?
NJ: Nnamdi is an interesting prospect, but looking further afield, George Bello, the US international, is definitely amongst my picks of the Bundesliga’s January transfer window. Arminia have picked up a left-back that I can well see on the radar of a number of top clubs, including BVB.
Niclas Jensen pictured with Nikolai Baden Frederiksen following the latter's move to Juventus in 2019:
BM: Looking back on your career, you had 16 years as a top-flight pro player across several European leagues including Denmark, England, Germany, Holland. Did you always know you wanted to be a footballer?
NJ: I only ever had one dream growing up and that was to play professional football. For as long as I can remember, it was the only thing that I ever wanted, and whenever anyone would ever ask, my answer would be that I was going to be a professional football player. So, of course, I now realize how privileged I was that that dream came true.
BM: Niclas, you joined Borussia Dortmund in 2003. Paint a picture of that experience. What was it like to be joining BVB at the time? Was it special to be part of one of Germany’s leading clubs?
NJ: Absolutely! We were doing well with City in the Premier League, so it was a very tough decision. But of course, I knew that the Man’ City of back then was never going to be a top-three side so it was pretty much that desire to be part of a team that could be in the chase for silverware that made me want to join BVB, who, remember, had just won the title in 2002.
"You just stand there speechless. It's just so massive. All the faces staring down at you. The noise in Dortmund is a little bit more intense than on other grounds."
Niclas Jensen on how it felt to play at Westfalenstadion.
BM: But things turned out differently?
NJ: It did. We missed the Champions League qualification in 03/04 and the bad financial situation of the club started to become apparent. Borussia Dortmund were in something of a shambles. Although as a player you didn’t feel much of it, it was very chaotic behind the scenes.
Of course, it was not the experience that I wanted to have at the club. But in spite of the difficult atmosphere, I think of those two years as being inspiring, mainly for the amazing people I met there, players like Metzelder, Reuter, Weidenfeller, Koller or Rosicky made a lasting impression on me.
Also The ‘yellow wall’, we were playing in front of crowds of over 70,000 week in week out, and in spite of the situation, it was unique to play for Borussia Dortmund.
BM: The Westfalenstadion (Signal Iduna Park) remains one of the best football experiences for you?
NJ: As soon as you step out there and you have a look around, you just get this feeling like few other grounds, like wow! You just stand there speechless. It's just so massive. All the faces staring down at you. The noise in Dortmund is a little bit more intense than on other grounds.
Signal Iduna Park has a league capacity of 81,365 (Photo: Borussia Dortmund).
Even now, every family member or friend who asks about that time, I always say ‘just go down to a game in Dortmund you will see’, plenty who have been with me are amazed by the yellow wall 25,000 people in just one stand, as many as in the whole of many grounds, that says it all. I frankly have fond memories, and I can only thank the BVB fans for their support.
BM: In your era at BVB, there was a famous rivalry with Dede. Would you describe it as a friendly rivalry or was it more than that?
NJ: So, I never read that as a rivalry, we were competing for the left-back position of course, but you know Dede is such a really cool guy, and it’s hard not to like him.
In my career, I have always prioritized getting on well with my teammates because you spend so much time together, you spend more time with those guys than your family pretty much, especially in the summer months, when you are at training camps, so you need to get on well with your team mates or else it is not a good experience.
Also, as a team, you perform better when the players get on well. As a footballer or in any job, you want to look forward to going to work and spending time with the other guys. Dede was an outstanding player and a great teammate.
BM: As a football agent, which you are now, you see a lot of talented players Borussia Dortmund has a few, Bellingham and Reyna for example. One very special striker which I know you have been watching since his early days is Erling Haaland. What makes Haaland so special? How far can he go? And how can BVB replace the Norwegian?
NJ: You know the difference between the top level of players and the rest is the sheer level of dedication, but also the mental strength as well as of physical power. Erling has an incredible knack for scoring outstanding goals. But there's something quite unique about him in terms of his professionalism and determination also.
You see a lot of players as an agent, but not many like Erling. Even his father Alf-Inge was a very determined player, there is a mental strength in Erling. There are many 18 or 19-year-olds with great talent but very few have the balance and discipline of Haaland. What I admire is that Haaland is very professional even at just 21 years of age. Also, his level of energy is amazing. I think some qualities a player is born with but the dedication to become the best is a personality thing.
BVB made a great signing with Haaland, but they will also need the vision to replace him. But Dortmund has shown its vision many times. Lewandowski, Barrios, Aubameyang... There have been some great strikers.
BM: Where do you see BVB at the end of the season under Marco Rose, and how is the new coach working out for ‘Die Schwarzgelben’?
NJ: Of course, a tough question because the team is in a transition. Apart from Malen and Kobel, Dortmund have not invested a lot this season, and as mentioned there are positions which will need to be looked at such as if Axel Witsel leaves in the summer, but in my view, BVB will finish in the top four places in the Bundesliga for sure. Also in the Europa League that can be interesting, let’s see.