Brentford have signed Central Midfielder Christian Nørgaard from Serie A club Fiorentina for a fee of around £3m.
The 25-year-old Dane arrived in Florence from Brøndby last summer as a replacement for Milan Badjell. He made only six appearances for the Viola – never quite managing to wrangle the holding midfielder position from Jordan Veretout – starting only four of those matches
Nørgaard – who has played for Denmark at every level up to U21 – had a much happier time at his previous club Brondby playing under Thomas Frank where he was a cult hero – making 145 appears and scoring 11 goals.
Brought into Brentford to protect the central defence whilst pinging balls around the pitch – think of a mix of an upgrade of Jonathon Douglas meets Josh McEachran on a very good day – he is an amazing work horse who is really good on the counter-attack. He is a don at moving the ball around.
He started his career as an attacking central midfielder before being re-schooled as a central defensive midfielder.
He also has a real humble personality which has adorned him to fans, club colleagues and media alike.
Tell us about Christian Norgaard and Brondby
Brøndby IF had just finished second in the Danish Superliga after a close race with FC Midtjylland – winning four games against their normally stronger local rivals FC Kopenhagen and securing the Cup – when they then lost two of their key players Teemu Pukki and Christian Nørgaard.
As fans following the Championship last season might have guessed, losing Teemu Pukki would have been a hard blow for Brøndby. But most spectators of the Danish Superliga would agree, losing Christian Nørgaard was even worse.
The numbers speak for themselves. In the 2017/18 season, Brøndby had the best defence in the league. In 2018/19 they had one of the worst and with the same defence.
The one difference. There was no Christian Nørgaard in front of the back four.
Christian Nørgaard anticipates the opponents offensive game very, very well. He is a hard tackler and is an extraordinarily good passer for a defensive midfielder.
Thomas Frank was Nørgaard’s manager at Brondby. How did they get on?
Christian Nørgaard was a different player under Thomas Frank who left the club during the 2016/17 season. Frank saw Nørgaard strictly as an offensive midfielder. He played that role for the Danish U21 team where Frank had been coaching before he came to Brøndby.
Thomas Frank wanted Brøndby to play possessive, attractive football. But the fans missed the aggressive play which has always been a Brøndby trademark. Moreover, Brøndby were never really quite able to compete with the two top clubs in Denmark – FC København and FC Midtjylland
I’m sceptical about Nørgaard and Frank together because they never got it to work at Brondby. But saying that, if he is being played in the right way then he is a great player.
Saying that, Brøndby was Frank’s first experience as head-coach for a senior team and judging by the few Brentford games I saw last season, it looks like he has made some adjustments to his tactical philosophy – making the play a lot more effective.
Further to Frank’s defence, he did take Brøndby from finishing 9th in the league two years in a row, to finishing 3rd and 4th in his first two seasons.
Nørgaard under Alex Zorniger
When the German Head Coach Alex Zorniger took over after Frank for the 2017/18 season, he transformed the system from possession and short-passing to his own extreme version of gegenpres – high pressure defensive football
It meant a fresh new start for the whole team and the one player who benefited most from this was, surprisingly for many, Christian Nørgaard.
Under Zorniger he spent a lot of time in the gym – bulking up – and was placed as single defensive midfielder in a diamond with three very offensive players ahead of him.
And what a fantastic job he did! .
Brøndby played very aggressive football with high pressure and a very high defensive line. That gave Nørgaard a huge amount of responsibility – being the only ‘six’er’ to guard the defence, thereby keeping the rather slow defence from having too many running duels with pacy attackers.
The ultra-offensive style also meant that every ball had to be played forward very quickly and Nørgaard did just that, using the skills he build up from his time as offensive playmaker when he made a very high rate of successful passes.
In one season, Nørsgaard had become the perfect defensive midfielder.
What player he is similar to?
This is a tough one. He reminds me of Busquets mixed with Pirlo.
Which then brings us to the question, – what the hell was he doing as a benchwarmer in Fiorentina?
Nørgaard at Fiorentina
Fiorentina had an impressive start to the Serie A season winning 6-1 against Chievo. Nørgaard made his debut – coming on 30 minutes before the end of the match and did his job – letting the offence have their fun whilst cleaning up the opponents attempts to get something out of the game.
Or, that’s what I thought anyway.
The Fiorentina head coach must have disagreed.
After his debut, Nørgaard slipped further away from the starting lineup and was only substituted on in rare occasions. This continued through the whole season, even as the results began to get worse and the club descended to mid-table in Serie A.
Fiorentina, as it is most common in Italy, had a very large squad with six or seven players fighting for the same spots in central midfield
All of these were highly competitive players.
But none of them are Busquetz and Pirlo combined of course.
I am inclined to believe that something else was wrong other than Nørgaard’s capabilities on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, Nørgaard hired a mental coach but that didn’t help in getting him starts.
As explanation as to why Nørgaard did not succeed in Serie A could be that he lacked the mental ‘qualities’ it takes. To my knowledge, Nørgaard is a very decent guy and for all I know about Italian football, decent guys don’t necessarily stand a chance.
Nørgaard and Brentford
Whether the mental issue will be a problem in The Championship, I don’t know.
But i hope I’m not offending any Brentford fans by saying that the competition for defensive midfield will not be as fierce as it was in Fiorentina.
Moreover, he will have a lot of trust from his coach and the team around him and that might just be what he needs in his career right now.
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