This week we learnt that Christian Eriksen may be making a welcome return to professional football, possibly with Brentford. Such a move would make sense because a return to London would presumably not be a massive issue for the former Tottenham man, and because Brentford, the lower league club who once gave us such pure Englishness as Big Terry Evans and Gary Blissett is now instead a cultured mini-Denmark. So far this season, seven Danes have featured for Brentford in their debut Premier League campaign. Eriksen, if it happens, will take that figure to eight, which will be just one behind the Premier League record, set by Newcastle with Frenchmen in 2013-14 and Wolves with Portuguese players in 2020-21.
In some ways Brentford leaning on their Danes is entirely predictable because it’s the way of the global football manager. While some in the UK have mocked British managers overseas for dipping back into the domestic market they know for talent (a classic example being Graeme Souness at Benfica giving a combined 16 Champions League appearances to Mark Pembridge, Scott Minto, Brian Deane and Michael Thomas), I’m happy to report that managers from outside of the British Isles do exactly the same thing too.
If we exclude UK and Irish players from this study, as we should, then there have been 12 seasons where seven or more players from a single nation have featured for the same Premier League side, and the vast majority of them share that heritage with the manager who put them in the team. There’s three separate Arsene Wenger seasons at Arsenal where he fielded seven Frenchmen, and why not. There’s those nine Portuguese players at Wolves last season under Nuno Espirito Santo, a club so steeped in western Iberia that they replaced Nuno with another Portuguese coach, Bruno Lage, who has already used eight of his countrymen in 2021-22.
There’s Fulham in 2003-04, who used seven Frenchmen, many of them signed by Jean Tigana, although they were being managed by the resolutely un-French Chris Coleman by that point. And there’s Norwich City two seasons ago, who fielded seven German players under the managerial promptings of Daniel Farke. Sometimes it’s just nice having people who know the same television programmes as you.
And that’s what makes Newcastle, or to borrow the very clever lexicon of the time, ‘Nouveau Château’, a relative outlier here. The club have never had a French manager, and in 2013 the only foreign managers in their entire history were Ossie Ardiles and Ruud Gullit, neither of whom left much of a legacy. No, the reason for Newcastle’s Gallic army in 2013-14 was the result of Graham Carr’s scouting across the channel, a sort of briefly successful footballing version of French Fields where Carr would share cassoulet with locals and try and unearth the best regional talent. Some of the transfers worked, some very much didn’t but the result was a brief French epoch in the north east of England, before the déjà vu of yet more battles against relegation.
The one final club/season/nationality combination we need to mention is Swansea City, also in 2013-14. The Welsh side used seven different Spaniards that year, less a corollary of their manager at the time, but more an echo of their manager from half a decade earlier. Back then Roberto Martinez coached the Swans and by instigating a very late-2000s Spanish style of play at the club, subsequent managers such as Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup continued in the same vein. If you’re looking for Spanish style players, why not look in Spain?
So maybe at Brentford in half a decade Thomas Frank will have moved on but the ethos and vibe that he has created at the club will be living on. Perhaps those football fans of the late 2020s will instinctively know that rather than Battersea Dogs Home, it’s the Brentford Community Stadium that contains the capital’s greatest collection of Great Danes.