In what has been a whirlwind couple of days for Town, this morning it was confirmed that Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen has joined Huddersfield Town from FC Copenhagen for a fee in the region of £2.3 million.
With a nickname deriving from the film ‘Cool Runnings’, Zanka is far from Town’s most expensive signing of the summer and yet there is a buzz of excitement about the Danish defender and his colourful personality.
This piece looks to provide an insight into who the 27-year-old defender is and what impact we think he will have at Huddersfield Town.
Who is Zanka?
The Early Years
Born in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen began his footballing career at Danish second division side Boldklubben af 1893.
Having been there since the age of four, Zanka climbed up the ranks through the academy system which eventually culminated in him make his debut at just the age of 16.
Even at the earliest stages of his career, Zanka was tipped to reach the highest level as one of the brightest talents in Denmark, having spent a week on trial at Premier League side Arsenal.
The first spell at FC Copenhagen
However, rather than making the switch to England at such an early age, Zanka made the switch to Denmark’s most successful team of the modern era, FC Copenhagen.
Whilst some players may have been tentative moving from a second division side to one of the biggest teams in Denmark, Zanka embraced the challenge and established himself as a regular member of an extremely successful Copenhagen side.
It was during his first spell at FC Copenhagen that Zanka had his first taste of European football, Zanka made his European debut in a Uefa Cup qualifying tie against RC Lens.
Having established himself and forged a reputation at the Danish giants, Zanka began attracting attention from across Europe and it seemed the then Danish international was destined to leave.
In 2012, Zanka made the switch to PSV Eindhoven. Having faced competition from a number of sides from across continental Europe for Zanka’s signature sign, there was much excitement in Eindhoven about the signing.
However, the then 22-year-old centre half struggled to settle which had implications on the field as he found it harder and harder to break through into Fred Rutten’s side. This subsequently led to Zanka drifting to the margins of PSV Eindhoven’s squad.
Despite struggling in Holland, looking at the bigger picture, the move was an important part of Zanka’s development. Taking himself out of his comfort zone, Zanka further educated himself and developed into a far more well-rounded player.
Having made just fourteen appearances in a difficult two-season stint in Holland, Zanka prepared to move once again.
The return to Copenhagen
In the summer of 2014, Zanka returned to FC Copenhagen for a cut-price fee of just €600,000. Despite Zanka’s spell in Holland being a blip, the move proved to be an inspired one.
Zanka returned as a far more mature and well-assured central defender at the heart of Copenhagen’s defence, meaning the €600,000 fee paid that the Danish club paid seemed to be a real steal.
The return of Zanka was a catalyst of success for FC Copenhagen. Following his return, Ståle Solbakken’s side won the domestic double twice, both during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season.
As well as the domestic success, Zanka was an integral member of a Copenhagen side that thoroughly impressed in the Champions League. Within the same group of FC Porto, Club Brugge and Leicester City, the unfancied Danish side only conceded two goals in the Champions League group stages.
Having made a gentleman’s agreement with Copenhagen that Zanka would be allowed to look for a new club in the summer, David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town moved swiftly to ensure that they secured the Danish centre-back’s signature.
The Manager’s View
After winning the race for Zanka’s signature, David Wagner gave his opinion on Town’s latest signing:
“Matthias is another very good signing for our club as we prepare for our first Premier League season”.
“He is a very complete defender with great experience of being successful in every league he has played in, which served us well with the signings we made last season too”.
“His athleticism and football intelligence will be big assets in the Premier League, for sure, and he is a super professional character, which will fit in with our current group of players very well”.
“This deal makes total sense for us because Jon (Stanković) is out of action until Christmas.”
The Expert’s View
Following the confirmation of Zanka’s arrival, to get a deeper understanding of Town’s latest signing, we spoke to Joe Short, an FC Copenhagen follower who is the weekend editor for Daily Express Sport:
How would you describe Zanka’s playing style?
“Zanka is a footballing defender. He’s smart, quick and good with his feet. He’s also a talker – always down the ear of the opposition striker.”
Do you think his playing style or skills would suit English football?
“His style suits Huddersfield certainly. I’m not sure there is a particular English style of football.”
What are his strengths and weaknesses?
“His strengths are his speed and character. Weaknesses are that he likes to get involved in a tussle.”
How important has he been to Copenhagen this season?
“He was player of the season at Copenhagen, was captain (along with a couple of others), made the most clearances of any player in the Champions League group stage.”
Are Copenhagen fans happy or sad to see him leave?
“Copenhagen had a gentlemen agreement to let Zanka leave in the summer, so the club and fans have known this for some time and new players have been signed to replace him.”
Do you think he will be a success or failure?
“I reckon he’ll be a success but who knows in the Premier League!”
He appears to be someone who is either loved or loathed! Do you think his colourful personality will be a breath of fresh air in a sanitised Premier League?
“To be honest I think Town themselves will bring fresh air into the Prem. Hefele and Wagner two examples of interesting, fun personalities.”
Will Zanka be a good signing for Town?
When Michael Hefele arrived at the John Smith Stadium, he was already adored by Town fans and throughout the course of the season, he reached a cult-hero like status.
This summer, we could see another centre-half follow the exact same trajectory.
From his nickname to his self-proclaimed status as an anti-hero, Zanka has a boisterous colourful personality which will almost definitely see him become a fan favourite. From his personality alone, Zanka could be the much-needed breath of fresh air in what has become an overly sanitised PR-obsessed Premier League.
However, it is not only his personality that should be exciting Town fans. On the field, Zanka appears to have all the necessary attributes to be yet another shrewd signing who will slot into Wagner’s system perfectly.
Unlike other systems, much of the onus falls onto the centre-halves. In Wagner’s system, the role of the full-backs to push up high and press often means that Town’s formation fluidly changes in possession to a 2-4-3-1, leaving the two centre-halves isolated as the last line of defence.
For this system to work, both centre-halves have to be reliable and have the athleticism to cope with the threat of counter-attacks when Town loses possession.
Standing at 6ft 3″, Zanka is an athletic aerially dominant centre-half who is going to be a huge presence at the back and seemingly the perfect partner for Christopher Schindler. Schindler’s cool headed nature and quiet brilliance beside Zanka’s raw passion and aggression could prove to be a perfect balance.
As well as having athleticism and aggression, two traits that will serve him well in English football, Zanka’s composure in possession is that of a continental ball playing centre-back which is crucial to Town’s footballing philosophy.
With the confidence and vision that far surpasses that of a regular centre-half, Zanka’s varied passing range and his reliability to be trusted with the ball at his feet all points towards him thriving in Wagner’s system.
Zanka’s physical attributes alone have all the makings of a good signing but the Danish international also has a number of insatiable qualities.
Firstly, the 27-year-old defender who is reaching the prime years of his career has vast amounts of experience, not only in top flight football but also in Europe, having made over fifty appearances in a combination of the Champions League and the Europa League. Zanka also has over ten caps at international level, this experience will put him in good stead for the season ahead with his newly promoted side.
Secondly, Zanka arrives at Town as yet another player who captained his previous side. Zanka will, therefore, bring even more leadership credentials to a side that has former captains all over the park. It was a trait that proved to be so important last season and it appears to be a trait that Wagner is looking at in his new signings once again.
From the evidence above, Zanka, as he is affectionately known, could prove to be an enormous success for Town. He clearly has a number of worthwhile qualities from his dominance in the air which sees him become a real threat at set-pieces to his composure and ball-playing ability at the back. This married with his effervescent personality and the raw passion and aggression that he shows could see him become a regular starter for Town, forging a relationship with Christopher Schindler.
If Zanka lives up to the bill and allows his boisterous personality to flourish on and off the field, the Danish ‘anti-hero’ could well be Town’s next cult hero.