“The USA were very interested in me” – Denmark’s Thomas Delaney
In another life Thomas Delaney might have been reclining in a hammock somewhere in the Indian Ocean right about now. Instead, he’s driving Denmark’s push for an extended stay at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
At the age of 20, Delaney – a Copenhagen native with American roots – was asked if he’d consider representing the USA at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. He declined.
Six years on, via successful stints with Copenhagen and Werder Bremen, the 26-year-old midfielder – who will officially join Borussia Dortmund in July – is the beating heart of a Denmark team that needs just one point from their final Group C encounter with France to reach the last 16 of Russia 2018.
“I was sounded out about playing for the USA at 2012 Olympics,” Delaney recalled in Alexis Lalas’ State of the Union podcast. “They were very interested. I don’t know how far I went when considering it. The thing with American youth soccer is that these games are all over the calendar. They don’t fit the Scandinavian league very well. That being said, I’m not so connected to the U.S., so I decided I’ll give it a shot for Denmark.”
Decision vindicated. Although Delaney had to wait nearly two years between making his senior Denmark debut against Malta in October 2013 and second international appearance, in a friendly win against the USA in March 2015, he is now one of the first names on the team sheet – for club and country.
“I’ve developed a lot,” Delaney explained. “I was used to winning all the time in a lower league, with Copenhagen. Not fed up, but you get used to it. So your development stops a little bit. It was a big, big challenge coming to Germany. I’ve ended up having more end product, more goals, more assists – what football is about in the end.”
Watch: Delaney bowling over the Bundesliga from the off!
Having conquered European football’s back waters, Delaney joined Bremen in January 2017 as a five-time Danish Superligaen and four-time Danish Cup winner. His tenacious streak and box-to-box energy proved a timely addition as the Green-Whites climbed away from the relegation quagmire to the dizzy heights of eighth in the final standings. The 2017/18 campaign played out in similarly hot-and-cold fashion, with Delaney again assuming the role of resuscitator-in-chief.
In the end, Bremen were good value for their mid-table finish, but Delaney had bigger fish to fry. Rejecting the siren call of the English Premier League, the Dane signed a four-year deal with Dortmund. Happily for BVB, the ink dried a good two weeks before the start of Russia 2018, where his stock has only risen on the back of rambunctious displays in the win against Peru and draw with Australia.
Now to the biggest test yet of his hitherto 29-cap senior international career: France.
“France is not gonna be easy,” Delaney admitted. “I’ve been against France a couple times – never had a good experience. Hopefully it will be an advantage that we play [each other] in the last game. We can play a little bit more free. They are a top team. They can win the World Cup. A lot of people think they have the team spirit and tactics. I have great respect for them. They are better than us in many ways. We’ll see. We have to be pragmatic, be physical – play to our strengths.”
Denmark have not advanced to the knockout stages of a World Cup since 2002, when they topped a group that included holders France, before losing 3-0 to England in the round of 16. Not the Danes’ finest hour by any stretch of the imagination – they won the UEFA Euros in 1992 – but enough to light Delaney’s fire.
“I was a real football kid,” he said. “My father took me to the Saudi – Denmark game at the 1998 World Cup – in Paris, I think. I had all these Panini stickers, 100s of stickers. I got all these stickers, the official ball, the Denmark shirt. It’s actually one of my earliest memories. I went to a lot of Copenhagen games, but this was a different scene. The World Cup is a different thing. It gets you turned on as a kid.”
Now who’s the muse? Delaney might not get the attention of Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen – “great things happen when he plays” – but the soon-to-be Dortmund terrier is no less deserving of the plaudits. There is a reason the Stars and Stripes tried to claim his as their own, after all.