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Interviews

The Long Read: Mads Roerslev

A B Team signing who became a Premier League matchwinner, Mads Roerslev is a shining light for Brentford’s second squad

4 April 2022

“Mads has a fantastic attitude and has developed so much during his time with us. He’s playing in the Premier League this season and is still growing. It’s a great Brentford story.”

Thomas Frank was full of praise for Mads Roerslev following his man-of-the-match performance against Aston Villa in January.

The Denmark Under-21 international was a constant threat during a tightly contested game at Brentford Community Stadium, registering an assist for Yoane Wissa before grabbing the winning goal seven minutes from time.

“To score in front of the West Stand, in front of the hardcore fans, was just an amazing feeling,” Mads tells me with an ear-to-ear grin. He’s joined me straight from the training pitch and, with the wind howling outside, it sounds like the roof of the media cabin is hanging on for dear life.

He continues: “I could see the happiness in their eyes when I was celebrating; there would have been no better way to score my first goal.

“I don’t think we played that well, actually! Games like that happen; you can’t expect to play your best every week. Sometimes the other team is going to have a top day and dominate a bit.

“For the assist, I remember playing a small one-two with Mathi [Mathias Jensen] before passing to Wissa. It wasn’t a great assist because the finish from Wissa was just unbelievable. His first touch to slide past the player might have been even better than the finish! I owe him a bottle of wine!”

Mads’ career began at FC Copenhagen. Having progressed through the youth system at his hometown club, he made his senior debut as a second-half substitute in a Danish Cup match against Jammerbugt in October 2016. His grin reappears when I ask him about his first professional outing.

“I got subbed on in the 63rd minute and scored in the 64th! We won 6-1. That was a nice moment for me. I lived close to the stadium and, when you play in the youth teams, you dream of being on that big pitch.”

The full-back made four further appearances during the 2016/17 season and signed a new long-term contract with Copenhagen in May 2017. Down the pecking order at Parken, he was sent on loan to Swedish club Halmstads to gain some further experience. His first spell away from Denmark didn’t go to plan.

“It went terribly,” says an animated Mads. “I played the first game, everything went great, we won. Then I got a call from the Sporting Director a few days later who told me that I needed to get to the stadium quickly. I was 17 and this was on a day off, so of course I thought, ‘F**k, what have I done wrong?!’ The Sporting Director told me they had made a mistake. Clubs must complete a lot of paperwork to sign a player who is under 18, even just for a loan spell, and, by mistake, they thought I was born in 1989 instead of 1999! They’d made me ten years older! Even now I look about 16, so I’m not sure how it happened!

“I had to wait for the Football Federation to give me the green or red light. I was training with the team but couldn’t play. After two months, the call came to say I couldn’t play. It was such a s**** time.”

Another brief loan spell, this time at Vendsyssel, followed before his permanent departure from Copenhagen in August 2019. Mads had worked closely with Bees Assistant Head Coach Brian Riemer during his time in the Danish capital and admits that he was a big factor in his decision to move to London.

“I met Brian when I was in the Under-17s at Copenhagen and he took me up one year earlier to the Under-19s. I trained a lot with him. I knew Brian as a coach and as a person - we’ve always been really honest with each other.

“He presented a plan that involved me starting in the B Team and that was really hard for me because I’d been on the Copenhagen First Team and it felt like a step down. But I needed a boost, I needed to play. I never doubted my quality. With Brian at Brentford, I knew that I could evolve as a player. I knew that he could help to develop me.”

Mads’ faith in Brian and the B Team pathway was quickly repaid. In November 2019, just three months after joining the Club, he made his First Team debut during a 1-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers. His first start came against Sheffield Wednesday the following month. The 22-year-old praised the impact of the B Team staff when I asked him about his rapid progress.  

“Of course, you never really know how the journey is going to go, but I had a plan,” Mads tells me. “In football there are so many things that have to go your way. Sickness, injuries and suspensions can all make a massive difference. I was lucky to have some really good coaches in the B Team. Neil [MacFarlane], Sam [Saunders] and James [Purdue] improved me a lot, they showed me the English style and mentality. I got that from the first minute I walked in.

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Demanding standards: Neil MacFarlane and Sam Saunders

 

“I had new eyes on me. I felt like I was going under the radar in Copenhagen, so it was so nice to come here and have new eyes on me and a point to prove to my new team-mates. When you join a new club, you have to paint a picture of yourself. I was walking around the canteen with a massive smile on my face – I felt wanted. I remember Rasmus Ankersen telling me that I looked like someone who had just won the lottery!”

Mads continues: “The B Team train really hard and I love that - I could see how much it meant to everyone. I could see in Neil’s face how pleased he was if I sprinted that extra yard to get to a pass. They showed me a side of football that I hadn’t seen much of before.

“The B Team train really hard and I love that. I could see in Neil’s face how pleased he was if I sprinted that extra yard to get to a pass”

“The B Team’s style of play and formation was very similar to the First Team’s, so it felt like the perfect preparation for taking the next step. It didn’t feel like going from one team to another. The step up came very smoothly.”

In total, Mads made 14 First Team appearances during the 2019/20 campaign and was on the bench for our Play-Off Final defeat to Fulham.   

He returned to Jersey Road after the summer break with the bit between his teeth, ready to fight for his place in the starting XI, but there was an unexpected bump in the road. A metatarsal injury sustained while on duty for Denmark’s Under-21s kept him on the sidelines for four months.

“I’d never had a long-term injury before that, so it was a sad time for me,” Mads recalls. “But you can’t change anything, you have to start working. Those were some long months but these experiences make you stronger. It’s a cliché but it’s true.”

Mads returned to action in January 2020 eager to make up for lost time. And that he did. An injury to Henrik Dalsgaard towards the end of the campaign allowed him to claim a spot in the starting XI, a place he kept through to the 2021 Championship Play-Off Final.

That day at Wembley Stadium – and Mads’ contribution to our 2-0 victory – will never be forgotten. His eyes light up when I ask him to rewind to Saturday 29 May.

“The whole day was just amazing,” says Mads. “You could feel the tension in the squad, but we were so focused. To make the assist for the second goal was a feeling I’ll never forget – there’s nothing that compares. It was crazy. I remember facetiming my family on the pitch after the game. Everyone was so happy. It was one of the greatest days of my life.

“If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be playing in the Premier League, having made an assist in a Play-Off Final, I’d have thought you were crazy.”

The Play-Off Final marked the end of Dalsgaard’s time at Brentford; the experienced full-back signed for FC Midtjylland the following month after four years with The Bees. An exceptionally consistent right-back who represented Denmark at the 2018 World Cup Finals, Mads could have had no better mentor. The pair formed a close relationship during their time together in TW8.

“He had a huge impact on me,” says Mads, with a great deal of fondness. “From our first training session together, he shared his knowledge with me. He’s a great defender and I really wanted to learn from him. We would analyse things together. He’s a really good guy and was a role model at Brentford for the young players in the squad.

“Your best friends can also be your competitors, that’s the nature of football. That’s natural. I remember doing an interview last season, during which I said that Henrik was really nice guy but I was coming for his shirt. The next day he put the paper down in front of me and was like, ‘Alright, game on then, yeah?!’ But everyone knows that’s what we’re here for, everyone wants to play. The best player plays and everyone knows that, there’s never any hard feelings.”

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Mentor: With Henrik Dalsgaard after the full-time whistle at Wembley Stadium

 

Our conversation then turns to the current campaign. At the time of writing, Mads has featured in 17 Premier League games, including starts against Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea. I ask Mads how he’s finding life at the top level. “The Premier League is the best in the world, so I was expecting lots of quality and world-class players and world-class teams,” he says.

“I’ve spent some time thinking about how the Championship and Premier League compare now I’ve played some games in both divisions. It’s very similar in the type of football, there’s just that edge of quality in the Premier League. There are world-class moments in most games. You can’t give any shots away because it’s just going to head straight into the top corner!

“There’s just that edge of quality in the Premier League. There are world-class moments in most games”

“There a few players who stand out – [Kevin] De Bruyne was good against us – but if I had to pick one it would be [Allan] Saint-Maximin at Newcastle. He has everything, a proper winger. He’s so strong, so fast and so quick with his feet.”

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Toughest opponent: Mads tackles Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin

 

A B Team signing who became a Premier League matchwinner, it’s a great Brentford story indeed. Mads’ journey will no doubt prove inspirational to the current crop of young players at Jersey Road.

“I feel a great connection with the Club,” Mads concludes. “It’s something special when a player goes from the youth system to the First Team; it shows that it’s a healthy club with a good system in place. It’s a great environment and I know I’m not the only one who’s gone from the B Team to the First Team here. I 100 per cent feel that connection, this is my home.”

 

Follow Mads on Twitter and Instagram @MadsRoerslev


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