Dennis Rommedahl: Rommedahl bursts into the big league

Charlton's high-profile summer signing has found a home from home at The Valley. Jason Burt meets the flying Dane who is set to be the latest hero off the PSV production line
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The Independent Football

They say Dennis Rommedahl can cover 100 metres in 10.2 seconds. They are wrong. If he was that quick the dashing Dane may well have been at the Athens Olympics right now - not doing his own stop-start version of The Knowledge as he tries to negotiate Greater London.

They say Dennis Rommedahl can cover 100 metres in 10.2 seconds. They are wrong. If he was that quick the dashing Dane may well have been at the Athens Olympics right now - not doing his own stop-start version of The Knowledge as he tries to negotiate Greater London.

A couple of Sundays ago and Rommedahl and his wife Wendy found themselves in the vast Bluewater Shopping Centre off the M25 - surely a little joke from his new team-mates at Charlton Athletic who had recommended a trip there - when he received a call from his compatriot Claus Jensen. "Claus said 'come round for a coffee' and he gave me his address [in Wapping, east London]," Rommedahl says. "I asked 'how long will it take'. He said 'oh, about an hour'." It took him three. "It was supposed to be a short trip but I guess it's London - and there's no such thing. Five minutes means 45 minutes. I just kept driving around and around. So I've done a lot of sightseeing already," Rommedahl laughs. For such a speed merchant, his personal best for 100 metres remains a still astonishing 11 seconds dead, the gridlock must have been all the more frustrating.

Even though Rommedahl's own retail therapy did not go well he found himself on Alan Curbishley's shopping list earlier this summer. Already knowing he wanted to leave PSV Eindhoven, where he had been for eight years and won four championships, Rommedahl was keen to come to the Premiership. A £2m transfer was quickly agreed - much to the relief of Curbishley who, still flush with money from the January sale of Scott Parker, found other targets harder to land until the arrival last week of Danny Murphy and Francis Jeffers.

Rommedahl bought into life at The Valley immediately. And his argument why is compelling. Charlton, he reasons, are the Denmark of the Premiership and, as he loves playing for his country, having gained 44 caps, they should be the ideal club for him. "We don't have Henry and Van Nistelrooy [his one-time PSV team-mate and his favourite player] but we have good players and a good team," says Rommedahl, who can play on either the right or left wing and may soon be joined on the Charlton flanks by Nottingham Forest's Andy Reid. "With Denmark, also, we have a lot of good names but not the big stars. Our quality is playing as a team, for each other and that's important in top football. And that's why we will always do well. There may be 20 countries who have bigger names but don't do so well - and that's because they depend on the stars, whereas we depend on the team."

Nevertheless Rommedahl, 26, could be that star. And yet he appears slightly reluctant to embrace such notions. A couple of years ago, as he was destroying Kolo Touré in the Champions' League, it seemed that he had the world and not just the Arsenal defence at his feet. There was talk of a move to England, maybe to Newcastle United, and speculative fees of up to £8m were bandied about. Instead he signed a new contract and stayed at PSV. "I still felt I had something to learn there," he says. "And now I feel I've done that and need to learn something more."

PSV, also, changed. A new coach, Guus Hiddink, came in and took some of the control away from the director of football, Frank Arnesen, who himself, of course, is now at Tottenham Hotspur. It was Arnesen, a fellow Dane, who had signed Rommedahl as a raw 18-year-old from the part-timers Lyngby - a club he had joined just nine months previously having been persuaded by friends to quit his business studies course. Rommedahl insists Arnesen's own departure this summer played no part in his own decision to leave. Indeed he says he went now - instead of next year when he could have left "on a Bosman" - because he was keen for PSV to receive a fee, by way of thanks at the schooling he received. "I wanted them to get some of the cake," he says.

Even so Rommedahl has not been the only one to depart PSV this summer and it's not uncommon for the Dutch club to undergo such upheavals. Indeed it happens every four or five years. His friends Mateja Kezman and Arjen Robben are at Chelsea, with another, Jonas Kolkka, at Crystal Palace. In addition PSV captain Mark Van Bommel would still like to come to England as would goalkeeper Roland Waterreus. Indeed Kezman phoned Rommedahl the day after he got back from Chelsea's pre-season trip to the United States to fill him in on what had happened. Was Rommedahl - who made his Charlton debut at Wycombe, not Seattle - jealous? "Kezman was top-scorer [in the Dutch league] with 30 goals, so it's normal that a big club will look at him and Robben is only 19, so that's normal as well," Rommedahl says. "But I like to be at a good club where I can develop - and maybe they will not play as often. That's no good to me. No, I feel that I made the right decision."

He may have been forgiven for having second thoughts about that last weekend - when he found himself on the bench, watching as Charlton were destroyed 4-1 away to Bolton Wanderers. A Dane did make the headlines but it was Bolton's less celebrated Henrik Pedersen, who scored twice, and not Rommedahl who was confined to 20 minutes as a substitute.

He will surely start when Portsmouth come to The Valley today and even if Charlton appear to specialise in opening day nightmares - last season they were thumped 3-0 at home by Manchester City, only to then finish nine places above them - it is a memory they will quickly want to banish. Curbishley has demanded nothing less and has issued a fulminating warning to his squad. Unsurprisingly the Bolton result may lead to a questioning of the wisdom of Charlton's, albeit lucrative, pre-season tour to China. Rommedahl, as he played in Euro 2004, was excused that trip.

It all makes for a lively start to his Charlton career for a man who claims he had grown bored of Dutch football - even though he has a Dutch wife and states that he feels "more Dutch than Danish... although I'm Danish inside". Rommedahl says of leaving PSV: "I just needed some fresh air after eight years going to the same stadium, playing the same teams. So I needed something new, to change the way I play. In Holland everyone plays the same way."

That can be stifling and Rommedahl's explanation offers a chink of frustration over his own patchy form last season. "In Holland they are so negative and always talk about the crosses that go behind the goal," he says. "They never talk about the good crosses." Like all Scandinavians he grew up watching English football - broadcast live on Saturday afternoons - even if his favourite team was always the Barcelona of Michael Laudrup.

Not that he wants to play in Spain or Italy. "I like going there for holidays," he says. "In England I like more the way they play. Here it's a higher tempo. Sometimes, yes, it's too fast. Dutch football and English football are two different kinds of game. In Holland they keep the ball more and more and play it back to the goalkeeper and to the defenders and back again. Here it's 'go, go, go'." Rommedahl adds: "Sometimes that means playing faster than you are able to! I'm fast. That's one of my leading weapons but also I'm determined, always, to go on even if I fail. So I think one of my strengths is that I know what I can do. And if I fail I try to do it again until I succeed."

There's another reason why he prefers England: it's better for a player's home life. And that clearly means much to him, possibly because, as a boy in the suburbs of Copenhagen playing handball and tennis more than football he split his time living with his mother and grandmother, before eventually moving in with the latter. "I used to run between the two," he says. Now he's concerned what effect the move to London will have on Wendy. "She had everything in Holland so I know it will be harder for her," Rommedahl says. "It's easier for me because I have the football. But I also knew that if I'd gone to Italy or Spain the players spend two days before a game in a hotel. I don't like to be away like that and I know that doesn't happen here."

Much of his information on English football - and Charlton - was gleaned from Jensen while the two were in Portugal for Euro 2004. Although Jensen quit for Fulham his parting gift was to sell Charlton to Rommedahl. "It was good for me to talk to someone on the inside. But I knew already that he wanted to try something new so I didn't expect him to be here when I came," Rommedahl said. "He told me good things about Charlton and that helped influence me. He told me they were an upcoming club, well-run, growing and doing better every year. Hopefully I can help them take that step further." His arrival has certainly caused excitement among Charlton's fans. A top 10 finish is the first target. Beating last season's hugely impressive seventh place, is the next, "And then if we do well, aim for European football," says Rommedahl who has played in the Champions' League for the past six seasons.

It's all part of his football "education". He's even looking forward to playing on Boxing Day, New Year's Day - and having to cope without a winter break. Another lesson for Rommedahl was learnt three weeks ago when he was summoned to a press conference at the House of Commons to launch Charlton's new centenary shirt. It was quite an experience. "I think I had seen the centre of London once before," he says. "When I was 15 on a school exchange. I do remember Big Ben." On his more recent trip he also discovered that, curiously, Charlton is the favoured team of most of the police officers who work at the Palace of Westminster. "Yes, they were all coming up, asking for autographs," he says, again laughing. "This is all new for me and my wife, a bigger challenge. I see this as a different kind of story," Rommedahl adds. It's one he intends to embrace. Even, for such a flyer, when it comes to negotiating the traffic.