Jensen plays the pied piper of Herfolge

Phil Gordon assesses a chilling Danish prospect in store for Rangers
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The Independent Football

Even under the warm glow of a Danish summer, the bronze feet of the Little Mermaid remain cold. At tea-time on Wednesday, Dick Advocaat may empathise with Hans Christian Andersen's famous Copenhagen landmark.

Even under the warm glow of a Danish summer, the bronze feet of the Little Mermaid remain cold. At tea-time on Wednesday, Dick Advocaat may empathise with Hans Christian Andersen's famous Copenhagen landmark.

The Rangers manager will be too preoccupied with Champions' League dreams to be bothered with sightseeing. His hosts have ensured the Scottish champions will be kept off the beaten track anyway, but the sight of John Jensen ought to bring a chill.

Jensen is living proof that the land of fairytales extends its magic spell even to football, and if he creates another on Wednesday the townspeople of Herfolge will be measuring the former Arsenal player for a statue of his own.

The little town, 40 miles south of Copenhagen, will be the unlikely focus for Europe's football élite. Should Jensen do the unthinkable and defeat Rangers in the third qualifying-round tie, it will be the modest Danes who rub shoulders with Real Madrid and Co when the lucrative group stages begin in September.

So cautious were Herfolge's directors that they declined the chance to stage the first leg at the 41,000-seat Parken Stadium in Copenhagen - where Arsenal lost the Uefa Cup final to Galatasaray last May - and opted for the homely surroundings of their own 6,000- capacity ground. But Jensen has already made a habit of proving that small is beautiful.

In his first season as a coach, the former Gunner turned Herfolge (population 3,000) into even laid-back Denmark's most unlikely champions. "People have said it's just like a Hans Christian Andersen story," declared Jensen from his office at the tiny Herfolge Stadium last week. "We were an ugly duckling and now we are a beautiful swan."

And now they are dipping their toes in the water of the Champions' League. "It's a big step for us," Jensen cautions. "It's not as if we are like my old club, Brondby, who have played at the top level in Europe regularly over the last 15 years. Before I came to Herfolge, just finishing third in the Danish league would have been tremendous."

So imagine the ripples when Jensen's swan brought the title itself to the sleepy backwater. "I signed only one player, Jesper Falke, from AB Copenhagen, so the rest were the same players who had never achieved anything. But I told them they were good enough to win if they believed in themselves, and they did."

Jensen, of course, is the player who wrote the book on football fairytales. He went into the summer of '92 preparing for a holiday on the beach and ended it helping Denmark become European champions after their late call-up to replace ostracised Yugoslavia. His goal against Germany in the final earned the likeable midfielder a move to Arsenal.

Highbury, Jensen insists, was "the happiest time of my life", and even though the Dane was derided for scoring just a solitary goal in four years there, his unglamorous graft was a key element of an Arsenal side whom he helped win the FA Cup in 1993 and the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1994, on his own Copenhagen patch.

He is not one for the star system. "We have no stars at Herfolge - we win together and we lose together," Jensen says. "I've always had that philosophy. I would love to be in Arsÿne Wenger's position, but even if I had a lot of money, I might not spend it."

Such parsimony would bring a smile to the face of George Graham, the man who brought Jensen to Arsenal and from whom he has borrowed some, though not all, facets of his management style. "George used to say, 'Do it my way or take the highway', and I am like that, single-minded.

"Some things he did I've taken, other things I have not. You can only remember the good things, put them in a bottle, then mix it and see what kind of a manager you create."

Jensen, though, has one extra trick up his sleeve that Wenger, Graham and Advocaat can only dream of: the 35-year-old player-coach can still pull his boots on and influence events from centre-stage. "I have the legs of a 19-year-old," he laughed. Rangers will hope they are not made of bronze.