Huddersfield Town v Leicester City: Zanka out to carve his own identity with Town

Mathias 'Zanka' Jorgensen beats Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke in the air (Picture: PA)
Mathias 'Zanka' Jorgensen beats Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke in the air (Picture: PA)
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AN unfamiliar banking system in the UK and the locals’ willingness to commute long distances may still be taking some getting used to for Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen.

But the Danish international whose shirt features the name of a character from a hit film rather than his own couldn’t be happier with life at Huddersfield Town.

A haul of seven points from the opening four games has been a factor. As has ‘Zanka’ – his nickname ever since a former youth coach likened him to a character from the film Cool Runnings – striking up an immediate understanding with defensive partner Christopher Schindler.

Above all, though, the Yorkshire welcome afforded the 27-year-old helped him settle even faster than he thought possible when joining the Terriers in July from FC Copenhagen in a £3.5m deal.

“I have settled in really well,” said the defender. “Not having to worry about the language is a big help. Having travelled in the UK before, mainly London, it meant I knew English people. Though, to be fair, everyone is a lot nicer up here.

“The move has been easier to settle off the field than I expected, though there are still a few big differences here compared to Denmark. I cannot understand your bank system.

West Ham United's Andy Carroll (left) and Huddersfield Town's Mathias Jorgensen battle for the ball

West Ham United's Andy Carroll (left) and Huddersfield Town's Mathias Jorgensen battle for the ball

“The whole thing about needing extra security questions means I realise now that it is so much easier than in Denmark. That has been confusing but, other than the thing with the banks, it has been great.”

The banking system in this country may be causing the defender headaches but his insistence on being known by a nickname rather than his own surname has left others a tad confused.

At least one commentator has, when imparting team news to the nation, made reference to David Wagner making, “one change, with Zanka coming in for Jorgensen at the back’. Similar errors have been made by national newspaper reporters, something that tickles the man himself when told about the mix-ups by The Yorkshire Post.

It turns out his use of ‘Zanka’ has caused confusion in the past, even among his own team-mates. “There was a team-mate at Copenhagen called Jesper Christiansen,” he adds with a chuckle. “He had seen the team-sheet one day with ‘Jorgensen’ in the defence and did not know who it was. ‘Is this a young kid?’ he asked.

Everyone is used to it now. Here, at first, everyone called me ‘Mathias’ but now it is just Zanka. It is easier and more catchy.

Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen

“I told him it was me and then he understood.”

The Town defender’s metamorphosis from Jorgensen to Zanka began as a 10-year-old en route to a youth team match. Johan Lange, while driving the team in his car, looked down to see the youngster squeezed into a gap on the floor of the passenger side and thought he looked just like the character ‘Sanka’, played by Doug E Doug in the film about the exploits of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team.

“The nickname stuck,” added Zanka.

“The trainer, who is now the assistant coach with Copenhagen, started using it and then five or six mates from my school did the same.

“After that, all the school joined in, including my teachers. High School was the same.

“Then, when at Copenhagen, I was asked what I wanted on my shirt. I asked if ‘Zanka’ was possible.

“The national team was different. They put ‘Jorgensen’ on my shirt at first but there were two of us with the same name so they later switched mine to ‘Zanka’. I have had the nickname for a lot of years and even sign autographs as ‘Zanka’.

“Everyone is used to it now. Here, at first, everyone called me ‘Mathias’ but now it is just Zanka. It is easier and more catchy.”

As for why his nickname is spelt with a ‘Z’ rather then the ‘Sanka’ of Cool Runnings fame, he added: “Now that is something I do not honestly know.

“You are right that it doesn’t make sense (with a ‘Z’). But I think it is that way because I was told it looks cooler. As a 10-year-old, I wanted to be cool.

“I found the movie cool as well. My nickname also means you can draw parallels between the underdogs of the bobsleigh team and Huddersfield, too.”

Zanka clearly knows us journalists well. As he does Kasper Schmeichel, who will today be guarding the Leicester City goal at the John Smith’s Stadium.

“Kasper is someone I have known since we first played together for the Under-21s at just 17,” he added. “Then, we both moved into the senior squad.

“Me and Jonas (Lossl, the Terriers goalkeeper) went to visit him a couple of weeks ago. Kasper lives in Manchester and he is a good friend of both of us.

“I am based in Wakefield so we are not living close together. But by going to see him, I can fit into the British way of commuting. You guys don’t seem to mind it, a 50-minute drive is not a lot over here apparently. I also cannot understand that.

“Anyway, I did not ask Kasper for advice about moving to Huddersfield because I already knew what he would say. Every time we go to the national team together, Kasper says England is the best country in the world.

“Kasper is also a very good goalkeeper. We found that at Copenhagen last season. He made two saves in the Champions League that were the difference between us getting one and four points, which would have taken us through to the knockout stage.”

Asked if Schmeichel had enjoyed reminding him of those saves at their next international get-together, Zanka replied: “No, he just walked around with a smirk – knowing we knew what he was smiling about.”