2017-18 Preview: Unknown quantity Christiansen out to prove himself with Leeds United
The striker, then 22 and scoring for fun in Barcelona’s second team, had been brought to the attention of then manager Alan Ball by Johann Cruyff.
Ball took a look and liked what he saw. A fee was quickly agreed along with terms only for Christiansen to suddenly get cold feet over joining a club light years away from the global giant City are today.
“It was 1995 and I trained with them. Niall Quinn was the striker and a good player. Things went well and I was presented at a dinner as a signing, it was at the stadium.
“But, at that time, the team were last (in the Premier League) and had just lost 6-0 to Liverpool at Anfield. I had the impression that the team would not get better.
“I did not think that would change. The day after, I thought about the situation and I said to the club: ‘I think it is better I do not sign’.
“Who knows what would have happened? Maybe I could have played many games, scored goals and the team could have done better.
“But I took the decision and that is football. I did not complain and only take the positives from my career. It meant I never played in England, a country whose football I watched a lot as a young boy.
“There was one other time when I had an opportunity to come to England. I was at Villarreal and there was a chance I would leave.
“I came to Portsmouth. Alan Ball was the manager again. I trained there for one day but did not stay. It meant I never played in England.”
Christiansen’s career was played out in mainland Europe, Real Oviedo being his preferred destination to Maine Road in 1995 before enjoying spells in Germany and Greece. His career highlight was finishing as the Bundesliga’s joint top-scorer in the colours of unfashionable VfL Bochum during the 2002-03 season.
Injury – a fractured shin, misdiagnosed for a full season – eventually brought Christiansen’s playing career to a premature end at the age of 33. He worked as an agent initially, contacts built up in Germany and Spain proving a big help but, eventually, he grew disillusioned.
Coaching proved to be a more suitable role, he led Cypriot side AEK Larnaca to two European qualifications and a runners-up spot in two years at the helm. A move to APOEL followed 12 months ago and brought a title win plus a place in the last 16 of the Europa League, the furthest the club had been in European competition during 42 years of taking part.
Leeds came calling in the wake of Garry Monk’s exit earlier this summer, meaning Christiansen will this Sunday finally make his bow in English football more than two decades on from turning down Manchester City.
“This is the league that Danish people follow,” he adds, “As young boys, we watched the English First Division. That was the big league when I was younger and special to watch.
“I came home from playing a game on a Saturday to watch hours of football on the couch. That happened from me being nine or 10 through to 14 or 15. I knew all about Leeds, the history of the club, from those days.”
Christiansen’s appointment in June came as a surprise.
Andrea Radrizzani, having taken full control at Elland Road by buying out Massimo Cellino, had looked at David Wagner and Jaap Stam in the wake of Monk’s departure.
Huddersfield Town’s promotion ended any hopes of luring Wagner along the A62, while Stam signed a new two-year contract at Reading early last month. By then, Christiansen had been installed after impressing not only Radrizzani at a meeting in Italy but also Victor Orta, United’s head of recruitment, and new director Ivan Bravo.
Christiansen is understood to have run the men through a lengthy presentation, analysing all aspects of the squad and dissecting a number of last season’s fixtures. Necessary changes to United’s style of play were also outlined.
Radrizzani, hugely impressed by such in-depth knowledge, had his man.
“In the moment I left Cyprus,” says the Leeds head coach.
“We had won the championship at APOEL and done well in the Europa League. We reached the round of 16. That was a good performance and a big season for us.
“After that, I wanted something new so I left. There were not too many days that passed before I got the possibility of a meeting with the chairman, Victor and Ivan Bravo. We met in Milan.
“I’d had some other offers at the same time but once the Leeds possibility came along I really wanted to come here.
“I wanted to make a good impression, talking about what I wanted to do here and the experience I have had in football.
“My plans for the team and my ambitions, I wanted to tell them those. I had watched all seven of the (Championship) play-off games. I also saw Leeds games during the season, something that helped me when making my report in the Milan meeting.
“There were things I believed I could change and I explained them.
“The meeting went very well and they decided in 48 hours that I should be the man.”
The appointment of a coach with no previous experience in English football is, of course, a risk. So, too, is bringing in a host of foreign signings as a recruitment team with a distinctly continental feel made full use of their contacts book.
As Wagner and Marco Silva at Hull City proved last season, however, head coaches making their first foray into English football are more than capable of making a big impression.
“Big names do not mean a good coach,” adds Christiansen. “I hope that is the case for me.
“It has happened here in England, the names you mentioned (Silva/Wagner).
“Good names can take a team like Leeds because they do not have other things to go to. They see it as a step. But that is a poor mentality.
“If you take a team, you have to be ambitious for that team. There can be no compromise. The team is what matters, nothing else.
“You have to take the club to where they want to be at the end of the season.
“A lot of work is needed in any job and I am working hard here. I want to make Leeds United successful.”