THE back of Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen’s team shirt may sport the name of a character from the film Cool Runnings rather than his own, but any similarities between the underdogs of the 1988 Jamaican bobsleigh team and Huddersfield Town end there.
Where the Caribbean island’s first attempts at competing in a winter Olympics won plenty of friends in Calgary almost three decades ago – they failed to finish due to an unfortunate crash just metres short of the line – the Terriers look much better equipped to last the course of the sometimes treacherous run that can be a Premier League season.
We are constantly pressing, meaning teams don’t have a second on the ball without someone being there stepping on their toes.Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen
A seven-point haul from their opening three outings back among the elite is not just impressive, but also very much deserved.
‘Zanka’, as the summer signing from FC Copenhagen has insisted on being known throughout his career, has played his part with a trio of composed displays alongside Christopher Schindler that could not be further removed from the heart-warming, if amateurish, escapades of the four-man bobsleigh team that are the basis for the 1993 film Cool Runnings.
“We do enjoy the underdog role,” said the Dane, who came by his nickname courtesy of a junior football coach as a 10-year-old. “We put that on us ourselves and say, ‘Let’s go and prove them wrong’.
“We have taken the right steps towards showing people what we can do. We are a different style of team than a lot of the other teams in the league and I think some will have a hard time playing against us, especially because of our style of play.
“We are constantly pressing, meaning teams don’t have a second on the ball without someone being there stepping on their toes.
“What we try to do is become a team that is very uncomfortable to play against and have a team here at the John Smith’s Stadium that is hard to play against. We have done a good job at this stage of the season of being that team.”
‘Zanka’ and his team-mates have certainly done that, the gegenpressing system that David Wagner brought with him from Germany in November, 2015, having played a huge part in Huddersfield’s bright start to life among the elite and those three precious clean sheets.
“Fitness, fitness, fitness...” was the mantra of pre-season from the Terriers’ head coach and all those hard yards put in are already paying off. That much was evident throughout the game with Southampton, but perhaps best illustrated by a passage of play around the mid-point of the second half that drew cheers from the home fans in the 23,548 crowd that were almost as loud as the one that greeted Aaron Mooy’s winner against Newcastle the previous Sunday.
Kasey Palmer and Steve Mounie were the men doing the pressing, their snapping and snarling at the heels of Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens leaving the usually composed Saints pair looking distinctly rattled.
Moments later, Tom Ince followed the duo’s lead by whipping the ball off Ryan Bertrand’s toe and finding Palmer. His shot was blocked, much to the frustration of Ince, who had taken up a much more promising position to the Chelsea loanee’s right, but the fact Huddersfield had rocked a team that last season finished eighth in the Premier League underlined why the Yorkshire club have made such a big impact already.
“We now go away for the international break able to look back and say, ‘This is a good start’,” said ‘Zanka’, whose nickname arose after his coach spotted the youngster travelling to an away game squeezed into a gap on the floor of the passenger side of a car and thought he looked just like the character played by Doug E Doug in the film Cool Runnings.
“We are pinching ourselves. You can look at the table right now and smile – that is what we should do. We know there is a long way ahead of us and we will probably not end up where we are at the moment.
“But we are going to keep working hard towards our goal, which is to avoid relegation. We don’t care what anyone else thinks. We will stay true to the Terriers’ identity and we will see where it gets us.”