Hernandez and Hojlund brothers face up to sibling rivalries in Champions League

The AC Milan versus PSG and FC Copenhagen against Manchester United games mean divided loyalties for two families

Lucas and Theo Hernandez celebrate after winning the 2021 Uefa Nations League final with France. EPA
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Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool, made a mischievous joke to assorted reporters after his most recent European night at Anfield. His team had just beaten Belgium’s Union Saint-Gilloise in the Europa League and, on his way to speaking to the media, Klopp noticed a queue of reporters wanting a moment with Alexis and Kevin Mac Allister.

The Argentine brothers, one a midfielder for Liverpool, the other a defender at Union, had just played against each other for the first time in senior football. “They’re doing 25 interviews in a row, together,” smiled Klopp. “It felt like it’s the first time two brothers played against each other. A nice story.”

It was not the first time, of course. Somebody mentioned the Nevilles, Gary and Phil, Manchester United colleagues in the 1990s and 2000s until Phil joined Everton and, playing against United, was frequently up against his older sibling.

Klopp cheekily answered: “Well, nobody was interested in that, obviously.” The Nevilles remain mostly associated with United, Liverpool’s great rivals and Gary Neville is now a prominent pundit, critical of Liverpool at times this season. Klopp made it clear his remark was meant entirely in good humour.

Some mischief would follow the latest set of brothers to come up against one another at OId Trafford, too, in the last round of the Champions League.

Oscar Hojlund, whose late entry as a substitute for Copenhagen had been pivotal to his team’s being awarded a stoppage-time penalty at United, was talking to reporters afterwards.

Along came his older brother, Rasmus, who playfully knocked away a broadcaster’s microphone. Rasmus was a relieved member of the winning side, United having held their 1-0 advantage thanks to Andre Onana saving the Copenhagen penalty, struck by another substitute Jordan Larsson.

The Hojlunds had not quite coincided on the pitch, but only by a matter of minutes, 18-year-old Oscar’s introduction following Rasmus’s exit, the United striker replaced after 86 minutes of a long, tense, evening at centre-forward.

On Wednesday, when Copenhagen host United, with both clubs still in the bottom two of Group A, the Hojlund family, a gene pool of concentrated football talent, anticipate a special homecoming.

Rasmus, the €80 million summer signing from Atalanta, will be back in his native city at the Parken Stadium where, as a 17 year old, he played his first senior football for Copenhagen. Oscar, who was in the Copenhagen starting XI at the weekend, may actually see action simultaneously with his big brother.

Meanwhile, Oscar’s twin, Emil, will likely have to pass on the opportunity of giving father Anders, a former professional, the proud pleasure of seeing three sons involved in the same Champions League fixture.

While Emil has appeared for Copenhagen’s first team this season, he has been more useful for the Under 19s, scoring twice in the Uefa Youth League that runs in parallel to the main Champions League – but with very different outcomes. Copenhagen’s teenagers have won all their games, Emil on the scoresheet in the victories over Bayern Munich and Galatasaray’s U19s.

Theirs is not the only powerful thread of sibling rivalry running through Europe’s elite club competition. At the San Siro on Tuesday, the France internationals Theo and Lucas Hernandez face one another in what looks a make-or-break contest for Theo’s AC Milan.

The Rossoneri sit at the foot of fearsome Group F with two points so far with games against Borussia Dortmund and Newcastle United to follow the meeting with Lucas Hernandez’s Paris Saint-Germain.

Two weeks ago, the older of the brothers finished comfortably on top, PSG beating Milan 3-0 at the Parc des Princes. Curiously, for two footballers who have hop-scotched around leading clubs in Spain and Europe since they came through the ranks at Atletico Madrid, Lucas, 27, and Theo, 26, had never met in active opposition before, the closest being a 2017 Madrid derby when Theo was on the bench for Real and Lucas in Atletico’s defence.

They have, though, competed for the left-back berth for France. At the same San Siro Theo now calls home, they won the 2021 Nations League together, Theo in Les Bleus starting XI at left wing-back while Lucas, then of Bayern Munich, sat on the bench. Lately, they have coincided for the national XI, Lucas at centre-back, Theo outside him.

For as long as they can remember, theirs was a competitive relationship, at least on the pitch. “Neither liked losing,” Pablo Lopez Salgado, a former coach at the Rayo Majadahonda academy, the Madrid club where the Hernandez brothers enrolled as boys, told L’Equipe. “Especially when they were up against one another."

Both have a Champions League winner's medal, Theo with Real Madrid in 2018, Lucas with Bayern two years later. But the dream of winning another European Cup with a new employer this season looks like something only one brother can maintain beyond this group stage. Like the Hojlunds, one sibling’s joy very probably entails the other’s prolonged disappointment.

Updated: November 07, 2023, 2:45 AM