Denmark expects, but would any domestic coach do their duty?
Getting the sack as a football coach in the modern game seems to be inevitable unless you win, well, everything. That’s what makes Morten Olsen’s 12-year tenure at the Danish helm all the more impressive.
Olsen’s national coaching career started strongly as he led Denmark to the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup and the quarter-finals of Euro 2004. However, he then failed to qualify for any international tournaments until the 2010 World Cup, in which Denmark disappointed in the group stage, as they did in Euro 2012.
Yet, Olsen is still in charge despite announcing in 2010 that he would step down in 2012. Only he didn’t, and with Denmark’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil looking increasingly precarious, Danes are starting to call for his head.
One of them is Jan Jensen, who for over two decades has been the main sports correspondent for Ekstra Bladet. He thinks that even Denmark’s international players are starting to lose faith in Olsen.
“The team who drew with Bulgaria a couple of weeks ago was completely unrecognisable,” contended Jensen. “I’ve never seen such an unmotivated group of players in all of the 12 years Olsen’s been in charge. He just needs to leave.”
But the search for Olsen’s successor isn’t a particularly easy one. International tournaments no longer carry the same prestige they used to. Jose Mourihno (arguably the most sought-after coach in football), for example, stated in 2010 that the Champions League “is more important” than the World Cup.
It’s a point that Jensen concedes, but he argues that it makes international tournaments all the more important to Denmark.
“The Champions League? That’s for dreamers,” he said. “We’ll never have a domestic team good enough to win that. But as far as the World Cup or Euros go, we have a fighting chance. We did it in ’92, and we can do it again. But only with someone else in charge.”
Jensen has a long list of qualifications that he would like to see the successful candidate have, but is he being too ambitious? They’re qualities few international coaches would possess, particularly as in recent times, international jobs have mainly been given to ageing coaches close to retirement, or retired footballers keen to kick-start a managerial career.
The likes of Marco Van Basten, Jorgen Klinsmann and Slaven Bilic, for instance, had little coaching experience when they were first hired to run their respective national teams. Whereas ageing managers, who are keen to retire in style perhaps, include Roy Hodgson, Marcello Lippi and … well … Morten Olsen.
“The Danish squad is still one of the top 20 football teams in the world,” Jensen said full of pride. “So the job still holds prestige and should attract talented managers with something on their CV.”
Prestigious or not, Jensen feels that the most important criteria the country’s next manager should possess is a foreign passport.
“Forget Danish coaches,” Jensen said dismissingly. “We need to look outside our borders for new talent. Bringing in someone who’s been educated within Danish football won’t bring us any success.”
A bold statement perhaps, and one that completely goes against the current betting. According to Bet 365, the top ten candidates are all Danish bar two (Wolves manager Ståle Solbakken, a 9/1 chance, and Swedish national coach Erik Hamren, 14/1), while the favourite is none other than Michael Laudrup (2/1).
“Laudrup?” Jensen shook his head. “I doubt it. I’ve spoken to him about it, and he’s so vague and reluctant about the position, I can’t imagine him going for it just yet. The media attention would just be too much for him.”
But are Jensen’s wishes any more likely? Denmark may be 18th in the FIFA world rankings, but that won’t necessarily attract any world-class coaches. International football may still hold weight in this country, but its image amongst the elite leagues in Europe is perceived more as an unnecessary distraction than a point of national pride. Until that attitude changes, the Danish FA are better off hiring a young hungry manager who has something to prove, a Henrik Larsson maybe, than they are trying to attract a football heavyweight like Pep Guardiola.
Reaching for the stars is fine, but it’s more important that Denmark remains realistic and keeps its feet firmly planted on the ground. Even if that means hiring another Dane.
Employer: Swansea City
CV Highlights: As a player, Laudrup won league titles in Spain (five straight: four with Barcelona, one with Real Madrid), Italy and the Netherlands. As a coach, he has worked in the top two leagues in the world – the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga – and also a major club: Russia’s Spartak Moscow. Additionally, he was Morten Olsen’s assistant for the 2002 World Cup campaign. His managerial highlight came in 2007, when Getafe reached the final of the Copa del Rey and quarter-finals of the Europa League.
For and Against: Laudrup, the fans’ favourite, is the most obvious choice. If he proves to be a success at Swansea this season, it’s difficult to see how he won’t be offered the job should Olsen step down next October, no matter how reluctant he is about taking it.
Employer: Hamburg SV
CV Highlight: Just like Mourinho, Arnesen learnt his trade working for Bobby Robson as his assistant coach at PSV from 1991-94 before becoming the club’s director of football. It was a job he filled until 2004, when he left to take up the position at Tottenham and then Chelsea (2005-2010) before becoming the director of football at Hamburg in 2010. He’s been credited with discovering talents like Brazilian striker Ronaldo, and Dutch players Japp Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben.
For and Against: Although Arnesen has only ever held caretaker coaching roles, it is his record in youth development that will interest his prospective employers. Given the current crop of talent ripe to make a strong challenge at the 2018 World Cup, Arnesen could be the man to get the most out of the young stars.
MARCO VAN BASTEN
CV Highlight: Managed the Netherlands from 2004-08 with a win rate of 67 percent. Out of 52 games, he won 35 and only lost six. However, at both tournaments, his sides fell at the first hurdle in the knockout stage. Euro 2008 was most disappointing as the Dutch had thrashed the 2006 World Cup winners and runners-up, Italy and France, 3-0 and 4-1 in the group.
For and Against: There isn’t very much that can be said against Van Basten’s candidacy. He proved during his four-year stint managing the Netherlands that he has what it takes to succeed on the world stage. Though he walked away from the Dutch job in 2008, it was reported that the Dutch FA wanted to extend his contract by another two years. His status in footballing history would ensure instant respect.
Employer: Wolverhampton Wanderers
CV Highlight: Had plenty of success coaching FC Copenhagen, winning the Superliga five times before moving to the German Bundesliga in 2011 to coach 1. FC Köln. However he failed to make much of an impact there and was sacked halfway through his first season. He later quipped that “Jesus and José Mourinho would have struggled together at that club.”
For and Against: Solbakken knows Danish football inside and out, and no matter where you are, winning a league five times is impressive. Although as Ekstra Bladet’s Jensen points out, he might not be the kind of manager Denmark needs at the moment. However, if Solbakken manages to take Wolves up to the Premier League, then surely he will have done enough to be considered seriously.
The Dark Horses
Steve McClaren (60/1): England’s ex-coach, aka ‘wolly with a brolly’, failed to take England to Euro 2008, but has since won the Dutch Eredivisie title with FC Twente.
Peter Schmeichel (70/1): Not only is he the most capped Danish international ever, he is arguably the best goalkeeper of all time. No managerial experience though.
Sven Goran Eriksson (80/1): Another ex-England coach, but a proven qualifier. He took England to three consecutive quarter-finals. Currently unemployed after being sacked by Leicester City.
José Mourinho (300/1): ‘The Special One’ would rather win the Champions League than the World Cup. But who in Denmark would hold that against him?
Rank Outsider: The Copenhagen Post tipster Ben Hamilton reckons former Finland and FC Copenhagen coach Roy Hodgson could be a good bet, should he lose the England job in October 2013.