The 46th Bundesliga season officially opens on 15 August with one of Germany’s most enduring battles for supremacy, Bayern Munich against Hamburg, the club known to all and sundry as HSV. It promises to be a very special occasion for the northerners’ new boss, as Martin Jol featured as a player for the Bavarians back in the late 70s.
The 52-year-old has now been tasked with rousing one of the league’s sleeping giants from a period of relative torpor. FIFA.com spoke to the Dutchman, at the helm with Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League until October 2007, about the forthcoming campaign.
What are your initial impressions after your first few weeks at Hamburg?
My first impressions are excellent. I sensed the locals' passion for HSV from my first day here. Working with the squad is unbelievably enjoyable, the conditions here are sensational. The training facilities have been extended even further over the summer, and I’ve never seen anything like it at club level. We’re just back from our training camp in Austria, where we knuckled down to the job and got to know each other better.
Hamburg finished fourth last term. Can you improve on that this season, and what are you aiming for with HSV?
Obviously, we want to make sure we qualify for Europe. HSV have made it into Europe for the last five seasons, and our fans don’t want to miss out on that in the future, so we should do what it takes to fulfil their wishes.
The club has brought in a number of new faces, but is it enough to make progress in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Cup, are is there another big name in the pipeline?
Right from the start, I said we’d only bring in new players if they genuinely make us stronger. The squad which finished fourth last season is fundamentally intact. You don’t finish fourth in the Bundesliga without a good squad. We’ve brought in Pitroipa and Aogo, two of the best players in the second division last season, and they’ve already hinted at their potential since arriving here. They’ll both continue to develop and hopefully make the breakthrough in the Bundesliga very quickly.
How good is the Bundesliga compared to the Premier League?
A poll of experts recently named the Bundesliga, the Premier League and La Liga as Europe’s strongest leagues. Who am I to disagree with the experts?
The big guns like Barcelona, Chelsea and AC Milan have all invested heavily this summer. Who’ll finish top of the pile in Europe?
The UEFA Champions League has been something like a private club from the quarter-finals onwards in recent seasons. Forcing your way in is unbelievable difficult. I’ll be interested to see whether Bayern manage to be there or thereabouts when the trophies are handed out this term, but there’s no way I can predict who’ll actually finish out in front. The decisive factors are form on the day, stronger nerves or luck.
New Bayern coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been praised for his innovative training methods. Is the fuss over justified?
I really can’t answer that question. I only know Jurgen Klinsmann off the TV, although that’s set to change on 15 August.
The likes of Huub Stevens, Fred Rutten and Guus Hiddink are all the rage at the moment. Why are Dutch coaches so highly valued right now?
What do you mean by right now? My country has always produced outstanding coaches. We have two more Dutch coaches in the Bundesliga now with Fred Rutten and myself, and Monchengladbach’s Jos Luhukay means we’re three in total, so it was always going to become a topic for debate.
The last four at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ all came from Europe. Was that just a snapshot in time, or is European football stronger than South America, for example?
The likes of Brazil and Argentina have no reason to fear anyone, and are capable of beating any European nation on a good day. But European football is very evenly-matched at present. It was almost impossible to name a favourite for UEFA EURO 2008. Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands were all in the frame, and these are all nations capable of making the last four at the World Cup.
Do you see yourself coaching a national team one day?
I’ve only been in charge at HSV for a couple of weeks. I can’t be thinking about anything else at the moment.
The Dutch won admirers for their refreshing attacking football at UEFA EURO 2008, but were eliminated in the quarter-finals. It’s 20 years since the Netherlands won a trophy, despite boasting players such as Van Nistelrooy, Robben and Van der Vaart. What has to happen for the Dutch to succeed on the international stage?
So Mr Jol is supposed to speak up now and tell his fellow countrymen how to make it all work? You’ll have to let me think about that one!