Beenhakker: Every day a pleasure
Leo Beenhakker has been coaching for 36 years, but the 65-year-old has lost none of his appetite for the job.
The Poland coach started out on his current career in 1972 at Cambuur Leeuwarden in his native Netherlands, before earning his first domestic league title with Amsterdam giants Ajax eight years later. A second was to follow in 1990, before adding a third in 1999 with Feyenoord.
However, even that treble is eclipsed by Beenhakker's record
in Spain, where he guided Real Madrid to three consecutive La Liga
triumphs from 1987 to 1989, the last of those including a league
and cup double. The much-travelled coach has also worked in
Switzerland, Mexico and Turkey.
Beenhakker's first stint as a national coach began with his native Oranje in February 1985, and he returned to the Netherlands top job for the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, where he led his men to the quarter-finals and a narrow 2-1 defeat to eventual world champions Germany.
From May 2005, he masterminded Trinidad and Tobago's successful bid to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, remaining in charge for the minnows' debut appearance at the global showdown. It was after the 2006 finals that he took up his current position, and Beenhakker has once again underlined his prowess by leading the Poles to their first-ever tilt at the European crown.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Beenhakker reflected on the upcoming tournament, Poland's group opponents, his targets, and his future.
FIFA.com: Leo, congratulations on leading Poland to their first-ever UEFA European championships. What have you done differently compared to your predecessors?
Leo Beenhakker: I don't know what my predecessors did. After the 2006 World Cup, I took charge of a group totally lacking in confidence and belief. We've spent a long time working on our mental strength, getting the players to where they are now. In terms of tactics, we've focused on what we do with possession, and we've given the midfield a much higher profile, looking to improve our effectiveness in attack instead of thumping long balls aimlessly upfield. And our defenders have learned to get rid of the ball quicker rather than being forced back towards our own goal. As you'll have noticed, we have a very long and intensive programme behind us.
The quality in the team is clearly one of the main reasons for your qualifying success. How far is that due to having players in the leading leagues - in Germany, Spain and England?
Well, it's definitely important. They give the team international experience, they're used to playing under pressure, and they have the ability to focus and concentrate on a game at exactly the right time.
Racing Santander striker Euzebiusz Smolarek, one of Poland's star names on the continental football stage, scored nine of your 24 goals in EURO 2008 qualifying. Is he the key to your success?
No doubt about it. I've known about him since he was a youth at Feyenoord in Rotterdam. The good thing about him is that he doesn't just score goals, he often scores the important, game-winning goals.
After your successful qualifying campaign and wins against the Czech Republic and Estonia, your team fell 3-0 to the USA. What lay behind the setback?
It was a one-off. We only had 48 hours together, we had a few EURO-related things to discuss such as premiums, activities with sponsors and so on, and we simply didn't give the game our full concentration.
You've yet to name your squad for the EURO. Tell us a little about the process of selecting the best players.
We'll be on time. A number of my players are overseas-based and most don't finish the season until 18 May, so we'll have to wait a little and see what shape they're in.
As we've already mentioned, this is Poland's first shot at the European Championship. What are your targets at this summer's finals?
You can't plan anything in football. The next game is always the most important, and that's our target in a nutshell - to win the next game. And if you can do that match after match, you slowly but surely reach your goal, which for us at the EURO is a place in the quarter-finals.
You face Germany, Croatia and co-hosts Austria in Group B. How would you rate your opponents?
They'll be tough opposition, that's for sure. But I've always said the way we performed in qualifying gives us the right to contest the EURO with the same goals and as much belief as any other team. Obviously, we face three difficult matches, but that applies to our opponents as well as to us.
Turning to your home country, how far can the Netherlands go in Austria and Switzerland?
They're definitely equipped to win the trophy. But I'd totally agree with my Germany counterpart [Joachim Low], when he said the EURO 2008 starting field is the most closely-bunched ever in terms of potential. That's why I don't think there are any clear favourites. Any team could beat any other. That was true at EURO 2004, where nobody backed the Greeks. It'll be a fantastic and exciting tournament.
Three Dutch coaches are leading teams at the EURO, you with Poland, Marco van Basten with the Oranje, and Guus Hiddink with Russia. What's so special about Dutch coaches?
We're simply very good [laughs].
The Poland job is your 23rd as a coach. Will it be your last?
I don't know. I love football, and I enjoy my job. I've been in this business more than 40 years, but every day is still a real pleasure. As long as I stay physically fit, still able to focus mentally, and I'm still enjoying every minute, I'll carry on.
- Donadoni: A taste for victory »
- Altintop: We can beat anyone »
- Bruckner: We're a top team »
- Ivanschitz: Prestige at stake »
- Lahm: We'll peak right on time »
- Simunic set on EURO success »
- Van der Vaart: My EURO dream »
- Gattuso: The EURO is so tough »
- Belief key for Hitzlsperger »
- Football fun in Klagenfurt »
- Kuhn: The 12th man is vital »
- Gekas: We're one of the top four »
- Fritz: Croats took us by surprise »
- Petric sets sights on prize »
- Vastic: We can beat Germany »
- Surprises evoke mixed reactions »