Danish coach Jan Poulsen stepped up to the Armenia helm in January 2008, and is currently leading his team through 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying. To put it politely, the East Europeans’ campaign has been less than optimal. They lie bottom of Group 5 with no points from four matches, after conceding 12 goals and scoring just one thus far.
"I’ve now had 11 matches in charge of the national team. We’ve won three, drawn three and lost five. Unfortunately, four of those defeats were in World Cup qualifying, and that’s certainly not what I’d been hoping for. We’re in a tough group, and three of our qualifiers were away from home. I’m convinced we’re in for a better year," the optimistic and determined Poulsen exclusively told FIFA.com.
Poulsen has pursued an intriguing and colourful journey to reach his latest destination. He was Richard Moller-Nielsen’s assistant in 1992 when Denmark sensationally triumphed at the UEFA European Championship in Sweden. He coached his country’s U-21s for a time, before heading for Singapore in 1999. Initially hired as the local association’s director of football, he became national coach in 2001. Following spells at club level in Denmark, he set off on his travels again in 2006 as U-20 coach in Jordan, before accepting Armenia’s offer to become head coach of the senior national team at the beginning of last year.
"I spent a few years in Asia, but I thought it would be interesting to take on a new challenge at the highest level in Europe. I’ve always been the kind of guy who pursues long-term goals, so I’m delighted to be part of the ongoing development process in Armenian football," the 62-year-old explained.
During his twelve or so months in the Caucasus, where his responsibilities include the junior national teams and coaching development, the man born in Store Heddinge on the island of Zealand can point to progress in a number of areas. However, he is fully aware that little can be achieved overnight: "The association has realised the need to work with the grass roots. We have to pursue our goals over the long term. All in all, I’d say we’re moving in the right direction, but Rome wasn’t built in a day."
A player for Danish top flight outfit Boldklubben Frem between 1969 and 1976, Poulsen is enjoying life in his new home and has shown great diligence in the integration process. "To be honest, 12 months isn’t long at all. It takes a while before you settle in a new country and get to grips with a different way of working. But I’m happy with my job, and the Armenians are very helpful and friendly," he reports from his new base in the mountainous, landlocked country bordered by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey.
Despite his side’s thoroughly disappointing start to 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, the Danish coach remained upbeat throughout his interview with FIFA.com. "If you enter a contest, you do so with the intention of winning. However, you have to be realistic too. Looking at our group, it’s obviously unlikely we’ll qualify for South Africa in 2010. But we’ve had a couple of decent results, and we’ll try and build on that. I remain optimistic, and I believe we’ll achieve some decent results in our forthcoming games,” Poulsen stated.
Armenia face Estonia in a qualifying double-header on 28 March and 1 April. The coach is convinced his side will break their points-scoring duck in those games. "Yes, we’ll pick up our first points against Estonia," he declares.
Poulsen is unworried by the potential issue of motivating his players on the back of four consecutive qualifying defeats. "It’s not a problem. The players are proud and thrilled about representing their country, and they know a good performance can only enhance their career prospects," he insists.
For all his focus on his duties with Armenia, he has kept a close eye on his rivals, and revealed his thoughts on European qualifying Group 5 to FIFA.com. Alongside Armenia and Estonia, the section also includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Turkey and continental champions Spain. "With all due respect to the others, Spain will definitely qualify in first place," concluded the experienced coach.
We have to pursue our goals over the long term. All in all, I’d say we’re moving in the right direction, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.