Martin Stocklasa has made history
FIFA.com speaks with Liechtenstein’s new head coach
World Cup qualification begins later this month against teams including Germany
On 3 December 2020, the Liechtenstein Football Association made history not on the pitch but off it, as Martin Stocklasa became the first Liechtensteiner to coach the national team.
"Getting the opportunity to coach a national side is always a big deal, but for me it is undoubtedly the greatest challenge of my nascent career and something very special indeed," the 41-year-old told FIFA.com. "It’s a huge honour and one that comes with lofty ambitions and targets."
The appointment marks the first major test for the former defender after his spell in charge of the country’s U-21 side. Yet his jump into the deep end has been complicated even further by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made sensible planning almost impossible.
"From the start there has only really been one direction for me: full steam ahead," Stocklasa explained. "Coronavirus has been challenging for everyone, but I must admit that I’m currently benefiting from it, because I’ve been able to get our team of mostly amateurs together for a longer period. Of course, coronavirus has changed some things.
"It will probably no longer be possible [for national team coaches] to have a purely sporting influence on a team – and of course we hope that will be the case. Nevertheless, we have been hit hard by the fact that there have been no matches in the amateur leagues, as that is where most of our players come from."
The benefits of the time the Blues and Reds have spent together will become apparent in a few days time when European qualification for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ gets underway. Liechtenstein’s opponents in Group J are Romania, Iceland, Armenia, North Macedonia – and Germany. The 41-year-old’s associations with the Germans go back a long way, not just because he faced Bastian Schweinsteiger & Co. (picture below) during his playing days but because he also spent several years plying his trade for Dynamo Dresden.
"I was very happy about the draw," Stocklasa said. "I grew up watching Bundesliga matches and began visiting German stadiums as a small child. I wouldn’t trade my time in Dresden for anything. Despite their mini-crisis, to me Germany are still the ultimate team in Europe and the world. They could not be more different to us," he added.
"The group is very exciting overall, featuring not just Germany but also Romania, who I was able to watch during the last qualifying campaign. They’re a young side with talented players. Then there are teams like Armenia and North Macedonia, who are difficult to assess, while Iceland have come so far in the last few years."
"Although it will certainly be tough against Germany and Romania, we can create bigger problems for our other opponents on a good day and perhaps get something out of those games. We want to pick up points in this group. Hopefully we’ll be able to play our match against Germany in front of a crowd in September. That would be a reward of sorts for us."
His coaching career began almost seven years ago at FC St. Gallen’s youth academy
He became Liechtenstein’s head coach after three years with the country’s youth teams
As a player he represented such clubs as FC Zurich, Dynamo Dresden and Austria’s SV Ried
113 international caps (5 goals) over an 18-year international career
"I want to focus on three things: conditioning, playing tempo and rhythm. We can definitely improve the first of these in training. The leagues have a part to play in the second area; that is, which clubs the players represent and in which leagues. Players must be willing to go the extra mile to get out of their comfort zone. We’re asking a lot here, but in order to improve you need to go somewhere else and compete with the best.
"Luckily the mentality has changed in recent years. More and more young players want to gain experience abroad. If we have three or four players who do that, it helps the entire team. Back when we played Portugal, we were able to spring a surprise because a couple of our team-mates were playing elsewhere. We’ve got to do that again."
That match against the Seleção das Quinas marks Liechtenstein’s greatest footballing achievement to date. During qualification for the 2006 World Cup in October 2004, the principality snatched a sensational point with a 2-2 draw – after initially falling two goals behind.
"That’s something that will stay with me," Stocklasa recalled. "The stadium was full and we were playing against Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and other international stars. We knew they were favourites for the title, but then we realised they weren’t taking us seriously.
"Portugal were 2-0 up and then we got the breakthrough we needed: a goal back. Suddenly we thought: we’re onto something here! It’s impossible to describe what happened next. The game finished 2-2, the world was turned on its head and all of Europe knew about Liechtenstein."
Could the same thing happen against Germany or Romania? "Every point in European or World Cup qualifying is a sensational achievement, and that spurs the players on," Stocklasa said. "A result like the one against Portugal would still be a huge surprise – even now."