Not every coaching change heralds the beginning of a new era. So frequently are modern-day managers hired and fired that plenty of teams barely notice a difference as the men in the dugout change.
There are some exceptions, though, and Denmark’s appointment of Age Hareide represents a case in point. The former Norway coach is, after all, succeeding one of the longest-serving coaches in the game, a man who had been part of the national team furniture for the bulk of the past four-and-a-half decades.
And yet, while Morten Olsen inevitably casts a long shadow, the end of his 15-year reign arrived amid agreement that a fresh start was essential, and perhaps overdue. Hareide, who earned 50 caps for Norway and coached the team for five years, became the man tasked with ensuring the success of this new era.
The 62-year-old boasts a wealth of experience, including title wins in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and most recently led Malmo – a team that had never before reached the UEFA Champions League group phase – to this elite stage in each of the last two seasons. His impressive CV does not, however, include an appearance at a FIFA World Cup™, a competition that has thus far eluded him as both player and coach. Putting that right, and reviving a team that has failed in each of its last two qualifying campaigns, is a challenge he is evidently relishing.
FIFA.com: Congratulations on becoming Denmark coach. What was it that attracted you to the job?
Age Hareide: Well, Denmark has always been one of the leading football countries in Scandinavia and I know the national team has a lot of potential. This is a country that always produces good footballers and the current generation, as I see it, has a good balance between experienced guys playing abroad and young players coming through. I saw this job as an ideal challenge for me at this stage of my career.
*You come into the job having already worked and enjoyed success in Denmark, winning the title with Brondby in 2002. Did those good memories make the decision to take this job all the easier?
*Absolutely. I’ve worked across all the Scandinavian countries and that was a great time for me at Brondby, working at a big club with a lot of international players. The thing I like about Denmark is that it’s a real football nation. Football is very much the main sport and the people here really care deeply about the national team. That’s very important and it’s the kind of environment I like to work in. Coaching this team will be a real honour.
*You are taking over from a real icon of Danish football, Morten Olsen, who had been in the job for 15 years. Does that bring an added challenge?
*Of course. I know Morten very well and he’s someone I’ve had great respect for ever since we played against each other in international matches. More recently, I’ve had a lot of dealings with him as a coaching colleague, and I always liked his type of football. As a coach, you always want to do it your own way, but I know that the basics will be there with this team thanks to the work Morten has done. I’m fortunate in that respect.
*You yourself have extensive experience as an international coach and player. Do you see that as a big attribute coming into this job?
*I think it will definitely help. When you’re a national coach, man management is always very important – even more so than in club football - because you don’t get as long to work on the training ground. And having been in the players’ position, knowing what it’s like to represent your country, can help me relate to them. What I want to do is get them feeling confident and comfortable, ideally playing roles they’re very well used to with their club teams. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to perform.
*You’re one of very few coaches to have won titles in three different Nordic nations. Have you always found the process of moving between the different countries smooth?
*I wouldn’t say it’s always completely smooth. You certainly have to adapt to the different cultures and ways of doing things because, while there isn’t a big difference between the countries, there is still a difference. I think that’s especially true in Denmark actually. Sweden and Norway are more similar, I’d say, whereas Denmark is definitely more continental and influenced by mainland Europe. But in terms of language and communication, that at least is never an issue.
*You’ve been coaching for over three decades now. Would you say you’ve changed a lot in that time?
*I think you have to change because football is always changing. The basics remain the same, of course, but a coach’s job is to keep on top of the little elements that are developing, the new trends, and make sure players are properly prepared in that respect. I definitely handle players differently now than I did 20, 30 years ago and I think you have to do that; keep renewing yourself and try to learn from the best.
*I imagine you’re already planning for the World Cup qualifiers. With Denmark having been drawn against Armenia, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, Poland and Romania, are you confident of making it through that group?
*Absolutely. I think it’s a very interesting group and what’s clear across the board is that the ‘weaker’ teams in Europe are becoming better; there’s much less of a gap than there used to be. We know that we’ll need to be on our toes in every game to get the points we need. Poland and Romania obviously look to be our strongest rivals and the good thing is that we’ll have plenty of opportunities to study them at the EURO. If our team comes together the way I believe it can, I think we have a good chance.
*For all you’ve achieved in your career, you’ve never experienced a World Cup. Was that a big incentive in deciding to take this job?
*Everyone in football wants to experience a World Cup and, for sure, I’m no different. I was close with Norway; we reached the play-offs in 2005, but lost to Czech Republic, who at that time were ranked second in the world. It’s like the way I felt about the Champions League. I’d just missed out on qualifying for the group stage twice before, with Brondby and Rosenborg, so to finally make it with Malmo was fantastic. And having missed out on a World Cup with Norway, it will be all the more satisfying if I can get there with Denmark.
*Finally, do you see this being your last job, or will you be a Ferguson, Trapattoni-type who continues coaching into his 70s or 80s?
*[Laughs] I don’t know if I can picture myself doing that, but who knows? Right now, I’m not thinking beyond this job and the next couple of years. I’m lucky at the moment to have my health and, as long as that continues and I’m enjoying my work, you never know. I’m not going into this thinking it will be my last job and, provided you’re successful, opportunities and offers in football will always come. As long as I have the energy and enthusiasm, I’ll keep going.