Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Morten Olsen Interview
After San Marino's Giampaolo Mazza, Denmark's Morten Olsen is the longest serving international manager in Europe in charge of the national team since July 2000. Andy Greeves speaks to the former star midfielder about his playing days, managerial ambitions and an upcoming friendly with England.
When the 20th FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil this summer, spare a thought for Denmark and Morten Olsen. In qualification, the Dane's had all but booked their place in the play-offs as a best runner-up, leading Group B rivals Italy 2-1 in Copenhagen on October 13, 2013 at the end of 90 minutes.
Alberto Aquilani sneaked a stoppage time equaliser for the visitors though and despite a 6-0 win over Malta in the final group match, Olsen's men had missed out on a play-off place by one point.
"We were very unlucky in qualification," sighs Olsen. "Had it not been for (Alberto) Aquilani's stoppage time goal, we would have made it into the play-offs for qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and then who knows. It wasn't our time in 2014, but we've qualified four times for big tournaments under my management and now I'm after a fifth with qualification for UEFA Euro 2016."
Not only has Olsen been a manager of Danish teams at the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships, but as a player he also wore the famous red shirt at these competitions. He captained the side which qualified for Euro '84 - Denmark's first major tournament since the Olympic Games of 1972 - and they subsequently went on the reach the semi-final, losing to Spain on penalties. Two years later, the Dane's reached their first ever World Cup, the same year as Olsen was voted Danish Player of the Year.
"1986 was the first FIFA World Cup tournament that Denmark had ever qualified for, so it was a massive thing for the whole country, not just the players involved," recalls Olsen. "We performed very well in our group, winning all three games against Scotland (1-0 on June 4, 1986), Uruguay (6-1 on June 8, 1986) and West Germany (2-0 on June 13, 1986) before a heavy defeat to Spain (1-5 on June 18, 1986) in the knockout phase."
In that 2-0 win over West Germany, Olsen was responsible for one of the most iconic moments in Danish football history as he dribbled the ball from his own penalty area to the Germany's area to win a penalty, which Jesper Olsen subsequently converted.
"Yes, it's fair to say that moment gets brought up a lot by people I speak to," he laughs. "It was great to beat the West Germans, who went on to be the runners-up in that competition."
Olsen also played for Denmark at Euro '88, which would see his side eliminated at the group stage. He subsequently retired from international football, having won a total of 102 caps for his country, scoring four goals. A year later, he hung up his boots entirely, having exceled as a club player with the likes of B 1901, Cercle Brugge, Racing White, Anderlecht and 1.FC Koln.
A career in management beckoned and he took his first post at Brondby IF in 1990, where he twice won the Danish Superliga in his two year spell, with a young Peter Schmeichel in goal for the club. He then took up the hot seat at former club 1.FC Koln in 1992 and thereafter Ajax in 1997, where he won the Eredivisie title in his only season in Holland. In 2000, his country came calling and offered him the top job in Danish football, which he has maintained ever since.
"I have been very happy in the job and I'm flattered at the continued faith that is shown in me," says Olsen, who admits he has been tempted with jobs in club management in the past, but remains committed to Denmark.
Two qualifications a piece have been achieved for the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships respectively during Olsen's reign. Olsen has recently signed a new contract to keep in the job until June 2016, by which time he hopes to have marked qualification number five as an international manager for Denmark.
"Obviously, qualifying for tournaments must always be the objective for Denmark," he says. "We are a relatively small country in terms of a lot of others that play at World Cups, European Championships etc and it is getting harder and harder to qualify with so many good nations now. But UEFA Euro 2016 is a big objective for everyone involved in Danish football now."
Olsen can select from a talented bunch of players, which include Barclays Premier League stars Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur, Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal and Daniel Agger of Liverpool. The manager describes Eriksen, just 21, as having a "massive future" ahead and is also full of praise for his other English based stars.
"Daniel (Agger) is my captain of course," smiles Olsen. "He is a magnificent professional and a real leader. He is a modern defender that's good at defending but comfortable carrying the ball forward as well. I can't over emphasise his importance to Denmark.
"Nicklas (Bendtner) has been out of the team for a while at Arsenal, not helped by some bad injuries. The last few months though, he has been involved again and this is very positive for us. We need top strikers, playing regularly and hopefully he can get the chance to do this."
On the subject of England, Denmark's next international match will be against the Three Lions when they travel to Wembley Stadium on March 5. With Roy Hodgson's team bound for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer, memories of the globe's biggest tournament come flooding back for Olsen, who is proud of his team's showings at the 2002 and 2010 competitions.
"2002, bar the defeat to England, was very good," he says. "We topped our group which contained three other talented nations in Senegal, Uruguay and France. Beating France 2-0 (in Incheon on June 11, 2002) as reigning World Cup holders was a big moment. "We had a lot of injuries going into the FIFA World Cup in 2010. It was quite bizarre because the weather was fairly mild in South Africa compared with the heat you usually expect at the tournament. We had a good chance of qualifying for the knock-out phases going into the last game against Japan, but that 3-1 defeat (in Rustenburg on June 24, 2010) was very disappointing."