Great Dane is nation’s key listening post
MORTEN Olsen has taken service to his country to extraordinary lengths, having played for Denmark and now coached the national side more than 100 times.
This year’s Euro 2012 tournament is the fourth time he has guided the Scandinavians to a major championships since he took over in 2000 – a remarkable run given the current longevity of most football managers.
But 62-year-old Olsen’s career is most impressive still given that he has had to battle a debilitating loss of hearing since the 1970s, a hereditary affliction which got so bad that he could hardly hear anything at all during matches.
Questions at news conferences have posed problems while on social occasions he said he would sometimes laugh at inappropriate moments and felt increasingly isolated.
Thankfully for him and his players, life has improved since he began wearing a hearing aid, describing the device in one 2004 interview as “like getting a new pair of ears”.
“Suddenly I was hearing sounds I hadn’t heard for years. I could function normally again both professionally and socially,” he added.
Such determination and resolve to overcome his handicap has been a feature of his tenure. But he has also shown he is far from single-minded, as seen in how he changed his mind about stepping down after the Euros and instead signed a new contract taking him up to 2014.
“My decision to stop after the European Championships next summer, was the right thing at the time,” said Olsen. “We had embarked on a new chapter for the national team after the World Cup finals.
“No one is above the team and therefore I made a decision I felt was right for the national team at that time. But I want to stress that under no circumstances was it due to a lack of motivation.
“During the summer I got calls from both established and newer players in the team, who asked me to reconsider. It was a necessary support from the players to both me as coach and to our common project.
“It gave me a good feeling that together we were doing something really good in the national team.”
Olsen has done well during his time in charge to get his side to so many finals, given that Denmark can no longer call on players like the Laudrup brothers in their prime or the 1980s squad in which he played.
The coach, who won three Belgian titles with Anderlecht as well as the 1983 Uefa Cup as a player, was a stylish sweeper in a talented and exciting Danish side that reached the 1984 Euro semifinals and the second round of the 1986 World Cup.
He went on to win 102 international caps before retiring in 1988.
Olsen refuses to compare different squads but admits that with more limited resources than group B opponents Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal, it is asking a lot for them to make the last eight.
However, he believes his experience and knowledge of his player will help.
“I’ve been coach for 12 years and this is my fourth finals,” said Olsen, who before becoming national team coach proved himself in the Netherlands, taking Ajax to the 1998 domestic double.
New coaches have brought in innovation but we have experience which can be helpful when it comes to difficult times.” — SAPA-AFP