Lovenkrands wary of Denmark’s new Age approach to Scotland
Former Rangers forward baffled by decision to snub great Dane and hire old rival Hareide as manager
I was surprised. My friends and family back home weren’t happy about it – personally I hoped they’d push for Michael Laudrup
IT is a bit like Scotland appointing Berti Vogts – if he was English and a former England manager. As a proud football nation capable of upsetting the odds to win Euro 1988, let’s just say it wasn’t unanimously popular in Denmark when the football federation looked to their Scandinavian rivals Norway to transform their fortunes this summer after the retirement of veteran coach Egil Olsen.
The man in question, a native Norwegian who used to be his country’s national team manager, is Age Hareide, and to be fair his record isn’t too shabby. In addition to being Ronny Deila’s nemesis with Malmo – remember all that stuff about Celtic “playing like pigs”? – Hareide has won the top league in Denmark, Sweden and Norway and he got off to a good start with a 2-1 win against Euro 2016 qualifiers Iceland on Thursday night. Having said that, he is no Michael Laudrup, Denmark’s favourite son, who was also in the running for the post. Let’s just say that Peter Lovenkrands believes he still has some work to do to win over a sceptical Danish support.
“It was a bit controversial,” said the former Rangers winger. “I was surprised. My friends and family back home weren’t happy about it – personally I hoped they’d push for Michael Laudrup. He knows about everything and he’s a name. But they went another way.
“Maybe he’ll surprise me and he’ll do fantastically. But I just don’t feel he’s been enough places to convince me until I see results.
“He did well with Malmo, to be fair,” Lovenkrands added. “But club football and international football are completely different. He was Norway national team coach which didn’t help him coming to Denmark either. But if he gets results, the Danish people won’t care.”
Like the Czechs, who Scotland overcame in Prague on Thursday night, Lovenkrands feels this Denmark side lack the star quality of previous vintages. The obvious exceptions to the rule are the two key protagonists in the Barclays Premier League title race in the form of stand-out Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen. At the back Simon Kjaer, who played at Parkhead this season with Fenerbahce, is a mainstay and then there is new Celtic centre-half Erik Sviatchenko.
“He [Sviatchenko] still has a lot to prove, so it’ll be interesting to see how he copes with his move,” said Lovenkrands. “I’ve not really seen enough of him to say whether I rate him but I’m intrigued to see how he copes.”
Like Scotland, missing out on Euro 2016 was a source of serious national trauma. They finished third behind Portugal and Albania, then crashed out via a comfortable play-off defeat to another of their Scandinavian rivals Sweden and the inspirational influence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. At least, on the face of it, they now face an achievable World Cup group featuring Romania, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia and Kazakhstan.
“There has been big disappointment in Denmark because you could see the difference in class between Denmark and Sweden in the play-offs and it didn’t used to be that way,” said Lovenkrands.
“We all expected to qualify, having seen the group in which we were drawn. It was one we definitely should have qualified from, but we threw it away – we drew 0-0 at home to Albania and 0-0 away too, that wouldn’t have happened with the team we used to have three or four years ago. It’s not the same quality.
“Kasper Schmeichel has been fantastic for Leicester and also the Danish national team, while Christian Eriksen has been struggling for the national team but doing well for Tottenham,” he added. “I believe that’s a result of the players he has around him at Spurs, in comparison to the players around him with the Danish national side. The defender Simon Kjaer is doing well at Fenerbahce as well, so we have players there but only three or four when we used to have a whole team – when I was there, I couldn’t get into the team because we had players performing for the top clubs in Europe.”
A bit like the fag end of the Craig Brown era, there was a feeling that Denmark could, reluctantly, do with moving on from Morten Olsen, who had been in post for 15 years. “Olsen never really changed from the style of play he liked but there’s a new coach in and it will be interesting to see the style be brings with him,” said Lovenkrands.
Lovenkrands reckons Gordon Strachan’s Scotland have a head start on the Danes and makes them slight favourites for the match at Hampden on Tuesday night. “Over the last couple of years I think Strachan’s done a great job, they’ve been solid and hard to beat,” said Lovenkrands. “So it will be interesting to see how they cope against a Denmark team who are struggling, because Denmark have had the upper hand against Scotland the last couple of times we’ve met.”
Olsen was manager and Lovenkrands a second-half substitute in a 1-0 win against Scotland at Hampden in 2002, the goal coming from Ebbe Sand. “I didn’t get booed by the crowd – here I was fine, though in Dublin I got booed!” he recalls.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Former Denmark and Rangers striker Peter Lovenkrands joins pupils from Holyrood Secondary School to preview Scotland’s game against Denmark at Hampden on Tuesday.