When the news broke that Thomas Tuchel was going to leave Mainz 05 after successfully guiding them to Europa League qualification, most media and followers of German football were left befuddled. However, that was nothing compared to the reaction to the news that the Danish coach, Kasper Hjulmand, were to take over Tuchel’s reign, with Bild calling the Dane a nobody as a case in point. The same newspaper later took it to the other extreme naming Hjulmand the Danish Jürgen Klopp.
The truth is, as often with Bild, somewhere in between.
The 42-year-old Hjulmand has had a relatively short coaching career starting in 2006 with a two-year-stint at Danish second league side Lyngby BK before moving onto the Superliga as an assistant at FC Nordsjælland. In 2011 he became in charge and immediately took the team to its first ever championship and qualification to the group stage of the Champions League. During his 119 games in charge he has averaged 1,61 points per game.
Hjulmand has done so by implementing a playing style with a high focus on possession and short passes, leading his FC Nordsjælland side to be named a mini-Barcelona by some observers. His tactical dedication to this style of football is underlined by the fact that FC Nordsjælland are the only team in Denmark playing on an artificial pitch, causing discomfort for the visiting opponents. Likewise, he refused to change his concept during the club’s spell in Champions League, resulting in some significant losses in the group of Chelsea, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk, and a year later in the qualifying round against Zenit. From some observers he received plaudits for his steadfastness and bravery while others called him tactically naïve.
Backed by Kloppo
However, the former Mainz coach, Jürgen Klopp, is among the voices singing Hjulmand’s praises after meeting him at a UEFA event during the above mentioned Champions League campaign. Over a beer and with Frank de Boer as company, Klopp was clearly impressed with Hjulmand’s accomplishments: “They had a budget in Nordsjælland which probably is equivalent of what one of my players in Dortmund is paid by his sponsor. The Danes are very interested in tactics and wants to get forward on the pitch.” Klopp told Allgemeine Zeitung before finishing with a classic remark: “And when it comes to party, they also like taking the lead”.
Klopp, however, is not the only one who noticed Hjulmand and his playing style. When Christian Heidel, sporting director of Mainz 05, went to Denmark in 2012 to scout AaB’s Niklas Helenius (later signed by Aston Villa) he caught a FC Nordsjælland game. Heidel did not know the coach but could not help being impressed with the style of play: “I was very surprised and impressed with the way FC Nordsjælland played. They were very solid tactically and played completely different from any other Danish team”, Heidel told Danish Tipsbladet. He had that game in mind when Kasper Hjulmand’s name came up a couple of months ago when he started to ask around for potential coaches for his Carnival club.
The two of them sat down together in Copenhagen for the first time in April and Heidel was again impressed by what he saw and heard: “Hjulmand’s philosophy is very similar to ours. He’s a young coach with a very modern playing style and a unique tactical mindset. It quickly became clear that he was our man and he’s been our number one priority from the start”.
Back to the Bild question: is Hjulmand a new Klopp or Tuchel in the making or will he end up as the most recent coach coming from the Danish Superliga: Ståle Solbakken in FC Köln (a case Bild of course brought up in their first interview with Hjulmand)?
First of all, Hjulmand will hopefully enjoy a more calm atmosphere in Mainz than Solbakken did in chaotic Köln. Mainz have only had three different coaches in the last 13 years and the prospect of stability has certainly played a big part in Hjulmand’s decision. As Danish journalist Andreas Kraul points out: “It mattes to Hjulmand that he’s allowed to build his project as he did in Nordsjælland. Had it been Hamburg or any other club who change their coach every third month, he would probably quickly find himself out of the club again”.
In his description of Hjulmand, the Danish journalist continues: “He is also an emphatic coach with a clear and creative philosophy – and quite a lot of charisma. I think Mainz see some of the same in Hjulmand as they once saw in Klopp”.
That point is backed by Heidel who calls Hjulmand a perfect match to the profile they sought: “He has a high level of professionalism and is very meticulous. In Denmark he has a reputation as a brilliant developer and educator of the game and the young players”.
With a background in the Danish Football Association (DBU) Hjulmand has been influenced by the passing nature of Danish football but he has also been an influence on how the common thread has been developed in all levels on the national teams.
At one point a Danish journalist needed some statistics on FC Nordsjælland’s possession in their championship season and thus texted Hjulmand. A few seconds later the answer arrived: “59,6%. Last year 63% with 618 passes on average”.
Time will tell if Hjulmand will ever fill the shoes of two of the greatest German coaches in recent times, but the comparisons to Klopp and Tuchel are not made out of thin air. It will be a massive task for the Dane – and one which will be followed closely from his home country – but his profile seem to fit the one of Mainz’.
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