Ole Mørk interview
The hot Spanish sun beats down on Ole Mørk as we sit down for conversation, mosquito bites pickling on our arms. It’s now over ten years since the Danish coach managed in Sweden, having accepted the challenge of leading Trelleborg after a number of successful years managing in his native country. Yet the feelings associated with his time across the Öresund Bridge are still fresh in his mind, despite a long and distinguished career as first a player and then as a manager.
Mørk, an ex-Danish Manager of the Year, seemed the ideal choice to take the club forward, having shown that he could develop clubs on a small budget having so done well with his club, BK Frem where he is now head of talent, and Herfølge. Yet the Swedish adventure lasted only eleven Allsvenskan games, previously remembered on Blågul Fotboll, before the club decided that the thinking Dane who was trying to introduce a radically different style of football was not their man.
Andy Hudson talks to Ole Mørk about Trelleborg, his career, his footballing philosophy and more for Blågul Fotboll:
How did you get the Trelleborg job?
I was phoned by a guy who I had met a couple of times at La Manga, [Jonas] Brorsson. He was working at Trelleborg as the club’s director, working with the sponsorships, so he had quite a lot of influence. He phoned me and asked, as I had just finished coaching the Danish club AB Copenhagen, if I would be interested in the job. I thought “Why not? Let’s see about it”.
And Brorsson was someone you knew from coaching courses at La Manga?
Yes; there were a lot of teams down there every winter in training camps and playing tournaments, so I met him there a couple of teams and we had a good time together; we’d done the training together the whole day, done the matches, relaxed and had a beer, sitting and talking, all of us around the table. He apparently liked me as a person, so that is why [he approached with the manager job].
So it was an exciting offer to go over to Sweden?
It was because there hadn’t been that many Danish coaches abroad at the time. I think there had only been about three or four Danish coaches over the previous few years that had went abroad to Sweden, so I thought it could be a good challenge.
Did the club give any outline of what they wanted their season plan to be for you?
No, and I can see when looking back that I only had a one year contract and I should have said that if they really believed in my project then should have given me the time needed, like two or three years. But for me, I’m the kind of person who thinks that one year is no problem; I’m so good that I’ll perform so well and in a short time they will ask me to increase [the years on] the contract. But they never said to me: “Ole, we want you to do this and that”. When I came over, Trelleborg had always been a club that was at the bottom of Allsvenskan or the top of Superettan, travelling up and down just like an elevator. One of the things I was talking about was could we mix some of the best of the Swedish way of playing with some of the best qualities from Denmark; that was my expression and what I was saying to them I would try to do – combine those two philosophies and cultures together. They didn’t say: “That’s not OK”.
What would you say those two philosophies are?
I think Swedish tactics have always been one of their strengths. They have been influenced by many coaches from the UK, from England especially, playing a 4-4-2, a very precise way of playing and keeping structure in the game. It was easy to recognise that style of game. I thought instead of when we had the ball we would have a back-line of four and then kick a long ball up towards a big striker who was good, we would use a Danish philosophy of getting the full-backs, or a centre-back if they won the ball in an appropriate area, to move the ball forward instead of just kicking it long. It was a process of tactical development; to change the training culture also because it was necessary to implement that in the daily training. I changed a lot of things in the daily training and the players were happy with that.
Was it easy for the players to adjust to the changing of tactics or did they take too long to do that?
When I first arrived they did not have all the information they needed about me. They knew that I had good results back in Denmark but they did not know what kind of person I was or what my football philosophies were. Even the fact that I replaced their previous coach [Alf Westerberg] came as a surprise. They were a little bit ambivalent. When I was phoned with the job offer they were down at the bottom of the league. At that moment I made an agreement to take the job, not sign a contract but gave my word, then they began to win. I was over watching a lot of their home matches and they won almost every time. What also created extra pressure was that they played their last game of the season, it was against Halmstad with Tom Prahl who had just won the Championship the week before, and Trelleborg won the game. So instead of finishing number 10 or 11 in the table, they finished number 5 or 6 so looking from the outside it suddenly became “Why have they changed the coach?” The first phone call I got was: “You have to rescue us because we are dropping down”. I said that I wasn’t prepared to go in there directly and that I would wait until the season was over.
So it was a strange set of circumstances?
Yes and at the same time, unfortunately, Brorsson got ill with stress, with the pressure from the sponsors. At the same time we lost a couple of games and the guy, who should have been in front of me saying “That’s my man who I’ve brought in,” wasn’t there and so I was standing all by myself.
When they were happening, what was your feeling about the eleven games that you had in charge?
Number one: I was 100% sure that you can’t change direction of a supertanker in a split second; you need the time. So even though I was only given a one year contract, I was sure that I would continue. Nobody told me that we had to continue to play the way that they had always played. That would have been more fair and honest, and if they wanted that then they could have taken a Swedish coach. So the meaning in my head [when they offered me the job] was that they wanted a change. They have an expression in Sweden based upon where Trelleborg play at Vångavallen: people call it Tjongaavallen which means that the way of playing is so heavy and the club wanted to change that. I was sure that they would take the time to allow that change. We lost the first four games and then the next three games brought seven points. The former chairman of the club phoned me after we had played against Djurgården and said that it was the best way of playing that he had ever seen from Trelleborg because of the way we played the ball and the control of the ball that the players had. After those first four games, no-one said anything to me. No –one at the club said: “Ole, what’s happening?” I told them that the players were developing and I was feeling secure and it was only a matter of time before the results would improve. But at the same time you can see that if you don’t have success, that success has to be from day one, then people get worried, even the players. Often people will want to go back to the old way of playing and if [the change in style] was a good idea. I thought that if we conceded three goals then it’s no problem if we score four but some of the older players didn’t see that. Then we went and got seven points in three games and everything was happy again; seven matches and seven points wasn’t a disaster, especially regarding the future when they were big changes. At that moment I felt nothing; there was no pressure because no-one was coming to me and saying that they wanted to talk about the results or what was needed to be changed.
You had the belief that they had patience and confidence in the style of play that you were trying to implement?
Yes, of course.
Was it then a shock after the eleven games?
We lost four [league] games in a row and we were unlucky; a successful team will have lots of small things happening like having a shot that hits the inside of the post and then goes in. We had a game where we lost but we had come from behind to level and then their winning goal came from hitting the back of our goalkeeper and going in. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for us. Of course mentally that makes the players go: “Arggghhh”. Then the pressure from our side comes; our chairman, and other people with the power and the money, couldn’t handle that pressure.
Was there then extra focus on you because you were a Danish coach?
There was a lot of focus on me because of that. There was an ex-Swedish national team goalkeeper who was a commentator on television, Thomas Wernersson, who from day number one, during pre-season, a time that I quickly discovered matters for results due to the season being very short, would criticise me. We played some good matches, like against Brondby, where we created some very good chances; for me it was no problem that we lost against Brondby playing in Denmark as long as I knew we were moving forward during pre-season. We lost a lot of pre-season games but that was no problem but Wernersson was asking: “Where is this good Danish samba football?” We were seen as the Nordic Brazilians [in Denmark] and that had always been the opinion of us from Norway, Sweden and Finland. But Wernsersson’s attitude was negative. Our first competitive game was in the Cup against Landskrona and we won that game. For me it didn’t matter what went before that because this was the season starting and we were where we were supposed to be – we had a win. By then I was tired of the reaction during pre-season and after the game I was asked: “How do you feel after winning the first game?” I replied, in Swedish, with: “I feel like throwing-up” because I was so tired of the reaction and I said it with a sparkle in my eye and in a joking manner. Afterwards the Swedish newspapers were talking about the Danish coach who was about to be sick.
So they misunderstood the humour?
Yes. And then of course it’s also a mistake for me as I should’ve taken it slower. Whenever I went into a new club, the people who had hired me always knew what kind of person I was because in Denmark they had all of their contacts and all of the information on me. Brorsson wasn’t 100% sure, but as the man in charge he said to me:” Ole, we need this [kind of humour] in Sweden”. Many of the Swedish press liked me; I know that because of the press conferences after the games. I gave more of myself in those press conferences and they liked it. It was just one or two of those in the press that had problems.
Did you feel a sense of betrayal after the eleven games or did you just want to get back to Denmark?
I was sad. I knew there was going to be something good. Years later, when I’ve met players who I had in my team, they’ve said: “Ole, you never got a chance”. Most of the players, not least the younger players, loved the way we played. They loved the training and the atmosphere. I won’t say betrayed; it was more a lot of small circumstances. Brorsson was my front-fighter, the guy who would’ve been out to the press for me, and he got ill so I was quite alone.
You were isolated?
Yes. One of the things I’ve learned since is that it’s so important to have your own [backroom] team with you, those who can look the other way where you can’t, and see what’s happening and listen to players. Usually you have that person, like a team leader, who is around the players and discusses the things that the players won’t go to the coach with. The team leader will be close to the players and will say if they are tired from training or anything like that. But I only had my own feelings in that situation. I spoke to the team captain and asked him if there was something we should change. He said “No”. So I think that’s a difference between the Danish and the Swedish culture: in Sweden they don’t like conflict. It would’ve been easier for him to say: “Ole, we like the way we train and the way that we play but that may be something for the future and at the moment we have to do something else”. So yes, I was isolated.
Was that the first time in your career that you were in the situation without your own backroom team?
I’ve been a coach for many years and the normal thing when you go to a new club is that you have the assistant coach and the team leader. Usually they have been there for a long time, it’s their club, and they welcome the new coach and support them; that has been normal for many years. But over the past four or five years, especially in the bigger leagues like La Liga in Spain and the Premier League in England, the coach will bring in their own backroom team with doctors and whatever, like moving their family to a new place. I was asked at the time what would I say if the former coach [Alf Westerberg] was my assistant coach. It’s difficult now. I’ve asked myself how I would react if I was to go from being coach to being the assistant coach after being sacked, when inside you still feel you are head coach. I thought he’d be around the environment so it was better for me to take him as my assistant coach. I was a little naive and I always think the best of people. Now I can’t say that he was up at the front for me.
He was quiet a lot?
He was quiet. One evening when we won 1-0 away to Sundsvall I asked him afterwards what he thought about everything. He said [whispers] “It’s OK”. So I never ever had him say what his advice was or for him to say: “If I were in your place with these players, I would do this or do that”. He never said anything.
Usually you would have honest feedback from your assistant?
That had always been my situation.
What happened when you went back to Denmark?
Before I went to Sweden, the club where I had spent most of life at, BK Frem, were in the first division and had tried to improve and get promoted to the Superliga. Just before I went to Trelleborg they had approached me and asked if I wanted go back and start a project to get them promoted. When I returned, they contacted me again with the same question. That’s my club, so I started there. The first year I went in it was just like going home. We finished third in the table and didn’t go up but then the year after we went up in quite a good manner. I was there for two years.
Hadn’t you previously taken a club up to the top division when you were managing Herfølge BK?
Yes. BK Frem, who I was managing from 1990, had been demoted due to financial problems and were relegated to the fourth division and were having to start again. I received an offer from Herfølge, a club in the second division, and I had five wonderful years there. I joined in 1993 and then in 1995 we went up to the Superliga. We won our first game in the Superliga and then lost twelve matches in a row. At that time, journalists were asking if I thought my [management] seat was warm and I was saying “No”. I told the board at the time that they should follow me, come to watch my preparations and the training. We were playing a game against Aalborg and were leaving the day before the game. I told the board to come with us, see how I spoke to the players and what we were like together. One of the board did that and when we returned he said that everything was super and there were no problems. We managed to stay up that season and then the next year we were only two points off runners-up. We had actually been deducted two points by the Danish FA because we had a goalkeeper playing for us who was from the Faroe Islands and who had went home in the summer and played one match over there. When he returned to us, his playing certificate wasn’t transferred back over, and we didn’t know and so had points deducted.
With those points you would have finished second in the table in only your second season in the top division, having been true to your tactics of playing expressive football?
Yes, we would have. You can compare that to what could have been at Trelleborg. The players I had at both clubs were good and solid, but they weren’t superstars in their country. At Herfølge they trained hard, very hard. I had two or three older players who kept up a consistent standard and that helped develop confidence and belief across the whole team. At the end, when I left them after having my contract bought by AB for a lot of money, they had a good team and were second in the Superliga. When I was managing Herfølge, I had received a contact from clubs such as Aalborg and Brondby asking if I was interested in coaching them. During that period of five or six years, everything went the right way.
Who was the biggest influence on your career?
I think one of the people who influenced me the most was ‘Long’ John Hansen, a former player who played in Italy and at Juventus for many years. He was world famous and scored a lot of goals. His son and I played in the same youth team together and had a lot of success. He spoke a lot about how to be a better player and how to react. As a coach, I have always tried to take on a lot from people, coaches such as Capello and Lippi, have influenced me. I’ve took a lot from Brazilian football after a trip there. I’ve always tried to pick out the best from others. I’ve always tried to think: “What is my player capable of doing at this moment?” If we want to go from this place to that place we have to work out how to get there, how to develop the team and the organisation to achieve that because you can’t just jump between the two places. In that structure you look to develop players. I never played 4-4-2 because that’s how it always was. I looked at the players and how they could play. I often played 4-3-3, even before it was known as being modern. I always saw myself as a kind of scientist, trying to find out more through training exercises. You always have a lot of material and in time you can use that, but I would sit down back home and think of what I could do to improve a certain thing and what exercise I could use in training to help achieve that. Sometimes I would try something and it wouldn’t work at all but then other times I would see improvements. I’ve always been very curious and have always read up on things, especially to do with mental behaviour. I was a big talent when I was a player but my problem was that my mental quality was not good enough. If no-one expected anything from me then I performed very well. I was competing with another striker to be in the national team and he was that little bit better than me because I got so nervous. We played against Romania to try and qualify for the 1972 Munich Olympics and I was a substitute. I remember the other guy, who I was competing against, got injured. The manager told me to warm up and then I realised that I couldn’t remember how to control my own legs. I was so nervous. And then the player got up and I remember very clearly thinking “God bless me” and I sat down again. Afterwards I thought it was so crazy and unbelievable. I had always practically slept with a football under my pillow and then I had a chance and I was like that. When I became a coach I always knew that I would work so hard on the mental side of the game with players. I had coaches when I was a player who would always scream and shout at you “Come on lads, what the fucking hell” and if you lost they were horrendous and would scream more. Then the next week they would tell you that they believed in you and I couldn’t believe that could happen in the space of one week – they would scream and call you everything then the next week they would be so reliant upon you. I knew that wasn’t how to do it. I had to get my players mentally strong, of course you would challenge them, but I had to take as much of the pressure away from them and keep them away from conflict with the press. On a small level, it would be like what Mourinho does today. I always tried to be honest. If a journalist asked me how I thought a game had gone then I would tell them that we were awful if I believed it. If I wasn’t satisfied or if I thought we hadn’t been true to our fans then I would say it. Everyone always got what they saw with me.
Why do you think there is such a gap now between the Danish league and the Swedish league?
When I was playing, and we had a match against Malmö or Göteborg, we’d always lose; they were physically stronger and better organised. In the late seventies, when we become more professional in Denmark, we improved training and everything, and in the last ten years or so, Danish football is better, especially the top clubs. But you have periods – just look at Norway where for ten years you had Rosenborg doing brilliantly and qualifying for the top competitions in Europe and in Sweden you had Göteborg for many years performing so well. In Denmark we have FC Copenhagen doing so well, now especially, but they are not getting too relaxed and are always looking at how they can improve as a team so they should be on top for a long time still.
What do you think is the best way to develop young talent in football?
I think if you have the money then it’s a talent academy that is the best way. You need to have players that aren’t moving across the country, or even from one country to another, but are staying close to where they live, their surroundings and their friends. You need professional people working with the kids and talking about eating the right things and doing the right thing at school. In Denmark there aren’t many clubs who take kids all the way through to the first team, even at FC Copenhagen. Clubs will often buy a player from elsewhere because there’s an imbalance between educating and bringing through your own players and that actually being the reality. There’s less risk when buying from elsewhere. One thing that has happened with the economic situation is that the leaders of clubs now talk about developing their own talent simply because they don’t have the money to buy from elsewhere. That’s a good thing for young players because now they get to play whereas in the past they would get out of bed and have four minutes on the pitch there and then five minutes on the pitch there. The whole system in Denmark now means that the top clubs have to have the facilities, winter pitches and a good gymnasium and so on, which is a change from ten years ago. Many clubs have talent teams, co-partners where they sent their talent down to. Kids at the big clubs start training at 8am and finish at 9.15am then have a shower, go to school for 10am where they stay until 3 or 4pm before going back to training for another 90 minutes and then get to eat, finish homework and see their family. So many young kids train 7 or 8 times a week and then by the time they get to the age of 15 or 16 they are bored of the training and the pressure – it’s too much. They haven’t had the time to be a young man and listen to music and see their friends. Some of the young guys just want it so much and you have to tell them that you won’t see them tomorrow at training.
Do you think there is a lot of talent in Denmark who can make it in the professional game?
We played in the Under-17 World Cup during the summer of 2011 and we have quite a good education in the set-up. The national coach, Morten Olsen, has almost been like a headmaster and there is a definite line down the whole national structure where he has said how he wants the teams to play and what kind of players are needed. It’s a big benefit to him having that. The problem as I see it, is that what happens if we get a new national coach? The most important thing for me is to develop positive, creative players with good mental and physical attributes who can play many kinds of formations. My point of view is that a young player should be able to play in at least two positions, and the more the better. In many countries, they decide early what position the player is – they’ll decide that he is a right-back at an early age for example. Maybe that player would be better in midfield but then you never know unless he plays there and trains in that position.
It’s important to have adaptability?
When I take training I often mix everything up. Normally this player is a striker but for the next half an hour he’ll play in defence. It helps the player see different things. They can see what happens when a forward dribbles one way or the other and what problems that causes defenders. Then they can use that experience when they play as a striker. It’s important that players are always learning but also that the coach is always asking. What I’ve learned is not to think you know everything yourself – you have to ask. In the Danish education system you have youngsters who ask questions about everything; sometimes you have to say that this is the way it was and that question is finished, but many times it’s a good thing, especially on the football pitch. If a player crosses the ball then you ask them what were the other possibilities and options that they had – was there anything else they could have done. Instead of being trained, you need to be active yourself. Instead of players thinking they are going to training and wondering what the coach has for them today, they need to change and actually become a part of the session. The important thing is to get something out of a training session but that isn’t 100% the coach’s responsibility; it also comes down to the player. Many times, in the beginning, when you ask a player to be a defender when practicing corners, they’ll ask why they have to do that. You need to ask them what they think they can get out of it by doing that. Could they look at their fellow players and see how they react? Yes, of course. Or how about the guy who was attacking the front post? What could you do? Then the player is contributing more to the session and developing.
Do you think you have one more job in you as a head coach or are you happy with the youth development side of things?
I’ve built up ambivalence now. I’ve got a Pro-License and if something good comes up that require that then I could look at it. My future is to be involved in football and give it my all whatever it is that I’m doing. One of the biggest disasters in life is when someone leaves whatever they are doing, whether it’s working in an office or a garage, after something like forty years of being involved and that experience has gone. As long as people are asking me things then I would like to be involved.