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06.11.2014, 14:35
Wilbek: It has been easy to take a step back
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INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: After one of the most glorious coaching careers in history, Ulrik Wilbek feels fine in his current job as sports director with the Danish Handball Federation
 

Wilbek: It has been easy to take a step back

When Denmark lost the EHF EURO 2014 Final 41:32 to France, a special era came to an end.

The silver medals the Danes received at Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning that Sunday 26 January, were the last of many medals during Ulrik Wilbek’s career as national team coach. A career which saw him become one of the most successful coaches in international sport.

After the 2013/14 season, he stepped down as Danish national coach, a decision which had nothing to do with the Danish defeat to France that Sunday in Herning.

The step had been planned long before and Ulrik Wilbek had already lined up a new job as sports director in the Danish Handball Federation nearly 18 months earlier.

After ending his coaching career, 56-year-old Ulrik Wilbek has been able to concentrate entirely on being sports director for the past six months.

eurohandball.com: How would you characterise your first two and a half years as sports director?

Ulrik Wilbek: Well, I have only been a full-time sports director for the last six months or so, and it has only been during that time that I have been able to focus completely on the job, getting all the parts of it implemented, not least the work with developing talents.

During the time when I was also national coach, it was mainly a question of assisting the women’s national team and the youth national teams in the best possible way, and it has only been lately that I have been able to go down into the details.

eurohandball.com: Was it a bit frustrating for you not to be there 100% as sports director while you were also national coach?

Ulrik Wilbek: Once in a while it could be a bit annoying, as there were things I did not have the time to focus on. On the other hand, it gave me the chance to get into the job gradually, and I see that as an advantage now. Having had the time to get slowly into the job means that I have not been forced to start from scratch so to speak which would have been the case if I had only started in the job six months ago.

eurohandball.com: Has the fact that the job is new given you more of a chance to form the job and its contents, rather than taking over an existing job.

Ulrik Wilbek: Yes, it has in many ways and I remember several talks between the Federation management and myself with the subject: ‘Is this or that really supposed to be part of the sports director’s job?’

However, certain flexibility is always needed. For instance, contact between the federation and the clubs is not an area I think I should be much involved in as sports director. Nevertheless I am going to take part in a meeting between the federation and the Union of League Clubs about the relations between clubs and federation in near future, as this dialogue is also important.

eurohandball.com: Having been coach for so many years, has it been easy for you to take the step back from the bench to the front row of the tribune so to speak?

Ulrik Wilbek: Yes, it has been very easy. I have been coach for as big a part of my life that I needed. I decided long ago that it was going to be over with being coach once I became sports director, so I have had no problems adapting to my new role. I have been coach for as long as I needed to be.

eurohandball.com: Does this also mean that it has been easy for you to say no thanks to the offers for coaching jobs – jobs as national coach in particular – you have received after having stepped down as Danish coach?

Ulrik Wilbek: Yes, it has. Of course, I have been flattered by every approach I have got about coaching jobs, and I also told the federations who called me that I was flattered, but no matter how interesting the job might have looked, they have all got a polite no thanks.

eurohandball.com: The fact that the job as sports director is new also means that the coaches of the various Danish national teams have had to getting used to having a sports director above them. How do you feel that the coaches have received you? Do you feel that they cooperate with you because they have to, or do you feel that they welcome you as a sparring partner?

Ulrik Wilbek: Of course, the coaches can only speak for themselves, but of course I hope they see me as a sparring partner and a help, and that is also the general feeling I have.

They probably also realise that I can relieve them of some of the administrative tasks they have had before, and at least they can feel secure that I am not going for their jobs! As I said, I do not want a coaching job again.

eurohandball.com: As a sports director you are also in charge of the various youth national teams, where Denmark have been used to winning a lot of medals at world and European championships over the years. How does the future of Danish handball look, if you look at the talents of today?

Ulrik Wilbek: It looks rather bright. We have a lot of talents on their way, men as well as by the women, and I am sure that Denmark will be among the five or six best nations in the world, when it comes to the senior teams for both men and women.

That said, it is a fact that the total number of handball players is decreasing in these years, and we can also feel that tendency among the talents. Therefore, it is crucial that the Danish Handball Federation has launched the Break the Curve campaign as an attempt to change the trend.

eurohandball.com: Is there a new Niklas Landin or Mikkel Hansen among the players in the youth teams?

Ulrik Wilbek: There may be a few. On the goalkeeper position we have under 20 keeper Sebastian Frandsen from Ribe Esbjerg who is an outstanding talent, and in the under 18 vintage we have Emil Nielsen from Aarhus who is also a remarkable talent.

When it comes to a new Mikkel Hansen, it is a bit more complicated, as Mikkel Hansen is unique. Just like Anja Andersen was Anja Andersen, Mikkel Hansen is Mikkel Hansen, but we definitely have some candidates coming up, such as Lasse Andersson and Niclas Kirkeløkke for instance, and they will be interesting to watch in the years to come.

eurohandball.com: We are rapidly approaching major championships for both Denmark´s senior teams, the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 in Hungary and Croatia in December and the men´s World Championship in January. Seen from the sports director’s chair, how do the Danish chances look at those tournaments?

Ulrik Wilbek: I think the women have a very good chance of a fine result in December. Lately, our women’s national team has been playing some of the best the team has shown for many years, I think, and the fact that they managed to break a ten year medal drought with the bronze medals at the World Championship last year, has meant a lot to their confidence. I expect a very close European championship with many possible favourites and with Denmark as one of them.

The men’s team consist more or less of the same players who have been in four finals during the past three years, so I see no reason why we should not at least reach the semi-finals once again.

eurohandball.com: Are two upcoming major championships still not enough to make you miss having your own team to coach?

Ulrik Wilbek: No, I can say for sure that it is not.


TEXT: Peter Bruun / cor
 
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