Jacobsen: “If you want a top job, you have to be ready to fill big shoes”
The majority of the Danish handball community, fans and media alike, saw it as an early Christmas present on 2 December 2016 when Nikolaj Jacobsen was introduced as new men's national team coach, succeeding Gudmundur Gudmundsson at the beginning of the next season.
The Danish Handball Federation was so keen on getting the 45-year-old former left wing on board that the DHF even made an exception from its own principle that a national team coach should not have two jobs.
With Jacobsen, for the first two years of his four-year contract he will still be in charge of current German champions Rhein-Neckar Löwen alongside the Danish national team.
Coincidentally, this is the second time that Denmark's new coach arrives from Rhein-Neckar Löwen. Gudmundsson was also in charge of the German team before he took over the national team in 2014.
The Icelandic will remain in charge until the end of the current season with the final qualification matches for the EHF EURO 2018 being his last matches at the Danish helm.
For Jakobsen, what will then start is a challenge that he called himself “my dream job”.
ehf-euro.com: Nikolaj Jacobsen, why is Denmark's national team coach your dream job?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: It is a dream for me to work with some of the best players in the world and to work with a team of which I was a part myself. Furthermore, it has always been a dream of mine to work in a sport which I love so much as I love handball.
ehf-euro.com: According to many accounts, you were also the dream coach of the majority of fans, media and players. How do you feel about that?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: Of course, it is always nice that people want you, and it obviously makes me look even more forward to taking on the challenge.
ehf-euro.com: What can you add to the Danish team as its new coach?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: I'm not going to say anything about that before I take over the job. Right now, Denmark have a national coach who is right now taking the team to the World Championship and he should be allowed to do his job in peace and quiet without me stating what I'm going to do with the team when I take over.
ehf-euro.com: You accepted the job without knowing who would be your boss. The new sports director was announced a month after you signed. Did you not have any concerns about that?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: No, not really. I was sure that the federation would find a competent man for the job, and I was sure that I was going to have good people around me, so my only duty would be to coach the team. It was more important for me to make sure that current assistant coach Henrik Kronborg was going to continue. He will have a more elaborate role than today. This is crucial for me when I'm going to take care of two jobs.
ehf-euro.com: Do you know the new sports director Morten Henriksen?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: When I was coach in Aalborg, I met him a few times when we played against his team SønderjyskE, but apart from that, I don't know him. However, I'm looking forward to working with Morten and I'm sure he is the right man for the job, and that we will work together very well. I'm generally not difficult to work with.
ehf-euro.com: Did the fact that you are going to work in two jobs for two years not make you doubt whether that will be actually possible?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: No, I cannot say that it did. Of course, January 2018 and 2019 (EHF EURO 2018 and World Championship 2019) will be rather tough months for me, but I'm sure I can manage. In this regard it is very important that assistant coach Henrik Kronborg can work between the championships and keep an eye on actual and potential national team player among other things.
ehf-euro.com: Several Danish national team players play in the German Bundesliga. Will it be an extra advantage for you that you can follow closer as you work in the Bundesliga yourself?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: It is correct that a great deal of the current national team players play in the Bundesliga, so of course, it will be easier for me to keep an eye on those. And with Henrik Kronborg monitoring the players in the Danish league, I think we will be well covered.
ehf-euro.com: The shoes to fill after Gudmundsson's departure are considerably large after he led Denmark to Olympic gold in Rio, and they may be even larger if he also wins the World Championship with Denmark later this month. What are your thoughts on that?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: I'm fine with that. Gudmundur had to fill out some pretty big shoes when he took over from Ulrik Wilbek, and I also had to fill out some big shoes when I took over from Gudmundur at Rhein-Neckar Löwen. If you want the top jobs in the handball world, you have to be ready for this, and I am.
ehf-euro.com: Your first major test as Denmark's national coach will be the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia, provided that Denmark qualify. You would have the entire autumn of 2017 to prepare. Is it an advantage to get this relatively quiet start to the new job?
Nikolaj Jacobsen: If you like to call one week an advantage, then the answer is yes! One week is all I get with the team during the entire autumn. The week when other teams are playing qualification matches for the next World Championship is the week we have to train and prepare. The remaining preparations will take place in January 2018, when we meet for the training camp ahead of the EURO. However, I obviously knew the conditions before I signed, so I have no complaints.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / ts