Back in 1904, Arnold Peter Møller and his father founded what would later become Denmark’s biggest company and the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world. For decades, Maersk has been known for its strong ethos based upon the founder’s famous saying: “No loss should hit us which could be avoided with constant care.”
Five months ago, another Møller with the first name, Peter, took inspiration from his namesake when trying to explain why he had decided to employ a new head coach for the Danish national team —and as a consequence, bringing an end to the successful tenure of the current coach, Åge Hareide, at the expiry of his contract in 2020.
“By acting with constant care, we have decided that on the short run-up to the Euros 2020, we are proud to have the coaching staff that we want to have,” said Møller, the former striker of the national team who was in 2018 employed as the new football director of Dansk Boldspil-Union, the Danish FA.
“But on the long run, we have decided that we want a new coaching staff which is able to refine and develop the work. We need a new strategy. A new plan for Danish football after 2020.”
The news came as a shock. Two days before, Denmark had defeated Georgia, 5-1, in a qualifier for the Euros. No-one had the slightest idea that Møller had secretly held meetings with Kasper Hjulmand, who had agreed to take the job as national coach from August 2020.
Employing a new coach more than 13 months before he would actually take the reins was remarkable. Even more so when the coach to be replaced had not himself taken the decision to leave.
And when the public looked at the results under Hareide, a sense of disbelief arose. Had Møller lost his mind? Why remove a coach who had taken Denmark from 42nd to 10th in the World Rankings, secured a place in the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup, and won promotion in the Nations League? A coach who, at the time of the decision, was on an incredible undefeated run lasting more than two-and-a-half years?
Back in 2016, Hareide replaced Morten Olsen, who had been the national coach for more than 15 years and is widely considered the most influential figure in the history of Danish football. The former captain of the brilliant Danish team of the 1980s, Olsen took inspiration from his time in charge of Ajax and wanted to define a Danish style built upon technical abilities and a wish to dictate games, even against strong opposition. At first, the Danes embraced Olsen’s thoughts. But when the results faded, he was considered stubborn and his style boring and ineffective.
Hareide gave the national team a completely different look, which reached its peak in the 4-0 win against Poland in 2017 in a performance based on long balls and physical strength. Suddenly, Hareide’s pragmatism was celebrated.
Since the 5-1 win in Dublin a couple of months later, the performances have rarely reached the same heights, however. A strong defensive organisation and an impressive team spirit have kept the unbeaten record alive. After Friday’s defeat of Gibraltar, Hareide can now claim not to have lost for his last 33 matches in charge of Denmark. If he keeps the undefeated record for two more matches, Denmark would equal the all-time world record of 35 shared by Spain and Brazil.
The record would never be registered officially, however, as Denmark last year lost a friendly in Slovakia. That match was played during the conflict between the Danish FA and the Players’ Union which saw Denmark fielding a farcical team of amateurs and futsal players. Hareide wasn’t even in charge on the night.
“In Norway, I would have been raised to the peerage for the results,” Hareide told the national broadcaster, Danmarks Radio, last month.
Denmark is different, however. There is an argument that Hareide is currently not getting enough out of the team, that his style is not attractive enough, and that the results have more to do with the quality of the players than his coaching methods.
For the past few years, Denmark have seen a remarkable rise in players performing in the biggest leagues in Europe. In this season’s Champions League, no European nation without a team of their own in the group stage has had more players involved in the competition than Denmark.
Hareide’s selection options are far better than Olsen’s in his final years, and the Norwegian’s critics see no reason why Denmark should go into a match like the one against Switzerland last month with a feeling of inferiority.Since June, the Hareide situation has been an awkward backdrop to Denmark’s road to the Euros.
Møller’s hopes of a smooth transition period have been replaced by tension, as Hareide has not hidden his disappointment. He felt he had earned the right to decide for himself if he wanted to carry on after the Euros.
After the win against Switzerland, TV cameras caught Hareide being offered a red and white Denmark scarf by the FA’s head of communication for him to wear during the post-match celebrations. Hareide refused and was afterwards asked why in Kanal 5’s TV studio.
“I wasn’t feeling cold,” Hareide said dismissively.
The symbolism couldn’t have been much clearer: The Norwegian no longer feels part of the DBU and does not feel obliged to represent them. He is focusing on his players and the results — and on ending on a high with a good result at the Euros, where Denmark, if they qualify, would play at least two matches in Copenhagen.
When speaking to the media, Hareide is now completely open about his own philosophy and does not try to respect Olsen’s legacy or any rambling Danish ideas about how football should be played.
“What is beautiful football? Is it 100,000 passes from the goalkeeper before a finish? Or is it one pass, one touch, and a goal? To me, good football is winning matches. Only that. That’s all that matters,especially for a national team. If you don’t understand that, you have a wrong perception of football,” he told Kanal 5 last month.
Some see such an opinion as the proof why Møller is right to look elsewhere. Hjulmand, who will replace Hareide after the Euros, is much more in line with Olsen.
But Hareide is certainly not alone. In its editorial, prestigious newspaper Weekendavisen even recommended Møller and the DBU to cancel the employment of Hjulmand.
“There is no shame in overturning an insulting decision,” the editorial stated.
As it stands, Møller’s idea of acting with “constant care” when planning towards the future is under pressure. Tomorrow night, Denmark are hoping to take the final step towards the biggest event in the country’s football history in a curious state of mind. A three-year-long unbeaten run seems a minor detail. The atmosphere is tense, and a defeat in Dublin would undoubtedly see a lot blaming fingers being pointed towards those in charge — or between them.
World’s longest unbeaten streaks
Games Country (Period)
35 Brazil (1993-1996)*1
35 Spain (2007-2009)
33 Denmark (2016-now)*1,2
31 Argentina (1991-1993)
31 Spain (1994-1998)*1
30 Hungary (1950-1954)
30 France (1994-1996)*1
29 Brazil (1970-1973)
*1 The streak includes a defeat in a penalty shootout.
*2 Not official due to Denmark’s 3-0 defeat against Slovakia in 2018. However, Denmark fielded a team of amateurs and futsal players in the match due to a conflict between the FA and the Players’ Union.