Sports

Interview with Håkan Ericson, the newly appointed head coach of The Faroe Islands National Team

Image credits: Sverri Egholm
Image credits: Sverri Egholm

The recent announcement of Håkan Ericson’s appointment as Faroe Islands head coach signalled a new era for the national side: the country’s first coach since Lars Olsen’s eight-year tenure came to an end 2 months ago, as well as the first one hailing from Sweden.

This period also saw the retirement of inspirational captain Atli Gregersen, so yes, it is fair to say the men’s national side has had a much-needed transformation in recent months; a fresh start after a regressive 2 years, in which the team slipped from a record world ranking of 78 to a current lowly 110, with just one win in ten matches over the past year.

Despite many names being strongly linked with the vacant post, the selection of Håkan, a man who has not coached in over 3 years, has come out of left-field. The press speculation hardly mentioned his name beforehand, but in many ways, you can argue this out of the blue selection is exactly what the national team needs. A choice of someone with a new ideology, a wildcard if you will (as opposed, for example, to other highly-linked figures such as Guðjón Þórðarson) and Håkan certainly fits that bill.

If you look across Håkan’s managerial history you will find a man whose ethos aligns almost perfectly with what the Faroes needs in this transformative period: a progressive, ambitious coach that is always forward-thinking; a man who very much like the Faroe Islands, has performed heroically in the face of adversity; a man that rose in his formative years from the lower leagues of Swedish football, to proudly manage the nation’s Under-21 and Olympic sides.

At the 2015 Under-21 European Championships his Sweden side were crowned champions (the first national team major tournament win in their history). They were widely expected not even to progress through the group stages, having been drawn in what was considered the group of death, alongside Portugal, England and Italy. Nonetheless Håkan led his players admirably through and respectively beat Denmark in the semis, and Portugal in the final, in what must surely go down as one of the biggest shocks in recent football history. If such inspiration and heroism can be implemented into his Faroese side, then we might be onto something special.

In the ever changing world of football, now is the perfect time for such an appointment as Ericson, especially when considering the forthcoming Nations League campaign, which serves as a vital opportunity for the Faroe Islands to make a huge leap up to the next level of International football.

With much anticipation and excitement over the man in question’s forthcoming tenure, the chance to interview him and fully understand his vision for the national side was one I met with delight, and it did not disappoint. Below is my interview with Håkan Ericson:

Isaac Roblett

First of all, what attracted you to the vacant role in the first place?

Håkan Ericson

Many things did: the challenge itself, the opportunity to work in a different culture and fantastic place, personal urge to get back into the game, the chance to work with a small hardworking association, with people who are so passionate.

On top of this, my own successful experiences of working in an underdog position akin to the Faroese one with Sweden’s U21 in qualifications and tournaments.

Isaac Roblett

Great to hear such passion for the role, what are your initial thoughts after securing the Faroese head coach vacancy?

Håkan Ericson

I think it is a big challenge to try to be a part of, to lift a very small footballing country. An extraordinary project and mission for me. 

Isaac Roblett

What is your footballing philosophy/style?

Håkan Ericson

I liked to call it a “conscious football” when players know their role and people around can recognize the playing style. I prefer to build on general principles and combine it with freedom of improvisation from the players. For teams like Sweden and the Faroe Islands, I think it is necessary to follow a game-plan, as the team must beat, in most matches, better individual players.

In greater detail, I must learn more about the players themselves, and also listen to their own experiences before deciding exactly how our “playbook” looks like

Isaac Roblett

Fantastic! How will you implement this with the Faroese national team?

Håkan Ericson

The basic fundament in leadership is for me to explain WHY! I will present the principles I prefer and try to explain the advantage of it, but as I also mentioned I am also willing to listen and adjust if I get better arguments from the staff or/and the players.

The most different thing to lead a national team compared to a club is the time constraints. You don’t have time to practice all the details. I use to say that we have two sessions every day, but only when one is in practice, we have to be as fresh as possible for the match. As a player, you may have the skill to “transform” the theory to practice on the pitch.

Isaac Roblett

Sounds like a really strong ethos. In applying this, will you bring your own coaching staff?

Håkan Ericson

No, I will not, we are in the process of forming the team. I hope to bring one or two from Sweden, but the main staff will come from the Faroe Islands. I think it’s important to learn from them about the culture of the Faroe Islands in general and especially in football, in addition to their “know-how” of the Faroese players. I also think is great thinking from the FA to give the experience of international football to people from the country.

Isaac Roblett

On the topic of learning about the culture, will you live in the Faroe Islands?

Håkan Ericson

No, I will not. In my agreement with the FA, I will be in the Faroe Islands and in the office enough of the time, so we can have good consistent meetings. My private situation means I must live in Sweden, two of my colleagues and friends, Lars Lagerbäck (Norway coach) & Erik Hamrén (Iceland coach) are doing the same, with positive results for their respective nations, and I have had great insight and feedback into managing the living side of things with them.

Isaac Roblett

What is your current knowledge of Faroese football?

Håkan Ericson

To date, I have watched the last six games in qualification and of course games against Sweden in the past. I observed a good structure in defense, a hard-working team, loyal to follow the game-plan, but with difficulty creating good scoring chances and ball-positioning.

13 players in the last squad against Sweden were still playing in the Faroe Islands with full-time jobs. It is a different situation compared to Sweden and most of our opponents. But I knew this before I get the job, and you must always “jump from where you stay” and find advantage from this position.

Isaac Roblett

The Faroese culture is a stoic and commendable ethos. Despite the nation’s small size (52,000 population, which in context can all fit into the Swedish national Friends Arena) the fans do have high expectations, hence why they have overachieved so much in their footballing history. How important is that for you going forward?

Håkan Ericson

I think you must always believe you can win the game when you enter the pitch!!!

But it is also necessary to learn to “lose with pride”. If you have worked hard for 93 minutes, follow the game-plan and reach the performance goals you have to find the satisfaction, the day you are not afraid to lose you have gotten much closer to the victory. To focus on the performance, you’ve optimized your opportunities to win!

Isaac Roblett

I completely agree, and the Faroese public will resonate with such beliefs. A lot of the public has however shown discontent of the last coach not giving younger talent a proper chance, how essential is giving youth a chance for you in this job?

Håkan Ericson

As a National coach, you always have to bring the best player to every competitive game, the younger player must deserve to play!

But if they are very similar in their performance and you can see that in a short period of future, they can increase the team performance and that is not the situation for an older player, the age can then be a factor.

I also think which type of game it is, how is the situation in the qualification group and so on.

annum After 7 years working with U21 I have seen how much a young player can develop in a short period of 3- 6 months if he gets the right support and help to progress. We will try to find and support young players, so we can improve as a team.

Isaac Roblett

More Faroese players are playing abroad professionally than ever before. Do you feel migration overseas to the professional leagues is needed for Faroese national team development, or do you not feel it’s necessarily important?

Håkan Ericson

In this early moment, I don’t have the bigger picture of the environment at the Faroese clubs, but in general, I think international experience is positive but of course, is not always better abroad. It depends on the quality of the league itself, how the organization and leadership are like at the clubs, and so on. If you go abroad and don’t play games over a long period, I think it is a big problem.

The special thing about the Faroese based player is that they will not be professional and this is where I can see the big advantage of going abroad. Over time I think you can develop more if you have time to rest, going to the training-session with full energy and have a good nutrition-scheme, all of which are possible in a professional set-up.

Isaac Roblett

You have given debuts to many top players such as Guidetti, Lindelof and Augustinsson to name but a few and have a track record for developing players. What’s your method to improve and get the best out of your players?

Håkan Ericson

Would be better to ask them, what we do in a National team it’s only a small part of their development, it’s in the clubs they play for that have the most of the influence. But in the past as a club coach and also in the National team I try to follow four steps:

1) They are human beings – but also desperate to play football – find a good relation

2) Declare for them “what is in it for me”

3) How can the team help you – and how can you help the team

4) Give them clear roles and expectations to meet

Isaac Roblett

Seems like you have a clear strategy in place. Lars Olsen was in charge for 8 years, with some amazing achievements, he got to a highest-ever ranking of 78 in the world and achieved a record number of points for the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign (9 points gained). How will you fill his boots and how would you ensure his achievements are topped?

Håkan Ericson

You can never ensure or guarantee results in any sport. But what I can ensure is that we will do all preparation we deem necessary and also have the platform to implement it. I am impressed by the work Lars and his team have done and by how the players performed in the qualifiers.

What I hope for is a new era of success, and to get Faroe Islands to the FIFA Top 100 rankings again is also a big target.

Isaac Roblett

And how much importance will you put on the upcoming Nations League?

Håkan Ericson

We will be as prepared as we possibly can be; it’s competitive games, so of course, we will have a full focus for them!

Isaac Roblett

We must now talk about your astounding achievement of winning the Under-21 2015 Euros with Sweden, in which Sweden were heavy underdogs, but against the odds were victorious. How did you achieve that and how important is using that experience for this role?

Håkan Ericson

You can see the effects it has had on Swedish teams, which after our victories have believed that it is now possible. If I had said at the time that I think we will win all three qualifications with the U21’s, that we will win the Euro 2015 tournament, and then qualify ahead of Spain for Euro 2017 (and unbeaten I may add), no one would have believed it, not even I!

The most important experience is to know that “Everything is possible, but you must allow yourself to see it before it happens”

I also try to separate expectations from beliefs, it helps create different energy for the mindset.

Isaac Roblett

How will you make that massive step up of from youth international coach to senior one?

Håkan Ericson

I haven’t thought about it so much. After 20 years as a senior club coach and also as a co-trainer for Sweden in Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine and 2016 in France, I think I am fully prepared.

But you always have to find your role and position in front of a new group of players. and I walk into this position respectfully and fully prepared.

Isaac Roblett

What is your vision for the Faroese national team, how far do you think you can take them, realistic points tally etc?

Håkan Ericson

I think it would be possible to get the nation back in the Top 100 ranking, but I will also work a lot with other numbers than just points and rankings, to track success.

To improve details in play, working with KPI´s will be very important to lead the performances in the right direction, and I think it will enable more positive results.

On the other hand, it is very important to not set any limits, we will always allow ourselves to dream and hope to try to fulfill our and the supporter’s dreams with a good hard-working ethic. To reach this, me and my leader-team, the FA and the players have to form our goals and work towards them together.

Isaac Roblett

A lot of supporters have felt disillusioned between the past distant relationships between coach and Faroese natives/culture (which is a proud and distinct one). How crucial is building a close and open relationship with supporters to you?

Håkan Ericson

For me, a supporter is a word from the meaning of SUPPORT, whether in winning or losing matches.

RESPECT is a crucial word between players, leaders and players, to opponents, to the waitress in the hotel and so also between supporters and the team.

If the support is unconditionally and I feel the respect, I will give the same respect in return. What I have seen from the stands when fans sing the songs and beat on their drums even with the result of losing 0-4, I loved it, really got my heart!!

In Sweden, we felt the effort of a good supporter when we won the Euros, without them, we would have never succeeded.

Isaac Roblett

With Sweden in qualifiers you faced some weaker teams, how will you adapt to the change with the Faroe Islands where most nations we face dominate possession and are heavy favourites.

Håkan Ericson

In the qualification to Euro 2015 against France and the Euros going up to Italy, England and Portugal we were not the favourites, not even in the semi-final against Denmark. We were not in possession mode, but we won the tournament!

At Euro 2017 we shifted our style dramatically, as in this current generation we have better offensive players than defensive ones.

We succeed in implementing both styles of play, if you find the right style for the best players and get a commitment from the players you can be very strong as a team, regardless of the opponent.

Isaac Roblett

Your last job was over 2 years ago, why the break? And what did you learn to aid you for this role?

Håkan Ericson

Working in football for 37 years with only one or two shorter breaks, I just need a break!!

In this time, I have been working with business companies as a speaker on leadership. This time out has allowed me to reflect, to help me form the most important tools in leadership, and also get the real “hungry back” to work in football again!

Isaac Roblett 

That makes sense and sounds very productive. Who are your footballing inspirations (such as your legendary father), how did he and others help shape your footballing mentality?

Håkan Ericson

My father was a National coach for Sweden for nine years (between 1971-1980) with qualification to two World Cups, reaching fifth place in 1974 (Germany).

During this period, I was between the ages of 11-20, with total commitment to football and took every step with him. I had the great opportunity to follow him closely when he watched games and spoke with his players afterwards. I think it has given me respect but also not to have too much respect for the “stars”, as everyone is human beings behind the scenes.

Sven – Göran Eriksson was the coach for Roma, Lazio and Benfica when I started my coaching career and I visited him at all these clubs. He gave me the formula to “be yourself, but always listen to the culture where you are”

Stuart Baxter (last coach for South Africa) I have also followed his path closely, his manner of instructing those around him, truly made him a role model to me.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to be a part of the team with him in two Euro’s and qualifications, and to be so close and see his decision-making in different situations have given me a new perspective to the sport

Isaac Roblett

Very interesting. The last question, sum up what football means to you, and any last words for the Faroese general public?

Håkan Ericson

Football is for me a type of “Art”, so simple and yet so difficult. Football is to combine individuals’ strengths with the best output for the TEAM, to have success together is the best feeling. And to the Faroe public:

I HOPE WE WILL CELEBRATE TOGETHER!

In the unpredictable world of football, you can never say for certain what way an appointment will go, and Håkan Ericson is under no illusion of the magnitude of the task he has on hand. The strategy he implements for the nation can quite possibly be a touch of genius. One thing is for certain, however: it won’t be boring, and no matter what the results over the next 3 years, we have an ambitious, thoughtful man at the helm who will courageously aim to push the players to new heights, and hopefully continue the prideful history of the Faroe Islands defying the odds.

Let’s get behind the forthcoming Håkan Ericson era, and see where the journey takes us. If it’s anything like his past achievements, we are in for something special!

Share this article on social media:

More in Sports