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Who Is Kasper Hjulmand? The inspirational Denmark manager bidding to beat Gareth Southgate’s England (again)

Denmark Manager: Kasper Hjulmand
Denmark Manager: Kasper Hjulmand

In 2009 when he was working at FC Nordsjælland, the now Danish national team manager Kasper Hjulmand witnessed a player, Jonathan Richter, get struck by lightning during a reserve team game. The player suffered a cardiac arrest, went into a medically-induced coma and later had his leg amputated, but thankfully survived.

12 years on from that painful incident and Hjulmand’s Denmark are riding a tidal wave of emotion at Euro 2020 following Christian Eriksen’s horrific cardiac arrest in the first-half of their opening game against Finland. 

How the players returned to the field that same evening to complete the match was remarkable. They lost, but the result was the last thing that mattered. 

On that day and in the weeks that have followed, the courageous and compassionate Hjulmand has handled everything with great dignity. He’s proved to be an inspirational leader and a manager of the people who has fostered an immense team-spirit and unbreakable togetherness.

"We're playing with Eriksen in our hearts,” he said.” We really believe in ourselves and we'll continue to fight."

England v Denmark Odds

In the weeks leading up to Euro 2020, The Sack Race penned a piece on four under-the-radar managers that readers should keep an eye on at this summer’s tournament.

While we weren’t putting forward four potential winners, we did think each boss had a chance of conjuring up something special.

Well, Scotland’s Steve Clarke fell in the group stages despite holding England to a draw, as did Senol Gunes who had somewhat of a stinker with pointless Turkey.

Andriy Shevchenko had more to cheer about as he led Ukraine to the quarter-finals of a European Championships for the first time in the country’s history. However, they were no match for England in the last-eight, meaning only one of the quartet of selected bosses is still standing: Kasper Hjulmand.

The Denmark manager, 49, has recovered from consecutive defeats to Finland and Belgium to propel the Danes through to the semi-finals - their best showing since they won the Euros in 1992 - where they’ll play tournament favourites England at Wembley on Wednesday.

Hjulmand’s exciting and fearless side is bristling with recognisable Premier League faces, including Kasper Schmeichel, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Andreas Christensen, and Jannik Vestergaard. Elsewhere, the skipper Simon Kjaer has been exceptional, Kasper Dolberg has three goals from four shots on target, Mikkel Damsgaard is some talent, while Joakim Mæhle has been accumulating fantasy football points for fun.

Euro 2020 Odds

Denmark were out at 28/1 to win the tournament before a ball was kicked. They can now be found at 10/1 to win the Euros once again. Meanwhile, they can be backed at 9/2 to beat England for the second time in eight months, having done so in the Nations League at Wembley back in October.

Below we explore Hjulmand’s managerial journey to date, from the depths of the Danish second-tier through to the Euro 2020 semi-finals…

Hjulmand previously beat Gareth Southgate in the Nations League
Hjulmand previously beat Gareth Southgate in the Nations League

Instant Impact

After various spells in his homeland and a trip to America where he spent time at the University of North Florida, a knee injury brought Hjulmand’s playing career to an end at the age of just 26.

He turned to coaching, then in his first two managerial jobs he developed a reputation of bringing about instant success.

Hjulmand led Danish side Lyngby Boldklub to the second-tier title in his first season in charge, plus the semi-finals of the cup. However, they finished rock-bottom of the Superliga the following campaign, and Hjulmand left to become the assistant manager of FC Nordsjælland. 

A few years later Hjulmand was upgraded into the No.1 job and instantly led Nordsjælland to Superliga glory for the first time in the club’s history, and thus qualification into the Champions League. 

They finished runners-up the following season but managed to hold Juventus to a 1-1 draw in Europe. A 6th-placed standing followed, then he decided to test himself in Germany.

Replacing Thomas Tuchel

In 2014, Hjulmand made the step up the ladder after he succeeded Thomas Tuchel at Mainz on a three-year deal.

“He is skilled and meticulous and a supporter of attacking football,” beamed the club’s sports director Christian Heidel.

“He also enjoys a reputation back home of developing young players.”

Mainz were eliminated from the Europa League and the German Cup in the early stages, then despite a bright start which saw them hit 3rd in the Bundesliga after eight games, the club’s form dipped and Hjulmand was sacked in February 2015.

It was a set-back, but not a big one.

The Denmark Job

Hjulmand returned for a second spell at Nordsjælland for three-and-a-half-years - finishing 3rd in 2018 - then in the summer of 2020 he became manager of Denmark, replacing Åge Hareide.

He wasn’t even supposed to be the country’s manager for Euro 2020 but the pandemic meant that the tournament was delayed.

“Hjulmand inherited a strong and experienced team who remain defensively sound but he’s crucially added energy and excitement to their attacking play, which has obviously gone down very well in his homeland,” The Sack Race previously wrote about the Dane.

Hjulmand has since won 12 of his 18 matches, including a win over Gareth Southgate’s England in the Nations League. In fact, Denmark have played The Three Lions twice under Hjulmand and not conceded in 180 minutes.

They lost their opening two games against Finland and Belgium, but pushed the latter all the way during a thrilling 2-1 defeat. It was a spirited performance from the Danes and despite failing to take a point from their opening games they still had a chance to qualify for the knockout stages. 

Hjulmand’s men then thrashed Russia 4-1 to seal second spot, hammered Wales 4-0 in the last-16, then overcame Czech Republic 2-1 in the quarter-finals.

Denmark are extremely well coached. Inspired by the styles of ​​Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, Hjulmand employs an entertaining and energetic brand of football, with his troops scoring 10 goals in their last three games.

Denmark’s journey has so far been inspirational, in more than simply football terms, and it’s one that they hope continues as they bid to not only emulate the country’s heroes of 1992 but create their own slice of history.

The Bracelet and the Lucky Jumper

If you look at Hjulmand closely you’ll see that he’s been sporting a bracelet on his right wrist (scroll down for picture).

“I’ve never worn jewellery in my life,” he told Denmark’s TV3+. “This is my first time wearing jewellery. There’s a little football here and it’s Christian who is here with me.

“I had him with me all the way. I think about him a lot and he is - as I have always said - the heart of our team and we were fighting on for his sake today. 

“He is a great inspiration to us.”

Superstitious Hjulmand has also been seen wearing a black jumper with a hole in the right armpit, which he put on in the second-half of Denmark’s quarter-final win over the Czechs because his white top clashed with his players' shirts.

“I always try to break those patterns if I'm getting a little superstitious, because it's nonsense,” he said. “But we won, so of course the sweater is going to Wembley!”

A message for Boris Johnson

Denmark is on the UK’s amber list meaning Danish fans must quarantine for 10 days on arrival on these shores, meaning most will miss out on the semi-final showdown.

“We hope Boris Johnson wakes up and gives access to thousands of Danish fans, otherwise we have to carry them onto the pitch,” Hjulmand  told Danish publication JP (via Metro). “I hope they can come but let’s wait and see.”

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