THIS INTERVIEW, CONDUCTED BY MARC SIEKMANN AND TRANSLATED BY JON MACKENZIE, APPEARED IN BILD ON 8TH JULY 2017
At the end of June, the former VfL Bochum and Hannover 96 goal-machine Thomas Christiansen (44) started his new job: head coach at Leeds United in the English Championship where he hopes to lead the sleeping giant back to glory.
FUSSBALL BILD spoke exclusively with the Dane.
FUSSBALL BILD: How excited were you before the first practice?
Christiansen: Very! Working at a new club is always a challenge. I am really happy that it has finally started and we are out doing work on the pitch.
You were succesful at the APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus, becoming league champions and reaching the knockout round of the Europa League. Why did you leave?
Christiansen: Because in a discussion with the directors of the club, we realised we had achieved what we set out to achieve in the championship, the cup and the Europa League. It was just the time to do something new: for myself and the club.
In Cyprus you were very successful, collecting a number of titles and other honors. Did you find it hard to leave the island?
Christiansen: Quite honestly, it was not very difficult. I have lived and worked there for three years. As a coach, it is hard to understand the attitude to coaches. The mentality in Cyprus is such that you quickly change coach.
What do you mean?
Christiansen: On average, they have two to three changes of manager per club a year. For me, then, it was unheard of that I could work solidly and with continuity for three years – first at Larnaka, then at APOEL. That’s why I signed a one-year contract with APOEL, even though they offered me two years.
You didn’t get sacked…
Christiansen: Yes, I am very proud of that. We became champions and went further in the European League than any previous Cypriot team. Knocking out Bilbao, a Spanish team, and winning against Olympiakos twice in the group stages: I will never forget these experiences.
From one island to the other. How did you end up with the English second division team Leeds?
Christiansen: My consultant talked to the Director of Football at Leeds, Gwyn Williams [This must be a mistake by Bild: Gwyn Williams was dismissed in 2013 – JM]. He had told me more often than once that I was the best coach for his club. I was one candidate amongst many great names – the man who coached Leicester to the Premier League, Claudio Ranieri, for example – but in the end they chose me. That makes me very proud.
You played in many leagues around the world, but never in England. Are you particularly pleased to finally be allowed to work in the home of football?
Christiansen: Yes! As a young Dane, I watched a lot of English football. I always drems about playing there – even just to train. In the most recent interview I gave FUSSBALL BILD, I said that my dream jobs as coach would be in Germany, Spain or England.
Right! So everything went perfectly.
Christiansen: Exactly. Now I get the opportunity to prove myself in England. They play a special form of football: very physical, many battles and long balls, frequently setting up in 4-4-2.
And how do you want to play?
Christiansen: I will try to create something different. But, of course, it depends on the squad that you have at your disposal. The players determine the system by their qualities. But I would like to try to go through with my own approach. I was very successful in Cyprus with this more creative approach.
APOEL plays in Europe, Leeds are in the 2nd division. What attracted you so much to Leeds?
Christiansen: The decision to coach Leeds was quite simple! It is a great club with a lot of tradition. Unfortunately they are not in the first division, but their history in the first division is impressive. The chance to work for such a team does not happen often. For me it’s not a step back, but forward!
You are married with two children. Are the whole family crossing the channel?
Christiansen: My daughter has just finished school and is now off to university in Spain. My wife and my son will go with me to England.
In England, the coaches are typically more involved in transfer policy than in Germany. Are you coach and manager?
Christiansen: No, I’m a coach. Of course I will help our Director of Football in his transfer decisions, but he has already done a lot of work and developed a list of interesting personalities. I do not want to sit in an office: I’d rather work out on the training field.
What are your goals for the club?
Christiansen: Leeds finished last season in the seventh place – one place below the promotion play offs. This season we want to do better, so reach the play off games. Of course you can not guarantee that, it depends on the other teams.
What do you want to guarantee?
Christiansen: That we will give our best. I expect my players to give their best in every performance and throw everything into them. Then the results will come. And, of course, it would be nice in the end, if we can talk about promotion.
The fact that everything is possible in the Championship was proven impressively by David Wagner with Huddersfield last season.
Christiansen: Yes, I’ve watched the final and the penalty shoot-out. They did so well. For many people, David Wagner was unknown but they still celebrated his great success. In my case, I hope it will be the same: many people in England do not know me, but the people responsible for the club want me to introduce my own philosophy. I want to work hard, have clear ideas and want to achieve something with the club.
They are very ambitious.
Christiansen: Right. We – the players and the coach – must always improve. Every day I will learn something new and improve myself – even from mistakes that I will make.
You are targeting promotion, just like your former club, Bochum. Hanover 96 have already achieved it. Do you follow both?
Christiansen: Yes! Even despite the fact that it was difficult last season because we were in three competitions with APOEL. But obviously: I wish both clubs great success and hope that Bochum soon follow Hannover into the first division! I always want my formers teams to be playing as high as possible.
46 league games plus two domestic cup competitions and possibly play offs are ahead of you. Are you having jitters before you begin?
Christiansen: These are a lot of games, but this has always been the case in England. Of course it will be new to me, but also very interesting. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Thomas Christiansen was born in the small Danish town of Hadsund on the Baltic Sea, south of Aalborg.
He started his professional career in 1988 in the U19 of Brondby IF. His career in Spain began in 1991, when he moved from Denmark to FC Barcelona B Team. After loan spells at Gijon, Osasuna and Racing Santander, he finally made the leap into Barca’s first eleven in 1995.
In 2000, Christiansen moved back to Denmark to Herfölge BK. From there he went to the VfL Bochum in the Bundesliga in the following year.
He was not able to prevent relegation that season, but after an immediate return back into the top division, he won the Bundesliga Torjägerkanone [the prize for highest scorer in the Bundesliga – JM] at the age of 30. That season he scored 21 goals, finishing level with Bayern’s Brasilian Giovane Élber. In total, Christiansen, who also played for Hannover 96, scored 34 times in 101 Bundesliga matches. In 2006 he brought his professional playing career to a close.
Beginning his coaching career in Cyprus, Christiansen coached Larnaka, then APOEL Nicosia before he moved to Leeds United, who finished 7th last season in England’s 2nd tier.