INTERVIEW – Nikolaj Jacobsen, Denmark’s national handball coach and head coach in Rhein-Neckar Löwen talks to stregspiller.com about the ups and downs, coaching one of the world´s strongest national teams and a top team in Germany’s Bundesliga, at the same time.
By Peter Bruun
“I think I can say for sure that the day will never come, where I can claim that I am completely satisfied.”
These are the words of Nikolaj Jacobsen (46), since 2014 head coach of Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Danish national coach since the summer of 2017.
“Especially, with regards to the national team, I don’t think any coach would ever say that he went as far with his team, as he wanted to.
“You simply do not have enough days together with your players to achieve everything you want,” the former left wing of the Danish national team and THW Kiel elaborates.
He is well into his second season doing “double duties” after he took over the Danish national team last summer. But, Jacobsen is certainly not the only coach who is in charge of a national team next to his club work.
While most of the other coaches in similar situations are in charge of a “minor” handball nation, Jacobsen ha responsibility for one of the strongest and most talented national teams in the world. And nothing will change until the end of the 2018/19 season, when his contract with the German top club expires.
16 months of “double duties” are behind him already – what is his experience having two very demanding jobs at the same time?
“Actually, the first year went really well.
“In 2018, a number of factors have come together and make this year – maybe – a bit harder.
“Both of my girls already went back to Denmark, as we are going home after this season, and my assistant coach took a job as head coach in Austrian handball – so this leaves me doing the job all by myself this season.
“If I add it all up, I can say that this year has been a bit harder than I expected, while the previous twelve months may have been a bit easier than I thought,” he says.
But, he has not regrets – not for one moment – when he decided to take on the Danish national team in addition to his job at Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
“No, I haven’t and there is no doubt that I will get through with all of it.
“However, when you are separated from your family the way I am at the moment, when both my big girls live in Denmark, and we still live 1.000 km away, it’s probably bit harder for mum and dad than we both expected.”
He also finds a lot of things to be happy about, not the least his job in Denmark. And when he looks around, he sees most of his national team players getting plenty of time on the pitch, in some of Europe´s top clubs.
“We have seen it over the course of the past several years now that the majority of our players are employed in some of the strongest clubs in Germany, France, Spain and Hungary. Obviously, I am very happy about it and I hope that this trend continues.
“It’s nice to have several players in top clubs – in the Bundesliga, a few in Paris, some in Spain, one in Veszprém and one more next season,” says Jacobsen who is pleased that his biggest star, Mikkel Hansen is virtually freed from defensive duties in Paris Saint-Germain.
“I think it’s important for Mikkel´s knee and for his entire career – and for the national team, of course – that the strain is kept at a level, where he can perform in the role, where he is best. There is no doubt that his finest qualities show in attack.
“Of course, we very much would like to include him in our fast breaks as well, however, there is a balance we have to find,” says Nikolaj Jacobsen who appears to be a bit surprised about the criticism he received from fans and some media representatives, when Denmark finished fourth at the 2018 European championship, in Croatia, back in January, his first major tournament as national team coach. Apparently, fourth place was not good enough for some Danes.
“The pressure is increasing all the time. It seems that everybody – not only in the world of handball world, but in general – is expected to live a perfect life and of course this affects handball as well.
“You want to see a perfect handball match each and every time, but that rarely happens and not only because there are many other strong national teams.
“Still, I cannot say that the pressure came as a surprise.
“I knew what was in store for me and I know that there are many that have an opinion about the Danish national team, even though not all of the opinions are within reason.
“During a major tournament, there are plenty of people who are interested and follow the event closely, and consequently, they also form their own opinion.
“This holds true for journalists as well as spectators and I do not think you ever really get used to it,” finds Jacobsen who – surprisingly – cannot confirm experiencing the same kind of pressure as coach of Rhein Neckar Löwen.
“Actually, I do not feel that much pressure from the media in Germany. Such pressure comes more from within and also from our tight schedule, which leaves us with very few rest days,” he explains.
Don’t expect too much from Löwen
The 2018 German vice-champions still have the chance to win all three titles this season: The Champions League, the German championship and the German Cup.
However, the coach does not allow Löwen fans to dream about a “Triple” in his last season as head coach.
“No – I think we simply have too many new players this season to accomplish it.
“I also think our game has reflected it, so far. We miss the elements that probably were our strong points in the last few years, and that is stability, a low amount of technical errors and a strong defense.
“We do not really show these qualities to the same extent this season or at least not yet.
“For long stretches in a match our game at both ends of the court is good, but then there are times when it’s not good enough, compared to the way we performed in the previous couple of years.
“Therefore, I don’t think that we have the stability this season to win three titles.
“Right now, I would be really happy to finish my job here with just one title and – honestly – it’s not that important which one it is,” says Nikolaj Jacobsen, who will have to manage two demanding jobs for another eight months.