Jon Dahl Tomasson: From Champions League victor to title-winning coach with Malmo

By Sports Desk September 13, 2021

Jon Dahl Tomasson almost won it all as a player.

A Champions League under iconic Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti at Milan, to go with Serie A, Coppa Italia and Coppa Italia honours. Add the UEFA Cup, Eredivisie and Johan Cruijff Shield during his time with Feyenoord.

Now, Tomasson finds himself at the helm of Swedish giants Malmo, who are embarking on their first Champions League group-stage campaign since 2015-16, after snapping the club's title drought in 2020.

Malmo – the most successful team in Sweden – had not won the Allsvenskan since 2017, however Tomasson delivered the trophy in his first season at Eleda Stadion, an achievement culminating in him being named Manager of the Year.

After ending Malmo's domestic wait last term, Malmo will face holders Chelsea, Italian powerhouses Juventus and Russian giants Zenit in Group H after Tomasson guided the 1978-79 European Cup runners-up through the qualifying rounds as the 45-year-old's coaching career continues to gather momentum.

Tomasson is set to take charge of his first Champions League match as a coach, having appeared as a player 42 times in the competition between 1997 and 2005 for Newcastle, Feyenoord and Milan. His last game came in the 2005 final against Liverpool, scoring one of Milan's two successful penalties in the shoot-out defeat.

"Before we qualified for the Champions League, we're allowed to dream big. Now we're there," Tomasson told Stats Perform, ahead of Malmo's matchday-one showdown at home to Juve on Tuesday.

"In a way, it's a dream which we should live. At the end of the day, we have ambitions as well. We know we play against very good clubs. We're the biggest club in Scandinavia, but it is a lot to do with money. We can't compare to each other. But we beat Rangers and Ludogorets. The other clubs are also very big.

"Hopefully we can upset a few people. We are ambitious and will do our best, being well prepared. We have a great team spirit. In that way, we can achieve some upsets. We have to be realistic also. We will live that fairytale."

"I won the Champions League and UEFA Cup, also lost a Champions League final," said Tomasson, whose Malmo saw off Riga FC and HJK before upstaging Scottish champions Rangers and Bulgarian titleholders Ludogorets en route to the group phase. "But seeing the boys working together, coping with difficult moments in the game. It makes you proud as a coach. I'm really satisfied so far. It gives me satisfaction for sure.

Tomasson's career as a striker was a successful one – the 45-year-old remains Denmark's all-time leading goalscorer (52) alongside Poul Nielsen. Twice named Danish Player of the Year, the former Heerenveen, Newcastle, Feyenoord, Milan, Stuttgart and Villarreal frontman called time on his career 2011.

Tomasson's coaching career officially started at Excelsior as an assistant before a brief stint in charge of the Dutch side, followed by a short spell at Roda JC in the Netherlands.

"Each experience gives you something, whether it is successful or unsuccessful," he said. "As a person and a coach you'll learn from that. It's a part of getting an education down the road and it's an education that will never stop."

However, Tomasson's journey started long before he stopped playing.

"It came quite natural [coaching]," he said. "I had been captain of the Denmark national team for many years. Then you get a bit of responsibility, you start thinking in a different way. You think about the team, it's not just 'me, me, me'. In a way it started quite early, thinking about tactical things.

"I was also a very young boy when I went to Holland and Holland is of course a country which likes to develop young people and football players. I can remember my manager Foppe de Haan, he brought me to games, to analyse games, to develop as a person and football head should develop. I was going with him to games. I was analysing them.

"In a way, I also tried to do a bit of that at Malmo, I was a bit inspired.  All of our youngsters, they are analysing and making presentations for the technical staff so they start to think about football in a different way. Also, to come out of their comfort zone. Make it a bit tough of them to deal with new things."

"I love football, I eat football if it's possible. I had a lot of great coaches during my football career. I had some big coaching names, like Ancelotti, [Manuel] Pellegrini, Bert van Marwijk, Leo Beenhakker. All of those coaches, they give you inspiration," Tomasson continued.

Tomasson, who left boyhood club Koge for Heerenveen in 1994, has been inspired by his journey across Europe.

"I started as a young boy in Holland, so I have a lot of inspiration for the Dutch school," he said. "But I've been in Italy, Spain, Germany and England, so I'm more inspired through an international way of thinking. Football is of course a game, you win it with the head. It's chess on grass.

"Malmo, we want to be dominant with and without the ball. Very flexible with our tactical approach, with different formations and be able to change during games."

Tomasson's Malmo have been dominant under the Dane, who made the short trip across the Oresund Strait after leaving his position as assistant coach of Denmark.

Malmo clinched the league crown by nine points last term and scored a league-high 64 goals in 30 matches – their best return since netting the same amount in 1965.

"When I was working with Denmark for three-and-a-half years, in a way, it was tough to just leave," Tomasson added. "Working with the best players. We were unbeaten for three years also and had great team spirit. It was tough. But the project at Malmo was so ambitious. It was a tough but very easy decision to make because it's a very interesting project. It suits me well.

"It's been very successful but also say surprising but not at all, we tried to plan it. I was appointed to change things, to change the age of the group, to play a more attractive way, dominant with the ball. Get more youngsters into the team and develop those boys and still win something because at Malmo, it's a club with big ambition – one of the biggest in Scandinavia. The biggest at the moment because we're playing in the Champions League. Historically, it's a very big club but didn't win anything for three years, so it was very important to win the league last season. You need to win, qualify for Europe, develop players. Quite ambitious but I like those ambitious.

"We managed to change a lot in a positive way. Develop those youngers, who we need to sell as well. Play a more modern way of football. It's been a perfect journey so far, winning the silverware last season and now qualifying for the Champions League.

"It's a terrific achievement for the club – being among those 32 teams. It's like football heaven, a dream come true. Try to deal with those things coming up. Winning four qualifying rounds before actually going into the Champions League isn't easy. Winning away to Rangers with 10 men and playing against Ludogorets, a team with a totally different budget to us. At the end of the day, money decides a lot of things in football."

As Tomasson's coaching reputation grows in Europe, what does the future hold for the 112-time former international?

"It's okay to dream big, but it's also difficult to plan anything as a manager. I work hard every day to become better. At the moment, I'm looking forward to play this Champions League with Malmo. We also want to win the title like we did last season."

"Every manager has their own path to walk. It's difficult to plan. You can't plan it, so you jump on the train when you need to," he continued.

As a club, previous form is against Malmo – they have lost 83 per cent of their Champions League matches (P12 W2 D0 L10). It is the joint-highest losing percentage of sides to have played at least 10 matches in the competition, alongside Maccabi Tel Aviv and Rapid Vienna.

Malmo have only scored three goals in their last 10 Champions League games, failing to score in eight of the fixtures in this run. Meanwhile, the Swedish side have conceded a total of 34 goals across those 10 matches at an average of 3.4 per game.

But Tomasson's new-look Malmo – who boast 15 players aged 25 or younger in the squad – continue to impress in 2021. Di Blae have only lost one of their past 28 home fixtures in the league, dating back to August 2019, while the Champions League – albeit in the qualifying rounds – they are eight matches unbeaten on home soil.

Antonio Colak has flourished since arriving on loan from PAOK – the Croatian forward scored five of Malmo's 13 goals in qualifying, making him the highest scoring player for any team during the qualification rounds.

The likes of younger pair Veljko Birmancevic (23) and Anel Ahmedhodzic (22) have also starred, developing further under Tomasson's watchful eye.

"He's done well," Tomasson said of new signing Birmancevic, who arrived from Serbian side Cukaricki in the offseason and has scored 11 goals this term, including four in the Champions League qualifying rounds. "The whole team have done an excellent job. He's a young boy. He is coping with a new country and way of playing, with different mentality and manager. But slowly, you can see the progress he has made. A very talented player with special skills and skills we love - goals, one against one, speed. Each team are searching for that quality."

On Bosnia-Herzegovina international centre-back Ahmedhodzic, Tomasson added: "When I arrived here, the first thing I did was put him into the team. He had been on loan in Denmark. Now he is playing for his national team. A great player, a good central defender with a great foot. A player I like. You need to defend as well but also quality on the ball if you want to dominate like I want to."

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