From Russia with love. Two Norwich City stalwarts. One World Cup final ticket
PUBLISHED: 18:12 11 November 2017 | UPDATED: 18:12 11 November 2017
Former Norwich City team-mates. Now World Cup rivals. Paddy Davitt discovers there is plenty of mutual respect between Age Hareide and Martin O'Neill, ahead of their two-legged play-off battles.
Age Hareide spent enough time sharing a Norwich dressing room with Martin O’Neill to know Denmark must overcome a pumped Republic of Ireland to seal a World Cup spot.
O’Neill has forged a reputation as a managerial motivator from his successful club career with the likes of Leicester City and Celtic.
Danish boss Hareide is under no illusions his one-time City skipper and opposite number will have the Irish fired up for Saturday’s first leg in Copenhagen.
“I can imagine Martin is very good in that respect, because he was my captain at Norwich and he was always very good one-to-one, talking you through games,” he said. “I spoke to some players who knew him at Celtic and they said he was a great motivator.
“That side of management is very important and, like Martin, I prefer to keep things simple.
“Instilling belief is the key thing, I feel, because believing in yourself, and not being frightened of losing, is so important to players producing their best.
“Martin is a fantastic guy, a good fellow in every way.
“I have total respect for him both as a person and as a manager, and I have very happy memories of our time together in England.
“When I met him, he had spent many years at Nottingham Forest with Brian Clough, so he was very well educated in football. We were together first at Manchester City but Martin never agreed with the coach so he was sold to Norwich where we met again. I was first loaned and then sold to Norwich.
“I loved the experience I had in England and I was lucky to have good friends like Martin who helped me settle.
“I even rented a house from him when we played together for Norwich. It worked out very well. He was a decent landlord, he didn’t take too much money off me.”
O’Neill has a different take on their financial arrangement.
“Yes, he did rent my place but he didn’t pay for it” he joked, speaking alongside Hareide for a preview on Fifa.com. “No, really, I have a lot of time for Age - he’s a great character. He’s a fine lad and I followed his career since he was national manager of Norway, which is where he’s from.
“I saw him when he was managing Helsingborgs and then he went to Malmo.
“At that time, it was pretty unusual for foreign players to come over to British football, far less to make a success of it.
“But the Scandinavians seem to adjust better than most and Age did very well.
“He’s a good lad and really knows his football. I know Age pretty well, not that it makes a huge difference for these games. It’s player versus player really.”
Hareide’s trump card, however, is Tottenham’s creative lynchpin Christian Eriksen, who the ex-City defender has built his Danish side around.
“He’s a world class player,” said Hareide.
“If you have a world class player in your side you have to give him the freedom and space to work and use his skills.
“When I came in I spent a lot of time watching him playing at Tottenham, and I tried to get him into more or less the same role as he has there because that is important, that is where he has his daily work.
“He has a fantastic attitude, he really wants to be at his best for Denmark, and I think the way we play has brought Christian into a good position.
“You have to get involved with your best players. You have to get close, to play up to their strengths, and to do that you have to talk to them.
“As an assist maker and a goalscorer, he has been fantastic for us, and you always feel he will create chances and produce something special.
“Often a player like that, capable of extraordinary things, can be the difference when a match is very tight - especially against a team as well organised as Ireland.”
O’Neill agrees his squad’s collective spirit is their biggest strength but insists Hareide’s adopted country go into the ties as favourites.
“We have a great never-say-die spirit,” he said. “We’d like to be going into games with big weapons at our disposal, superstar players, but not having that, we need to be able to find other ways of winning when our backs are to the wall.
“That spirit’s taken us a long way in the last couple of years and, while I take great pride in seeing it, all credit for it must go to the players themselves.
“Having watched Denmark’s group matches, and thinking especially of more recent games like the 4-0 win over Poland, it’s clear we face a really tough task.
“They’ll be favourites to go through.
“They have a fantastic playmaker in Eriksen. He’s a player who makes Tottenham tick these days and, in that position, he has developed into one of the best in the world.”
• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt on the following channels…