Daniel Stendel Hearts interview: My project at AS Nancy and why I hope for a second time at Tynecastle
Leaving Hearts 12 months ago created a sense of unfinished business for the German coach as he was unceremoniously replaced by Robbie Neilson. After only four months working in Scotland, he spent a long and oppressive year stuck at home in Hannover during Covid lockdowns awaiting another management opportunity from somewhere.
That it came from a region symbolised by the thistle is merely coincidence. Stendel decided eastern France should follow Scotland on his CV because he wants to tackle the AS Nancy project with the ultimate aim of promotion to Ligue 1. Language barriers won’t deter him.
When Hearts players report for pre-season training at Riccarton next Tuesday, their former boss will be busy introducing himself to his new colleagues – most likely in English. Not every face will be new. Nancy’s president is Gauthier Ganaye, the former Barnsley chief executive who appointed Stendel at Oakwell in 2018.
“He has responsibility for Nancy and Oostende in Belgium. He called me and asked if I would like to do this job,” explained Stendel, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “After a one-year break, I wanted to start working again. I had some calls from England but it was not right.
“I decided on Nancy, a new project with a good club. I speak not so much English, even less Scottish/English, and no French at all. Nothing. I hope I can communicate with a little English because it is not so easy to speak in German in France.
“I have an assistant coach from Luxembourg, Raphael Duarte, and he speaks French, German and English. Hopefully he will translate. I didn’t know him before but he can give me good support.”
Stendel’s approach in France will mirror that of his time in South Yorkshire and Edinburgh. An emphasis on attack, combined with energy, aggression and high-pressing, is already intriguing Nancy supporters after watching their team finish eighth in Ligue 2 last term.
“Everybody has his style. The best coaches in the world play their style. You develop your own style and the main part is always the same, but you develop yourself,” added Stendel. “The main direction will be the same [at Nancy]. This is my idea of how to play, this is what I like. I am convinced this is the way for success.
“Some players have left Nancy and we have not signed new players yet. It is up to everybody to step forward. When you don’t play in the top league then that is the goal. First we have to start our new project, get the right players for the right style.
“I hope we can play a little bit different to my short time in Scotland. When I get a chance to come back to the UK, I would like to do this. I am happy to start at Nancy. This is the next step for me.”
That subtle difference will be a slightly more pragmatic edge to the ‘gegenpressing’ philosophy. Stendel was lured to Hearts in December 2019 to provide a contrasting style to his predecessor, Craig Levein, with the club fighting relegation from the Scottish Premiership.
The gung-ho gameplan was good on the eye but didn’t achieve desired results. It irritates Stendel that he could not guide Hearts clear of danger. When the Covid pandemic forced football’s shutdown in March last year, they sat bottom of the league and later suffered a controversial relegation by vote.
Neilson has overseen promotion back to the top flight at the first attempt. “I did not do a lot in the last year because Covid stopped many things. You cannot go to games or travel to other clubs. I watched football through online streams and I had some talks with my coaching staff from Hearts,” explained Stendel.
Maybe a ‘second time’ at Hearts
“We spoke about what was good and not good, and what we could have done better. I also watched a lot of Nancy games.
“I am happy Hearts are back in the Premiership. They are a big club and they have to play in the top league. I looked at their position in the league and they had a big gap in front very early in the season, so it was clear they could go up. I hope they develop the club and the team, maybe with some new players.”
At the back of his mind, there is a gnawing that the Tynecastle support did not see his best work. Some considered him the right man in the wrong movie at the time. “It was only a short time but I think everybody expected more success. I’m a little bit sad that we could not bring more,” admitted Stendel.
“Maybe in the short term last season we needed to focus only on results and then we could start to change the football [style]. We all expected more from me and from every player on the pitch. I had the feeling everybody wanted to develop a new Hearts style, a new team with a new way.
“Hearts is an amazing club but a big part of this is the stadium and the supporters. Maybe it was not the right time for me to come to Hearts but it doesn’t matter. That was the time, I had the chance and we had the chance.
“A lot of people from Germany have no idea about the Scottish league. It was a big experience for me to work there. In Germany we say, ‘we can see you two times in life’. Maybe in the future there can be a second time for me.
“At the moment, I am happy to get a new job in France. I want to work hard, develop the players and I hope we have success.”