Daniel Stendel interview: Jack Ross rivalry, needing passion at Hearts, changing style of play and meeting Craig Levein
German looked confident on his first day as manager at Tynecastle Park
Confident and cheery, Daniel Stendel strolled into Tynecastle Park’s media suite ready to seize the moment on his unveiling as Hearts manager. Winks at cameras and a few jokes in English – his third language – gave the impression of a self-assured individual unfazed by only his second job outside his native Germany.
Stendel speaks fluent German and Russian but he perfectly conveyed his passion for football in English, describing Hearts as a “special club”. Predecessor Craig Levein lurking in the background at Riccarton does not appear to bother him. He is working with existing coaching staff and remained coy on when any of his own assistants, Chris Stern and Dale Tonge, might join him in Edinburgh.
He was even bold enough to mention rivalry with Hibs. Jack Ross, head coach at Easter Road, holds an unbeaten record against Stendel from Sunderland-Barnsley meetings in England’s League One last season. However, Stendel got Barnsley promoted to the Championship in May before being sacked on October 8. Ross could not do likewise with Sunderland and, ironically, was dismissed on the very same day.
They both confront one another again on Boxing Day at Tynecastle. “We were promoted last year but I did not win against him. Maybe I can start here,” smirked Stendel. He already seems to know what Hearts are missing on the field, at least.
“The main thing is that I can see we have passion on the pitch, the mentality that we play on the front foot and we want to have the ball all the time. When we lose the ball we want to get it back as quick as possible. When we get the ball, we want to play very quickly to score. This, together with passion, I think is the reason we like football.
“I know some teams from the Scottish league but some people know the Scottish league better than me. They said this is the main thing in Scottish football and I think that I’m in the right place.”
Stendel has watched footage of the last three games – a 1-1 draw with Livingston, a 5-0 thumping by Rangers and the 1-0 defeat to Motherwell. He held his first training session yesterday morning and quickly set about changing a passive, timid style of play which has left Hearts joint-bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
“It is not an easy situation but for me it is an exciting task to do it,” he said. “My first impression was that my players were very open to getting new opinions and new tasks in training. I hope we can see it in a game but the last three games was not the real Hearts, I hope not. I hope we will show it the next time.”
The enthusiasm continued through the conversation. There are parallels to draw between Barnsley and Hearts, two clubs rooted in their respective communities with particularly zealous support bases.
“I got the same feeling [from Hearts as Barnsley]. Before I decided to come here, I talked with some friends and my agent,” said Stendel. “I think what I learned from my experience is that I need a club with a lot of passion. I need a really good support. When I see what can happen in this stadium, this I what I like.
“Managers and players get good money in this job, but the reason why I started to play football, why I started to coach, was because of my passion for the game. The atmosphere is what I love. And I can get all of this here. That is why I’m here.” That word 'passion' is used frequently.
He is slightly tired of one part of his job, though – comparisons with Jurgen Klopp. “It’s a little bit of an old joke. When I first came to England, I heard this a lot of times. But Jurgen Kopp is Jurgen Klopp,” said Stendel. “I like the same idea of how to play football., but I don’t look to him and say, ‘I want to play like this’. The reason that I convince people to play in the style I want is my personality. It’s easier when you can explain how you feel. If in ten years I have the same success as Jurgen Klopp, then I am happy.”
As would the regulars at Tynecastle. While Stendel exudes confidence, there is no hint of arrogance suggesting he believes he is like Klopp. He simply intends to immerse himself in Hearts to learn more about the club’s culture.
“I think this is important but coming from Germany to Scotland would be more difficult than coming from English football to Scottish football. When I watch a game, there are some different things but I think my style fits for Scottish football. The idea is that we are not orientated to other teams. The idea is other teams are orientated to us.”
Levein, sacked as Hearts manager on October 31, is still working at Riccarton as per the wishes of club owner Ann Budge. It was he who showed Stendel, his potential successor, round the club’s training ground and stadium on the day of the German’s interview.
“Yeah, the first time I came here, he showed me things,” explained Stendel. “It was a special moment and I got a really good impression from him when he showed me all the facilities. I didn’t actually know it at first – and then I thought maybe this was not a little bit normal. But it was a good talk, a good exchange of views.”
Might it be considered strange having your predecessor as a tour guide? “After a short time I realised who he was, of course. It’s special but not so different from other situations in other clubs.”