Aurelijus Skarbalius made Denmark a home from home during his playing career, and the former Lithuania captain is now enjoying similar success coaching as he prepares to lead HB Køge in the Superligaen.
Business as usual
The youngest of the handful of Lithuanian coaches making waves abroad, the 36-year-old took over as Herfølge BK player-coach in 2007, hanging up his boots before leading them to the second division title last season. A merger with Køge BK means his side will be playing as Køge this season, but otherwise it should be business as usual.
"No one expected that Herfølge to make it back to the Superligaen so quickly," said 'Auri', who initially joined the club on loan in 2005 following a ten-year spell with Brøndby IF. "We had a three-year plan leading up to achieving this goal. The players gave a fine account of themselves. We were unbeaten in our last 13 games."
The club's unexpected rise – and modest budget - has taken some pressure off the coach for the coming season. "The board has not set high goals," he said. "We do not want to upset the squad. The players who we will field in the top division will be the ones who earned the right to be there with selfless play."
Five times a Superligaen champion and three times a Danish Cup winner at Brøndby, Skarbalius's footballing philosophy is very much focused on possession. "As long as you have the ball, your opponents cannot hurt you," he explained. "Therefore I pay special attention to technique and stamina in our training sessions."
While Køge – who also boast Lithuanian talent in the form of midfielder Ritis Lelyaga – look to justify their place in the top division, Skarbalius's reputation continues to grow. His former boss with the national team, Algimantas Liubinskas, said: "He was principled, honest and spoke his mind. He could be national team coach one day."
'Never say never'
The prospect of that top job may well tempt Skarbalius in the future. "Never say never," he said. "I have lived here for a long time, but I am Lithuanian and I will be until my time is up. I have my home country to thank for the fact I got to play football so of course I would like to work in Lithuania, but right now I am only thinking about Denmark."
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