Having steered Wisła Kraków to the Polish title in his first season in charge, Dutch coach Robert Maaskant is now enjoying the task of masterminding the club's UEFA Europa League campaign. His side may have lost their opening Group K encounter 3-1 to Odense BK, but climbing enthusiast Maaskant is determined to scale new heights when Wisła take on the Netherlands' FC Twente on Thursday.
UEFA.com: Twente coach Co Adriaanse oversaw his 500th Eredivisie match at the weekend. Do you have a plan in place to surprise him?
Robert Maaskant: He's 64 and I'm 42, so I still have time to catch up with him on the numbers front. I don't lack experience myself, though. I've coached over 300 games in professional football and naturally I have my own plans to surprise them. I know they play attacking football, so I'm pretty sure they will leave us space on the counterattack. We'll try to take advantage of that and surprise them. Of course, we were hit [against Ruch Chorzów] on Sunday by injuries to our most creative players Maor Melikson and Patryk Małecki, but we will try to continue without them.
UEFA.com: If Wisła score against Twente, it will be their 100th goal in the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Cup.
Maaskant: Really? That's wonderful news. I'll use that in the dressing room to motivate my players before the match. Of course, our situation is not perfect because of our 3-1 home loss to Odense, but we haven't lost confidence as we know we played quite well. We just lacked a finishing touch. We should have scored a second goal and, if we had, the game would have looked different. Instead, Odense scored a third and killed the game. Now we want to avoid defeat, and a draw would not be too bad for us as I think there's little difference between ourselves, Twente, Odense and Fulham. The games to come could turn everything around.
UEFA.com: This will be your first European match as coach against a team from your homeland. Does that add to the sense of occasion?
It's going to be something unique for me, especially because my son lives about 50km from Enschede and will be coming to watch with my parents. That'll be added motivation for me.
UEFA.com: Will they be supporting Twente or will family ties have them cheering for Wisła?
Maaskant: Of course they will be supporting me and Wisła – otherwise I won't give them any tickets!
UEFA.com: You won the Polish title in your first season and have often said how you have fallen in love with Poland. What makes the country so special to you?
Maaskant: Many people think Poland is grey and boring, and when they come here they say: 'Oh, I was so wrong'. I'm lucky to work in the amazing city of Krakow, which is definitely one of the nicest cities in Europe. If any foreign player or coach asked me whether to come here, I would definitely say yes. In football terms, the Polish Esktraklasa is still growing. There are brand new stadiums, some of which have been built for UEFA EURO 2012, and interest keeps growing.
UEFA.com: As a member of the Dutch coaching fraternity, who has been your biggest inspiration?
Maaskant: It's interesting to note that in our Europa League group there are four teams led by three Dutchmen: myself, Adriaanse and Martin Jol at Fulham. It's not a bad school to represent, though I've also loved looking further afield and studying other football traditions. I spent some time in Barcelona when I was working on my coaching licence and then, after I left Willem II, I went to Chelsea to see José Mourinho at work. I also had the chance to study Arsène Wenger's Arsenal, but
I still want do develop myself so this winter I'm hoping to go to Manchester United if I can.
UEFA.com: Given your love of climbing, would you say it is more difficult to scale a high wall or to lead Wisła to new peaks?
Maaskant: Working with football teams definitely gives you more fun. That's my passion whereas climbing was just a hobby, one of many. Football has a special place in my heart.
Winning the title in Poland was like climbing a great peak, but we want more and the Europa League is a very good opportunity to go higher.
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