Denmark And Israel – The Inside Track

Keeper Coach Opens Up On Dramatic Travels

Mike Stowell and Kasper Schmeichel savour FA Cup glory together during their hugely successful union at Leicester.

Mike Stowell could be excused some divided loyalties as the countdown continues to England’s European Championships group game against Denmark tomorrow.

The veteran keeper and coach may have been selected for our B squad in 1990 during the Graham Taylor era and lived and coached within these shores for decades.

But it was in Copenhagen around six years ago that he was given a further taste of international football when his close links to Kasper Schmeichel earned him an invite to work with the country’s keepers over two short spells.

“A lot of the lads I got to know then are still in the squad,” Stowell said. “They don’t seem to make many changes and have a good core group.

“Kasper and Frederik Ronnow (of Union Berlin) are still the top two in goal for them and obviously Rasmus Hojlund, who struck me then as a good lad, and Christian Eriksson are two other big names elsewhere in the side who England will know all about.

“Kasper has had a full season helping Anderlecht to runners-up place in their league but is a free agent now and would love to return to the UK. Hopefully the Euros can be a good shop window for him and a chance to show he is still on top of his game.

“He is 37 and I think he would ideally like to play to 40, take in the next World Cup finals and get close to his dad’s total of caps.

“He was kind enough to invite me and the family over to Copenhagen when he won his 100th cap in the spring and I took Ella to see the 0-0 draw against Switzerland. It wasn’t a good game but it was great to have a chat with him afterwards and he had the satisfaction of keeping a clean sheet.”

Schmeichel, who exchanged messages with Stowell before departing to the Euros, was a central figure in the latter stages when the same tournament concluded in England in 2021. He saved Harry Kane’s penalty in the semi-final, only for the rebound to be turned in by the skipper for what proved to be the winning goal for Gareth Southgate’s side.

Like Schmeichel Jnr, Stowell is job-seeking after he, Robbie Keane and others in the backroom left newly-crowned Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv a week and a half ago.

The 59-year-old is back home in the West Country with an open mind over where his future in the game might take him. But he is adamant there is more work in him.

“I don’t like not being in a job,” he added. “I don’t know where the next post will be or whether it will be with Robbie because different clubs have different ideas on how many new members of staff a manager or head coach can take with him.

“I would love to be part of things with him again, though. He was a brilliant team-mate at Wolves when he was a young lad and working with him now again has been terrific.

“If we can be reunited as a team somewhere, that would be great. But who knows what’s round the corner?”

So what specifically were the training ground and dug-out like alongside the Irish legend and how was the Middle East experience? After all, football and life in a war-torn country are not a combination sampled by many.

The precocious youngster who dazzled us all more than a quarter of a century ago.

Because of the political sensitivities, not to mention possible security risks, we shied away from asking Mike much about off-field matters while he was in Tel Aviv. But we are grateful to him for opening up now to Wolves Heroes.

“Robbie suffered some criticism (in Ireland) for taking the Maccabi job on but he’s a football man through and through and never got involved with the politics. He separates the two.

“I quickly saw that he has lost none of his competitive nature. In fact he is probably more competitive now, even if it’s just a game of head tennis.

“Going to a different country with a different culture was a challenge for us all, maybe more so for me at my time of life. But we settled in, found our feet and had a great start with our results.

“Our programme was packed with 60 competitive games, including many in Europe, but we loved it. The Conference League run was a great experience, with having to handle the logistical problems caused by the travelling and playing Thursday and Sunday so often.

“We used that demanding programme to fire the players up and they bought into it. Then came October 7 and everything changed.

“Zoom conversations came into our lives and, when we resumed matches after a six-week gap, they were behind closed doors for a while and our home games in Europe had to be played in Poland and Serbia.

“The plan had been for our families to go out during the school holidays and it was very hard leaving them behind to return to a country at war. We felt we had something special there but the impact on our families worried us.

“There are good people at the club who were always there for us, though, and we felt as safe as we possibly could have done. What we didn’t realise was that the pictures you were all seeing were different to anything we saw.

“We considered ourselves safe in Tel Aviv and never saw any violence or anything untoward. The people were fabulous, although watching the missiles in the sky as we went to the airport was something that will stay with us.

“Thankfully, we found it in ourselves to go back out and are very glad we did. We had plenty to achieve there.”

Maccabi had finished third in the league in 2022-23 but soon had a domestic cup competition won this time round and picked up well following the interruption.

“I have been pleased to hear Robbie say he recognises the value of working hard to keep a clean sheet but I’d say he’s a coach who generally wants attacking football,” Stowell added.

“Obviously that is what he excelled at as a player and he likes a high press now, so we often won the ball a long way up the pitch. The club hadn’t won the title for three years and had generally drawn too many games and not scored enough goals. He has helped change that hugely.

“We thought we had a chance of challenging for the title or at least of closing the gap on Maccabi Haifa, who had dominated for a few years and are a club with a good fan-base and a good budget, plus recent Champions League experience.

“We reached the last 16 of the Conference League before going out in extra-time to the eventual winners, Olympiakos, and are very proud that we went as far as any Israeli club have ever been in a European competition.

“For many weeks in the second half of the season, we knew the title was in our hands but the gap came down to two points and we were aware Haifa had what looked a more comfortable run-in than we did.

Celebration time, Maccabi Tel Aviv style.

“But we produced a really strong performance to beat them at their place and that was decisive. We dug deep and excelled ourselves at the end by pulling clear to win it by 11 points. 

“That was a really strong statement and we took extra pride from having beaten them. Although the whole season went well for us, it wouldn’t have felt as good if we hadn’t beaten them at least once.

“We take a lot of pride in what we achieved and it all added up to a great experience. My family even managed to make it out for a week in March – that was a lovely change although the backroom team had enjoyed the planning meetings in Robbie’s apartment and then socialising as a group.

“He’s an up-and-coming manager and now he’s ready for his next bigger challenge. Whether that involves me, I’ll have to wait and see.”

 

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