New West Ham United boss, Oli Harder will be the first to admit that he’s relishing the challenge that lies ahead.
The 34-year-old, who has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal, arrives from Norway where he worked as head of football development and first-team coach at Klepp IL, who twice finished in the top three in the Norwegian women’s top tier on his watch, and as assistant manager at the second-tier men’s side Sandnes Ulf.
On Harder’s arrival at the club, West Ham Women’s managing director, Jack Sullivan, told the Guardian: “We had a huge number of incredibly strong candidates for this role, but Olli stood out predominantly due to his progressive coaching style and exceptional attention to detail, which is backed by strong experience and achievements in the women’s game.
“I’m confident Olli will ensure a work ethic and an organisation from the team to accompany his track record of giving young players a chance which aligns with the club’s values. He has lots of new ideas that we are looking forward to implement.”
On taking on the role at the London-based club, Harder was full of excitement as he prepares for his side’s trip to Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime in a mouth-watering FA Women’s Super League clash.
”If West Ham calls, you’re not going to say no,” Harder told West Ham United Women. “It’s a huge Club and obviously, for me, it’s always been an interest to come back to England and coach at a high level. To coach in what will be the most progressive league in the world, the most competitive league in the world, was really appealing to me.
“The league itself has taken a lot of steps, a lot of progress and obviously, the first thing everyone talks about is the physicality of the league and the tempo. As it’s developed as well, the technical side and the tactical side have developed. I think that’s something that will continue to develop, and you can see that already in what you call the top three, or top four, where you have this blend of athleticism, of quality on the ball and technical ability.
“For us at a club like West Ham, it’s our job to try and push into that and move that forward. It’s a case of having that experience. I think that’s important. Understanding the mindset and the culture behind women’s football. It’s different to men’s football, and I’ve experienced both at a high level. For me, I think taking the team forward in a progressive manner was something they were really looking for, and having something a little bit different.”
In terms of coming into the job mid-season, Harder admits that certain things need to be addressed and it’s a work in progress, but there’s plenty to work on in terms of progressiveness and development.
“First off, it’s about being practical. Obviously, I’m coming in mid-season and there’s a lot of things that need to be addressed. At the same time, in terms of progressiveness, I think it’s a cultural thing. It’s a cultural shift you find with younger managers. It’s not necessarily myself in particular, but I think you’re starting to see a thread now with a lot of young managers, and I’m fortunate enough to be in a situation where I’ve gained a lot of experience, and I still have a lot to learn.
“For me, it’s about the dedication to the job. Especially coming to a club like this. It’s all about the ethos of the club. This is a Club built on hardworking people. That’s the foundation moving forward. The first thing I can promise, and I’ve said this to the girls too, and I expect the same from my coaching staff and I expect the same from my players.
“There’s a lot of hard work to do and we’re not going to change things in. 48 hours, but there’s something to work with. And, as we develop the squad and we develop the players within the squad that we have, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
The new Hammers boss admits that he requires consistency from his players over the duration of the campaign and with the quality within the squad and the age of the squad, it’s about squeezing that quality over the course of the campaign.
“I think the word here is consistency. There is quality within the squad and quality within the Club in terms of the coaching staff, and competency within the Club. Keep in mind this is a young club when it comes to the women’s game. It’s a historic Club, and a massive Club in the world game. But on the women’s side we are barely a few years old professionally.
“Moving forward for us, it’s about squeezing out that quality that we have in the squad and, for myself, developing the squad as a whole, in terms of recruitment and also developing the young players we already have here in the squad, so we can move forward in a positive way.
”The short-term target really is the same message I gave to the girls, which is that we look to win the next game. There are too many uncontrollable areas when it comes to saying, ‘we are going to finish in this position’.
“I think, for us, it’s about approaching each game with the right mindset and looking to win each game. If we don’t, we work harder and we try to win the next one. For me, the biggest goal really is to change the mindset and to not focus too much on the position in the table, but focus on results, and the process behind that. I think, if we put that in place, then where we fall by the end of the season is where we fall, for me.”
Photography credit: West ham United Football Club