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Carl Hoefkens On Club Brugge, Playing In England And His Coaching Philosophy

Carl Hoefkens On Club Brugge, Playing In England And His Coaching Philosophy

An interview with Carl Hoefkens, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You played at Club Brugge before working in the youth system and as part of the first team staff before becoming manager in 2022. You achieved success in the Champions League as manager by reaching the knockout phase before leaving the club shortly after. How do you reflect on those experiences?

“I loved my time as a player at Club Brugge because it is one of the biggest clubs in Belgium.

“It was a family-orientated decision to go back home and play in Belgium. I played some of the best football of my career at the club and when I retired from playing, I was delighted to return to the club.

“My first job was to reorganise the youth set up at the club and to have such influence on our coaches and young players was an amazing experience and opportunity for me.

“We were successful at youth level which led me to joining the first team staff and working as an assistant coach for three years.

“That eventually led to me to becoming manager in 2022 and leading the club in the Champions League group phase.

“I was proud that we played at that level with a number of academy graduates who I had worked with during my time in the youth system.

“Not only that, but we progressed to the last 16 of the competition which was a monumental achievement for the club and for Belgian football as a whole.

“We defeated FC Porto 4-0 and also secured wins over strong Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid sides too.

“The players deserved those victories, and it was most pleasing as a manager to win playing offensive football rather than nicking games with our backs to the wall.

“My philosophy as a coach is to play attacking, free-flowing football with high levels of counter-pressing. Football is about entertainment and fans want to watch dominant football which is what my team showcased at Brugge.”

As a player, you played in your native Belgium for clubs such as Lierse and Lommel before signing for Stoke City in 2005. What was your initial impression of English football?

“I loved it from the first minute that I arrived in England because I was treated very well by Stoke, as were my family.

“I still have a house in England and many friends there, so it was a move that changed my life off the field as well as on it.

“In terms of my playing career at Stoke, I initially went in under Johan Boskamp who wanted to play a free-flowing Dutch style of play before he was replaced by Tony Pulis.

“Tony’s style of play could not have been more different to that of Boskamp (laughs) because he always set us up to defend well first and foremost.

“I learned a lot from working under both managers because of the differences in style which I have taken into my own coaching career.

“However, I had to leave Stoke as the style of play that Tony Pulis implemented did not suit my game which led me to join West Bromwich Albion.

“I never had a problem with Tony and his success at Stoke speaks for itself. He picked me regularly while I was at the club under him, but it just was not the best fit for me or for him.”

You played under Tony Mowbray at West Brom and won promotion to the Premier League under him. How much did that success mean to you?

“His style of play was very similar to Boskamp which suited me perfectly.

“I was really pleased that I was able to work under him because he built a strong team at West Brom and we played every team off the pitch during our promotion campaign.

“Our strength came from having Dean Kiely in goal, to our captain Paul Robinson, the guile of Zoltan Gera and Jonathan Greening in midfield alongside Chris Brunt with the experience of Kevin Phillips and John Hartson up front.

“We were fully united as a group of players and that is testament to the work of Tony Mowbray and his staff. It is no surprise to me to see him managing at a high level with Birmingham City today because he is a very good manager.”

How did it feel to play in the Premier League, was that always an ambition of yours?

“Absolutely. I always dreamed of playing in the Premier League because I watched English football growing up.

“I was an offensive right-back who liked to get forward so it was difficult for me to adapt my game in the Premier League, but I am still grateful to have experienced playing within it.

“I had to be completely blunt with myself to see my time in the Premier League as a learning experience and I took that experience into my coaching career too.”

Finally, Carl, you are out of work after a spell managing Standard Liege earlier this season. What do you hope to achieve in your next role in football?

“My biggest goal is to manage in English football. It is the ultimate goal for me because I enjoy the passion and styles of play within English football.

“I experienced it as a player, and I believe that I can offer something to a club in England given my experiences of coaching and management in Belgium.

“It is great to see the success that Vincent Kompany is having in English football because the way he won promotion to the Premier League with Burnley was inspiring and can only be a good thing for Belgian football and Belgian coaches.

“I want to focus on working at a club that has a clear vision rather than the level that they are playing at.

“I want to work at a club with a commitment to developing young players and who will give the coach time to implement their ideas and take them forward.

“Of course, I am open to opportunities outwith England, but I definitely want to return to work in England in the future.”