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Watch: Former Sweden international Hiljemark keen on new coaching role

AaB Aalborg are currently gracing the fields of the Maltese football pitches on a winter training camp that will help them recharge their batteries ahead of the second part of their Danish season.

Oscar Hiljemark speaking about his team’s preparations in Malta. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Sitting in fourth and with an important league tie against Midtylland looming, Aalborg found themselves without a coach prior to embarking on a trip to Malta for the Tipsport Cup – a friendly tournament which pits them against WSG Tirol, Sigma Olomouc and Spartak Trnava.

Their coach Marti Cifuentes will swap Aalborg’s post with that of Hammarby of Sweden as of March 1 and has not travelled to Malta with the team, leaving former Serie A player Oscar Hiljemark in charge of the squad together with another assistant coach during their stay in Malta.

Hiljemark, who boasts almost 100 appearances in the Italian top-flight after spells with Palermo and Genoa, is not fazed by the coaching change and is keen on making the most of this winter training camp.

“We are very pleased to have the opportunity to organise a winter training camp, despite the issues that the pandemic might have created,” Hiljemark told the Times of Malta.

“We have been very lucky with the weather and the facilities are excellent, and all this helped us to focus on our tasks during this camp.”

The former midfielder who started his career at Swedish club Elfsborg recalls his past visits to the Maltese islands, both with club and country.

In fact, Hiljemark featured in an Elfsborg’s 4-0 victory over Floriana in a Europa League qualifier at the Hibernians Stadium, back in 2012 – also scoring a goal in the process.

Moreover, Hiljemark was also part of the Swedish U-21’s selection which defeated Malta 1-0 and 4-0 during the 2013 European qualifications.

“I have been here previously as a player and now I come back again, this time as a coach,” Hiljemark said.

“The architecture is like Sicily, where I used to live while playing for Palermo while the language has some Italian blend so I can understand a bit – I like it a lot here.”

The Maltese ambience will help Hiljemark find the right inspiration while he juggles between his Aalborg’s duties and his coaching education.

Retired from the game last June due to his physical problems at the age of 28, Hiljemark immediately switched to the role of assistant coach of Aalborg in Denmark’s top-flight.

Hiljemark has a determined personality which has always helped him reach his objectives and produce the best he can. A characteristic that he is eager to put into use in his coaching role.

“I had no problems in the transition, although it is a bit difficult at the beginning obviously,” the former Sweden international said.

“I am a person that takes decisions by facts and the facts were that there were no more solutions both from a physical point of view and from a mindset perspective to keep on playing.

“I took this decision out of respect of myself and of my family, even though it was not easy abandoning the Beautiful Game.

“I am grateful for our previous coach at Aalborg because he gave me the chance to start this new chapter of my career.”

Hiljemark explained that between him as a player and as a coach there is not much difference because he wants to remain true to his values and principles when it comes to personal management.

From a football point of view, Hiljemark’s philosophy is dominating games and producing goal scoring chances from positive possession even though it comes down to the characteristics of the players available.

“Coaching for me is about tactical knowledge but also personal management which requires skills like communication, organisation and leadership,” Hiljemark said.

“It is fascinating to have 23 outfield players and goalkeepers getting them to work on what you want forge on the field.”

Hiljemark’s journey as a player saw him being coached by the likes of Philip Cocu at PSV Eindhoven and Roberto De Zerbi at Palermo.

Dreams coming true

“I started out in Swedish football where it is tactical, there is a lot of running and the league is tight with so many difficult games,” he explained.

“When I moved to Dutch football, I found a different playing style where it was more man-to-man oriented whereas the technical quality was very high because players are born and raised with the ball in the Netherlands.”

Moving to Italian football was big step in Hiljemark’s career, which helped him enhance his football knowledge even more while playing for Palermo and Genoa.

“Stepping on the San Siro and actually managing to score two goals, it was a dream come true for me,” the Swedish explained.

“Then you get to play against Juventus at the young age of 21 and featuring in the Genoa derby, which is one of my best moments in my career.”

At international level, Hiljemark captained his country’s U-21 side to a stunning triumph in the 2015 European Championships beating Portugal in the final.

He has also collected 28 caps at senior level, donning the colours of Sweden during the 2016 European Championships and the 2018 World Cup.

“That U-21 success was amazing for the people of Sweden who turned out as a force together, coming down to celebrate with us,” Hiljemark underlined.

“The victory itself was special, but then representing Sweden in the major competitions like the European Championship and the World Cup is something that I am really fond of.

“Despite missing out a lot of playing time due to my injury, I am really proud of my career when I look back at it.”

Photo c/o Chris Sant Fournier.

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