Steve McClaren was always going to be a tough act to follow after leading FC Twente to their first Dutch title last season, but his replacement Michel Preud'homme has stepped up to the challenge with elan. As the Tukkers prepare to resume their Eredivisie defence on Wednesday, the coach's half-term report makes for impressive reading.
Twente are within striking distance of domestic leaders PSV Eindhoven and have a UEFA Europa League tie with FC Rubin Kazan to come after an eye-catching UEFA Champions League debut campaign. Preud'homme's side quickly took to that competition with draws against holders FC Internazionale Milano and Tottenham Hotspur FC plus a victory away to Werder Bremen, and the 51-year-old Belgian is confident the experience gained will pay dividends in the task ahead.
UEFA.com: Looking back on your UEFA Champions League campaign, what can Twente take from the experience?
Michel Preud'homme: It was a very positive adventure. We have done some beautiful things. We competed really well in every game and weren't overwhelmed by anyone. We scored a lot of goals, which is positive because in the Champions League new teams often protect themselves and mostly defend. But we really joined in and in every game we tried to attack. Generally speaking we saw we were close to the best teams, but we still make small mistakes which are immediately punished. Perhaps that prevented us from going through.
UEFA.com: What was the highlight of those games for you?
Preud'homme: Perhaps the first game against Inter at home [2-2]. That was a very good match, especially the first half, but I feel more inclined to mention the game in Bremen. We kicked off with a very weakened side and our whole midfield absent. We had a lot of injuries. At the last minute we tested some players, found the right solution and achieved that important [2-0] victory which allowed us to [go] into the Europa League. It was perhaps an unexpected victory at that moment and under those circumstances.
UEFA.com: Has the UEFA Champions League prepared you for your next adventure, the UEFA Europa League?
Preud'homme: I hope so. Not just for the Europa League, but for the general development of the team. I think we can learn from Inter, for example, how smart they are at certain moments. We can learn from every team, every opponent, really.
Making mistakes is a part of sport, but you have to learn from those mistakes to become better. That process is very important for a team and for a club.
UEFA.com: You achieved a lot as a player. How did you bring your experience to bear on this campaign?
When you play against Inter or against Tottenham, you shouldn't say: 'It's impossible.' You always have to give your players hope. There is always hope even if the [opponents] are stronger on paper. You have to find something as a coach that enables the players to believe and be ready to fight. We did that against every opponent. Also, try to stay calm, and don't make a drama if things are not going well.
UEFA.com:Twente have had to carry a new label this season: title winners and UEFA Champions League contenders. Did this put you under added pressure?
Preud'homme: Not really. Pressure comes when you want to apply it. I've been asked that question before. I responded: 'I will never have more pressure from the outside than I am already putting on myself.' The same applies to a team. To avoid pressure, you have to perform well from the beginning. That's what we try to do.
UEFA.com: Twente enjoyed European success in the 1970s and even reached the UEFA Cup final in 1975. How does the current run compare?
Preud'homme: That's hard. I don't think we have got that far yet. Things like that were possible in the past in countries like the Netherlands and Belgium. I won a European trophy in Belgium and I think it was the last Belgian team to do so, KV Mechelen [the 1988 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup]. The football landscape has changed and with the free circulation of players the richer countries often win the European titles. We have seen in the Europa League in recent years that some surprise teams have reached the final but you also need some luck. We will try. We play every game to win against every team.