WATCHING your star player fight for his life on the pitch is the kind of nightmare to test any manager – but for Kasper Hjulmand it was just the latest shock to deal with in an extraordinary career.
Hjulmand responded to Christian Eriksen’s horror brush with death with the leadership and approach which has galvanised a nation and carried Denmark into a European Championship semi-final.
His displays of calm authority, poise, and decision making under pressure have made a lasting impression and left others wondering just how he has managed to retain his composure.
In reality he had been building towards that point throughout his coaching career, having dealt with the kind of challenges that if they were not true, you would have thought were impossible for one person.
First he had to help close friend and assistant coach Morten Wieghorst overcome a heart condition which threatened his career while he was a player at Celtic.
Then the pair were working together at club level when they watched one of their players struck by lightning, leaving him battling for survival in a coma.
And in an extraordinary twist of fate, 49-year-old Hjulmand also had to overcome the heartache of his own uncle dying on a football pitch having suffered a heart attack.
So when it comes to dealing with pressure and staying composed, the prospect of facing England at Wembley tomorrow/Weds pales in comparison.
Asked how he was able to cope in the weeks after Eriksen’s collapse, Hjulmand said: “First of all I have a fantastic staff, and the players also actually.
“I speak to the players freely about feelings and how I feel and I have a fantastic assistant coach in Morten Wieghorst.
“I don’t know if you guys know his history but he played at Celtic, had A disease where he was numb in the whole body and had to fight his way back to life.
“We were coaching together when one of our players was struck by lightning, nearly died and after two months of being in a coma he ended up living and he is still here.
“So we have experienced so much together. I have had a psychologist who has been helping me as well.
“I actually also lost my uncle on a football pitch with a heart attack so of course my emotions have been outside myself.
“I’ve been trying to handle that myself but the thing that helps me is my staff, the people around me, and my players.
“We are one group and I’m just trying to be myself – don’t hide anything, try to find strength in ourselves and the group we are.
“I think that’s the right way for me to lead – to just be myself and bring what I have and not think too much about strategy. I’m trying to be who I am.”
Wieghorst, 50, spent a year on the sidelines while at Celtic having been struck down with the muscle and nervous system condition Guillain–Barre syndrome to the extent he was unable to fully use half his body.
He eventually overcame and then moved into management at FC Nordsjaelland where Hlumand worked as his assistant – and it was there when a freak of nature struck with devastating effect.
In July 2009 they watched in horror as midfielder Jonathan Richter, 24, was struck by lightning during a match – sending him into cardiac arrest.
After two months in a coma, Richter then had the lower half of his left leg amputated and only then did he manage to make good progress on the path back to good health.
The loss of his uncle is something even the hugely personable manager will not go into, but with Eriksen’s problems as well it is easy to see why Hjulmand can take a last-four date with the Three Lions in his stride.
He added: “I have a wife and three kids – that’s much bigger I think. To be able to be a dad and a family person is much bigger for me.
“Football wise of course these last four weeks have been the emotions of a lifetime. It’s been crazy.
“We’ve been facing death in a way I never hoped I would. We almost lost our best player, our best friend, the heart of the team and fought with emotions like crazy.
“We didn’t know what to do, how to get through it. We tried to fight the best way we have learned through these emotions.
“We have played fantastic football. We have shown who we are. I am very proud of these boys.
“I’m very proud of the people of Denmark and the support, love and compassion they have given us and that has helped us through this time.
“I don’t know if it’s the time of my life but it’s definitely something where, in four weeks, you experience the emotions of a lifetime and try to be focused at the same time.
“It’s been quite a journey and when I look back in ten, 15, 20 years I’ll say ‘What happened? That was crazy’.
“But right now I’m very focused on England and Wembley.”