Tuesday afternoon, Sparta Prague presented a new head coach – Brian Priske from Denmark. The 45-year-old former defender joins Sparta following a disappointing stint in Belgium with Royal Antwerp, where he was sacked last week. But who is the relatively unknown Dane, and what can the Sparta fans expect from him?
An impressive playing career
Brian Priske might not be a name that many Czech football fans remembers, unless they happen to be big fans of Belgian football in the mid-2000s or perhaps Portsmouth. However, for Danish football fans, his career is thought fondly upon.
Priske was a solid and intelligent right defender. While he was never the most talented or exciting young player, his mentality and cleverness carried him far as a player.
He started his career at AC Horsens, and after a short stint at Aarhus Fremad, he moved to Aalborg Boldklub (AaB) in 1999. At AaB he quickly established himself as a profile on the team, and in his first season at the club, they won the Danish championship. Priske later became captain on the team, and earned himself a move to Belgian giants Genk in 2003.
Following the transfer to Belgium, Priske also became a regular on the Danish national team, whom he went to represent 24 times, including at the 2004 European Championship.
At Genk, the right back was also appreciated for his stability and incredibly high floor. This later earned him a big move to Portsmouth in the Premier League, after he also impressed their scouts in a 4-1 victory over England for Denmark.
“Priske was one of the unsung heroes of the Premier League during his stint at Portsmouth,” The editor-in-chief at Engelskfodbold.com, one of Denmark’s leading sources on English football, recalls. “He joined them just as they were building the foundation that would lead them to the FA Cup victory in 2008, but he was unfortunately pushed out as the club had to lower the salary budget following the relegation. Most fans would have loved to keep him, and he is still remembered fondly at the club.”
Following the relegation, Priske returned to Belgium and joined Club Brugge. With the giant, he went to win the Cup in 2007. This was the last trophy Priske won, and in 2008, he returned to Denmark where he would play out his career at Vejle Boldklub and later FC Midtjylland before one last adventure abroad at IK Start in Norway in 2011.
A coach with an eye for detail
A theme throughout Priske’s career has been that he was never the most talented or athletically gifted, so he had to find other ways to win. And this dedicated to preparation and eye for details has also been a theme through his coaching career.
He started his coaching career as an assistant, first at FC Midtjylland and later at FC Copenhagen. At both places, he was part of some incredibly successful teams, domestically and internationally, and his bosses accredited him with a large part of the honour for that.
One of the first places, where he made his mark, was on offensive set pieces. In a short time, he transformed first Midtjylland and later Copenhagen into lethal machines and the most effective clubs in Scandinavia in these situations.
Priske is a lot more than set pieces though, and he proved that when he received his first job as head coach. In August 2019, after a disastrous start to the season for FC Midtjylland, he replaced his former boss, Kenneth Andersen as head coach, and the results came immediately.
With a foundation build on a solid defense and technically gifted offensive players with loads of freedom, Midtjylland won the second championship in the club’s history. And during the season, Priske grew immensely as a coach. Something he acknowledged himself too after leaving the club.
“As a coach, I’ve developed in terms of the responsibility it gives you when you become the boss,” he told Bold.dk in the summer of 2021. “There are a lot of decisions and considerations in your head regarding the football, but also in terms of the players and the staff. I feel like I have taken a development in terms of resting in the chaos there sometimes are, because it isn’t everything you can’t control.”
“You have to navigate in the chaos. I feel like I have developed a calmness in my mind regarding the decisions and ability to say: “that’s how it is”. There are always some things you’d like to have prepared for better, but the time isn’t always there. Then you have to take the decision you feel is the best based on the considerations you have done. I’m calmer about my choices, and believe they are right when I have made them. Most of the time I’m right. Other times I’m wrong, and then you have to try and reflect over that.”
What is Sparta Prague getting in Priske?
Priske is still a young head coach, and his experience remains limited. He’s only been the guy in charge since 2019, so he is by no means a fully developed coach. He is still learning, growing and becoming better every single day.
He is a part of a promising group of young Danish coaches that also includes Kasper Hjulmand (Denmark), Bo Svensson (Mainz) and Thomas Frank (Brentford), and unlike many Danish coaches before him, he looks destined to actually leave his mark abroad and not only domestically.
Despite the lack of experience, Priske has worked at some major clubs. At FC Copenhagen he learned from Ståle Solbakken, the current Norwegian national team coach, who is widely regarded as the greatest ever coach to work in Denmark, and at FC Midtjylland he was a part of the coaching staff as the club won its first ever league title.
Later he added to that trophy collection as a head coach, and he also qualified Midtjylland to the Champions League group stage for the first time ever.
Throughout his career, he has preferred to attack a lot over the wings. Usually, he has played with some offensive minded wingbacks with freedom to roam forward and attack. Typically, in a 3-5-2 formation with physically strong and tall strikers up front and technical midfielders who can work both ways, but with strong passing skills.
He is furthermore great at developing young players, and isn’t afraid to trust them even at a young age. On his championship winning FCM-team from 2020, the club later sold Frank Onyeka to Brentford, Anders Dreyer to Rubin Kazan and Jens Lys Cajuste to Stade Reims – all for huge profits, and other of his profiles could very well go in big sales soon too. He is thus not only a coach with a short-sighted eye on success, but he can also create long lasting teams that both bring home trophies as well as transfer cash.
Last season at Antwerp, he never managed to find the exact recipe for success, and the team never really got going. Despite this, Antwerp still finished fourth in the league and qualified for European football. This was even the club’s official goal before the season, but the board still opted to give him the boot.
This could easily end up being Sparta’s luck as they are now getting an eager, hungry and young coach who wants to prove his former employer made a huge mistake by letting him go.