Elsner - We will put all our passion on the pitch

  • NK Domzale boss looking forward to Hammers challenge
  • Former Domzale player Elsner focused on delivering strong performance
  • Elsner impressed with Slaven Bilic’s impact at West Ham
Richard Laverty talks to NK Domzale manager Luka Elsner ahead of Thursday’s momentous clash with the Hammers…

Tucked away in a town consisting of just 12,000 people, 33-year-old Luka Elsner is preparing his NK Domzale side for the tie of a lifetime, West Ham United at home before a trip to London Stadium next week for the return leg of their Europa League third qualifying round match.

Domzale’s stadium is so small that Thursday’s match has been relocated to the 16,000 Stadion Stozice in nearby Ljubljana - their own stadium holds less than 3,000. Despite their size, Elsner’s hard work and determination has made him a success at the club he also played for.

“We have a clear vision, we have had that same picture for almost two decades,” says Elsner.

“We are developing young players through our academy, trying to produce the best talents and work with them and give them a place to be competitive. Eventually, these players go abroad when we have done what we can for them, it is very difficult for us to get a budget together every season but we do what we can.”

Despite the enormity of the task ahead of them, Domzale aren’t giving any extra attention to their esteemed opponents, on Monday afternoon Elsner had just finished an analysis session on their previous round opponents – Shakhtyor Soligorsk – when we speak about the upcoming match.

“This is an elite level match for us but we have to find some way of giving our players hope through the analysis, we will look at where we can see good things for us and how we can survive against a team like West Ham. We have to stand up on the field, protect ourselves and try to make them play a different way to what they’re used to.”
We’ll need to play at our maximum, every player on the team will need to do that and we’ll probably need some luck as well!
In a week’s time, Elsner will bring his coaches, players and a large chunk of Domzale to London and will go down in history as the first side to play a competitive match at the former Olympic Stadium.

Whilst the manager is excited at the prospect of such an occasion, he admits “we can’t go there thinking we are tourists” if his side want to pick up a positive result.

“It’s a double challenge,” he says. “You want to be competitive but you have to be professional in how you prepare for them, of course we are all very excited. We have the first game here in Ljubljana, we can go there and take pictures but we have a game to focus on and it will only remain in our memories in a positive way if we go there and put in a good performance.”

So how does a team based in a small town of 12,000 people continuously push the boundaries of what is possible and take it to the biggest names in Slovenian football? Elsner chuckles at the mention of Lincoln Red Imps’ victory over Celtic but he’s adamant his team will do their best to be competitive.

“We’ll need to play at our maximum, every player on the team will need to do that and we’ll probably need some luck as well!”

“They are missing some huge players and maybe physically won’t be at their best but they still have some fantastic players. It seems impossible [for us] but we will put all our passion out on the pitch because sometimes passion can do the job and you can surprise people in many ways.”

Like Slaven Bilic, Elsner was born in ex-Yugoslavia and also played for the team he currently managed, although his tenure as a player at Domzale was much longer than that of Bilic’s at West Ham United.

“This is my first meeting with him in football, it was very refreshing to see what he did last year, we were impressed if not inspired by what he did.

“Maybe people in the Premier League didn’t know much about him as a coach but you can only respect him for how much he surprised everybody.

“He [Bilic] has a connection with his club as I do with Domzale, we both have a connection to the identity of our clubs. I think it gives you an advantage but at the end of the day you learn in the job all the time but you do get an extra energy from managing a team you have played for.”

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