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Raphael Honigstein: One great coach will not save either England or Russia

Фабио Капелло (витрина)
Фото: Getty Images

The Guardian Columnist and the Sports Daily chief editor  discovered a way to help Russian football with a reference to such personalities as Guardiola, Klinsmann and Loew.

Raphael Honigstein is distinguished by a unique sense of taste for a football journalist. His reviews of the Bundesliga resemble little novels, and his analytical materials and video blogs always hit the right spot. Honigstein’s book on German football Der Vierte Stern (known as Das Reboot on the UK market) has been released in Russia. This kind of reading is for those who seek for the whole picture. In Russian football, one can switch coaches for a long time, complain about the lack of players and look with unbounded longing at those who succeed. In fact, everything was invented much longer before us, and it only remains to learn from someone else's experience.

Raphael Honigstein has overviewed relatively obvious things about German and English football in general and about Joachim Loew, Josep Guardiola, Jurgen Klinsmann in particular. Perhaps, this interview will be useful due to understanding the necessarity of global changes required for the Russian national team as the next host of the World Cup.

What one shall do if players are similar to each other?

— Raphael, what exactly in your book can be interesting for Russian readers?
— First of all, the book will appeal to those who are interested in German football.  People has been watching large tournaments for last years, they see how Germany wins, but they do not remember that awful football we played before 2004. Yes, indeed, in Japan and Korea in 2002, Germany reached the final, but to be fair, the team did not show anything outstanding. Probably, by this book I wanted to provoke in some countries a kind of common reaction. For example, a person in England, Netherlands or Russia would recognize many of the problems that exist in football of his country. He will be able to identify the cause and the essence. Germans needed quite a long time to see that. In the end, objectivity is buried in everyday noise.

We talk a lot about emotions caused by football, often neglecting the essence. Nowadays England faced that. Same problems. Not too patriotic, too rich, too vapid players. Nobody plays football on the streets, preferring video games. There are no leaders being able to take the responsibility. Germany went through all of this! We all discussed in the bars what was wrong and who was to blame, when the truth was that everything was defined by the level of our country’s players and the coaches who worked with the team.

— And now I am trying to compare it with what we have in Russia...
— I do not consider myself as an expert in your football. However, when I watched Russian team games in France, it appealed to me that all players were so similar to each other. They passed the ball in a same way, felt uncomfortable with it and did everything quite slowly. No one came up with the idea of doing something completely different from the partners in order to encourage them. It was a faceless team. Without emotions, without a sense of individuality, without clear tactics.

In 2002, Germany also did not have superstars. Kahn, Ballack — that is all. Jeremis, Hamann, Schneider, Janker, Bierhoff played at comparatively same good level. But they lacked speed and technique — the elements that allow you to play attacking football. We could only use defensive tactics, because by getting involved in a sharp game with another opponent we would definitely defeat. Yes, in 2002 we reached the final. Nevertheless, what was before and after that? Rather poor European Championship 2000, we lost to Portugal. The same look in 2004, the defeat from the Czech Republic. People could blame anyone - coaches, players, society. The reason though was that there was no one to play at the entirely different level. Now it is clear that Germany having Ozil, Muller and others will not play defensive football.

— But they did not come from nowhere, did they?...
— No. But everyone knows that. In 2000, we were disgraced at the European Championship. And the management of German football decided that they did not want to see such a circus: "We need brand new players and fundamentally different coaches." And everything began to change: the style of the game, the style of preparation, the attitude itself to the concept of performances for the national team. In fact, the first changes happened in 1998, when children began to play more in small fields without unnecessary running, and the trainers had been prepared step by step for the new techniques. As a result, now young players are accustomed to the ball, they see it constantly! Their coach is not someone’s relative or buddy, but a specialist with a license. Obviously, such coaches work better and raise the best players. These ideas were developed first by Jürgen Klinsmann, then by Joachim Loew, and only in 2010 Germany suddenly found out that it had a completely different team playing a completely different football, the one with Ozil, Boateng, Mueller, Khedira ...

In my book, there is a chapter where the mechanism "more and more" is described in details. If we want more talented players and coaches for our country, then we should invest more in their development. The more talented football players are about to appeal, the more qualified coaches are needed to raise them, and vice versa. This is a snowball effect.¬

— It is important to do something with this effect, not only talk about it and then forget…— And this is just a very German feature. In Germany, people will never say: "We have achieved the desired result, let’s praise ourselves." We always have a debate: "We should have done it in a different way, other things could be better, let's change it" ... Following this approach it's difficult to get off the trail, therefore everything works.

— We discussed similar things with the head of the Hennes Weisweiler Coaching Academy Frank Vormuth, who told me three months after Germany's victory at the World Cup in Brazil that there were no left-back or right-back defenders, no ...
— …strikers, right? I know all of this. Of course, everyone wants to be a midfielder. Imagine a guy who, up to sixteen, used to be a leader in the center of the pitch and manage partners, at eighteen has been told: "Go left!" For example, Bayern player David Alaba still believes that he should be a midfielder. In his case the question is this: either you become one of the best left-back defenders in the world, or one of forty-fifty good central midfielders. Still, Alaba wants to be a midfielder! But this is a general football problem, not German.

Guardiola helped at all levels

— What about Kimmich? Seems like the last thing he didn’t do on the pitch was being a goalkeeper?
— Some time ago, I was sure that Kimmich would become a good right defender. During the qualification for the Euro Loew preferred to see Emre Can for this position, it did not work. Now it is time for Kimmich. He is also sure that he is a midfielder. He was very dissatisfied that he was put to the right. If Philip Lam was still able to play there — no problem. But...

— Do you think Josep Guardiola helped Joachim Loew to come up with the idea of Kimmich playing at any position? He used to play a stopper with Guardiola...
— Guardiola helped very strongly on many levels. Of course, it depends on who you talk to in Germany about him. Someone believes that Pep is terrific and that Bayern played fantastic football under his management. Perhaps the last season showed that we had lost the best Bundesliga coach ever. Is Guardiola perfect? No way, he is not. He makes mistakes as well.

— What mistakes?
— I would say that he is not perfect in managing people. Guardiola used to have a special emotional attitude towards Barcelona, and it worked. Perhaps, in Bayern he had a lack of emotional contact with the players. Bayern is a very emotional club, including top management. People there wanted Pep to feel as a family member, but he never did. This provoked many problems. Guardiola is an example of an effective top manager, who allows the company to be successful at the technical level. But, probably, if an effective manager loved his staff, the result would be even higher ... At the social level, Guardiola is not the best coach. Although, there are no ideal ones. Everyone has his weaknesses, his oddities...

— Joachim Loew. Which oddities does he have?
— I guess he is the most normal of all coaches (laughing). There is clear borderline between Loew as a coach and Loew as a simple man. Even after so many years of his work with the German team, we know very little about his humankind side. We know what kind of football he likes, which players he prefers, but he never talks about himself. The players love him very much. Loew is very easy to communicate. He has business manners, which are very comfortable to work with though. He knows how to find the right tone, without going mad at the edge of a field, as Conte or Mourinho do. He is softer, and that is why work with the national team is an ideal for him. Let us say, if he worked with Bayern, and everyone around would say: "Tomorrow you must beat Hoffenheim!", — I'm afraid it would be hard for Loew. He is a strategist who thinks a lot and who needs to spend a lot of time with a cup of espresso. Indeed, work with the German national team is a dream one for him. But Joachim Loew is also a dream coach for the country and a new generation of players who are learning to manage their careers and are able to analyze their actions on the field and outside of it.

There is a fragment in my book about how the role of the personality of each player has grown, as players are more involved into the progress of the team. When one of them tells how he watches the video for hours where Cristiano Ronaldo performs free kicks. These guys go beyond the limits of the concept of "football player" — such a generation...

— I will never forget the speech  of  Holger Badstuber at a common press conference, where it seemed to me that I was being lectured at the university. Are all the players of the Germany national team like that?
— No, not all. But the manager of Mainz youth teams Volker Kersting once told me how 15-year-olds are already have being taught to express their opinion about their game, about the performance of partners, to analyze the actions of the whole team. If you are not able to do this, then you will not show the best game, even if you have great physical potential. Football becomes more intellectual, even scientific. In these terms, the main achievement of the German football revolution is the education of bright children, who then remain in football. This became possible thanks to the educational schools functioning at the academies. Kersting told me that some years ago only 15 percent of the students from the academies had passed the A-level (a specialized program for universities applicants. —, now their amount consists 85 per cent! Parents of children from the middle class do not have to be confused anymore — I have such a talented boy, how will he get education if he continues to play football. The question of choice - football or study – has been removed from the agenda.

"Play with your heart, why do you need a coach?"

— You live in England, communicate with local football people, fans, colleagues. Why such an obvious experience of Germany cannot be adopted there? And exactly the same question I can ask about Russia...
— That is a very difficult question. There are many factors that prevent this experience from being adopted. For example, the class of the Premier League. The absence of second teams. Number of coaches. There is one English high-level specialist for ten German ones. There is also a difference in the culture of football perception. A young player in England is easier to be told: "Boy, you have talent, go and play with your heart! Why do you need a coach?" Children in England until recently played on a large field, imagine what was required of them? Hit the ball as hard as possible and run as fast as possible! The rest have to work hard just to reach the ball.

There are many structural problems at the highest level as well. Including those related to players contracts. At the same time, I note that England has already made enough conclusions in the preparation of more technical players, and a several steps have been taken in this direction. What happened to the team in France is not a consequence of the fact that England has poor players. Problems concerns management. At the disposal of the coach only fifteen players are on a regular basis, instead of forty-five from which he could form a team. This is a problem of the Premier League, where players and coaches from abroad constantly come. And club owners are also foreigners who are not interested in global changes of local football.

Now, after the defeat from Iceland, everyone is disappointed, and again the emotions overcome the general plan and the willingness to work for changes at all levels. In fact, Germany was very fortunate that in one year two fateful events coincided: the failure of the national team in 2000 and the right to host the World Cup in 2006. It was the fear of disgrace that forced everything being changed from the very roots. England, I think, needs such a push in order to go for it.

— Antonio Conte prepared for the European Championship a very efficient Italy team with a single star who was a goalkeeper. Now there is a new task for him being a Chelsea coach and his talent might be also exposed to this kind of emotions. How Jurgen Klopp's career will unfold in Liverpool is also unclear...
— It is clear with Klopp. Note how coaches depend on the emotional demands of the Premier League. Indeed, coaches there are under a great pressure, still they get a lot of time there, because fans and media want to see a certain set of characters and demand to leave it as it is for another year, and for two, and three, because they believe so much in this characters. Arsene Wenger could not work with a club the way he does with Arsenal in any other country.

In Germany, it is different with coaches. Also in Spain and Italy. On the contrary, in England there is time for them! Despite the fact, that so many clubs every year remain at the same level and there is such a serious competition for being at the very top. At the same time, we are talking about the highest level of football, but the rules are dictated by the general excitement around it.

— Jurgen Klinsmann is considered as one of the candidates to lead the England football team. Can he change anything in English football?
— In the beginning of 2000’s Klinsmann was the right person for Germany. He has a wonderful football career, life experience; he visited different countries and learned a lot from living in the USA including knowledge in the field of sports, which in Germany at that time no one owned. He was the hero of his time, just like Arsene Wenger. I do not think that now everything would have been the same way. Without such an assistant, as Joachim Loew, Klinsmann would have achieved not that much as a coach. Being one of the leaders of the English Football Association, I would ask him at a meeting: "Who will be your assistant, Jurgen?" If he responds: "Berti Vogts", the answer is: "Thank you, we'll call you back." If he suggests bringing Thomas Tuchel, you could seriously think about it. In fact, not only Klinsmann made that first German national team: many people worked for that success, including the German Football Union. I do not think that England needs Klinsmann now. He will not change anything. The country needs the right environment around the team, around football.

Russia and China — not a problem for football

— Russia and England are completely different countries. But don’t you think that they are almost soulmates in terms of football?
— I know that at certain time in Russia many foreigners were involved, which was bad for its own players. That makes some sense, but I do not believe that, let's say, English players will start to grow only because they will be kept less on the bench and given a chance in the main squads. No. The problem is that the academies in England and, apparently, your country work at an insufficiently high level. The same goes for the coaches. Each country that wants to represent its football at a high level must have know-how. In addition to players and coaches, representatives of the federation, people working around football - they all need to write their own chapter in this scientific work. One great coach is not the solution of the question.

Take the region around Stuttgart where a whole chain of coaches operates interacting constantly with each other and exchanging experience. Ralf Rangnick (now the sports director of RB Leipzig, last season brought the club to the Bundesliga as a coach, — has grown up in this region. Now he is educating a new generation of coaches there. Thomas Tuchel was working with him as VfB Stuttgart youth team coach of the youth team. There must be a kind of football ecosystem. But Germany, which conceived this sixteen years ago, began to reap the rewards only now.

— Aren’t many of the young coaches too "raw" for this work?
— Are you talking about Julian Nagelsmann? Yes, he is only 29, but when he came to meet with Guardiola in Munich, he was praised at Bayern by both of Pep and sports director Matthias Sammer. They wanted to offer him a job at the second team, but they already knew that Nagelsmann would head TSG Hoffenheim.

— I am not even talking about Nagelsmann. There was a number of coaches who were scrolled in the Bundesliga, as if in a washing machine, and quickly thrown out of it. As Joe Zinnbauer in the HSV, Alexander Zorninger in the VfB Stuttgart. With him, in fact, the Swabians began their fall ...
— Zorninger is good as an expert, but his human qualities, unfortunately, are not of the highest level. He is not able to communicate at all. A coach should be not only educated, but also be a decent person. He must be able to create an aura. It is better to ask yourself if you can be a motivator. A leader. A teacher. Of course, two or three Jurgen Klopps won’t appear each two or three years. But with the right education system, clubs will always have a choice among professional coaches with all the necessary contemporary knowledge. Someone will break through, someone will not. But the know-how is not going anywhere. Previously, when appointing a coach, the question was: does a club need a motivator or an educator? Now determine the typology of the coach is much more difficult. How can you explain the fact that the German clubs in the rating of UEFA coefficients are now higher than the English ones? I will answer - their coaches work better.

— Can China be called a problem of modern football?
— Earlier, the same thing could be said about Russia. In fact, no, not a problem. In Central Europe, most of good players wants to play football and achieve high results in it. Therefore, even if money can affect their decision, this contains a very small percentage of football life. I would say that China and Turkey have a kind of artificial leagues. I do not think that they have enough real power to affect significantly the top clubs in Europe.

— How will England's exit from the European Union affect, in your opinion, European football?
— The economic recession in England will certainly affect the euro and will have a definite, including political, effect in France and other nearby countries. All this is very depressing. Directly in the English Premier League for five or six years Brexit will not affect, but if the pound begins to weaken, it will gradually lose its main advantage — financial attractiveness.

Translation: Yulia Kartashova

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