Lothar Matthaus on coaches
English managers often struggle for opportunities, but things are different in Germany. FFT’S columnist explains why young coaches have become a fashion statement in the Bundesliga
When I first started as a coach, my aim was to work in the Bundesliga. Coaching wasn’t too easy at first. As a player I worked with Franz Beckenbauer and he expected that we would be as good as he’d been as a player. Maybe sometimes he expected too much. At the beginning of my coaching career, maybe it was the same. I was thinking: ‘For me everything was easy, why can’t my players do it as well?’ You realise that you have to help them get to that level. That’s your job.
In the end I never had the chance to coach at a big club or in the Bundesliga, but I’m not unhappy with my time as a manager. Sure, maybe I expected a little bit more, and maybe everybody expected the same because of my name. But when you don’t have the players or the money, it’s difficult. I always gave my best.
I worked at clubs with good names like Rapid Vienna and Partizan Belgrade, as well as the Hungarian national team. I’ve never heard a bad word from former players from any of the teams I managed. Everywhere I worked, I am welcomed back – OK, maybe not by the club but by the city. When I go back to Belgrade, for instance, they’re all happy to see me. We reached the Champions League there and won the league, so I had my results as a manager, if not at the highest level. But it’s not just about titles: it’s about teaching young players and making them better.
That’s something a lot of young German managers are doing very well at the moment. Julian Nagelsmann is the best example: he was 28 when Hoffenheim believed in him and made him manager and he’s done a fantastic job – taking the club from really close to relegation, all the way to European competition. Hoffenheim’s strategy is mostly focused on young players, and maybe a younger coach understands young players better than a coach who could be their father or grandfather.
Nagelsmann had coached the club’s youth sides for five or six years before he took charge of the first team, and in Germany there’s a system now where they believe in younger coaches. Due to Nagelsmann’s success, it’s the fashion now and other clubs are following suit: Schalke appointed Domenico Tedesco, who’s 32 and had been a youth coach; Werder Bremen hired Alexander Nouri, who’s 38 and had been coaching the second team. We have got a lot of managers now who are under 40.
There are positives and negatives to that: these managers aren’t only working with young players. Some are superstars and if the team is struggling, they might say: ‘Two years ago he was coaching the youth team, now he’s telling me what to do?’ But now you are seeing managers who did well with the youth team and are starting to work with those same players in the first team. That manager knows the mentality and strategy of the club. They have the feeling for what the club is about. In that way, the system can be an advantage. In England the system is different, and at the top clubs there are only foreigners! That’s strange, because I’m sure England has good coaches, but the people who manage the bigger clubs have all had high-level results previously. You can’t be the manager at a big club in England without big results that get the attention of the owners. That’s not quite the same in Germany: Borussia Dortmund gave an opportunity to Peter Bosz after he did a good job at Ajax for one season. RB Leipzig have Ralph Hasenhuttl, a boss who followed the mentality of the club – focusing on young players, like Hoffenheim. With that philosophy, they’ve been doing very well. Having said that, Bosz is Dutch, Hasenhuttl is Austrian and Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich is Italian, so the only German manager in the Champions League is Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool have done well under Klopp – they can’t get a better coach than him. And David Wagner has also done a great job with Huddersfield. For me, Huddersfield going up to the Premier League was probably the second biggest surprise in the history of English football, after Leicester winning the title.
The status of German coaches is high outside Germany right now – even higher than inside Germany. Often you’re nothing in your home country. Boris Becker is a legend in England and I am a hero in Italy, but in Germany it’s different. We have good coaches in Germany and the way we teach them is good – many countries look to Germany. They visit and want to learn from us. I see a lot of great potential in German coaching right now.
“In GERMANY THEY BELIEVE In YOUNGER COACHES. MAYBE A YOUNG COACH CAN UNDERSTAND THE PLAYERS BETTER THAN ONE WHO COULD BE THEIR GRANDFATHER”