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“The military commando vocabulary of morale, fight and desire is no longer enough”

Joachim “Jogi” Löw is the manager of Germany. In this interview he explains his secret hatred for German training methods, how he likes to wind down after masterminding the humiliation of the English national team, and how the importance of technical ability means there’s no room for Rambo at the highest level.

Do you ever think about how your career would have turned out, had Jürgen Klinsmann not appointed you assistant manager of his Germany side in 2004?

I’ve no idea. Maybe I’d still be manager at Leoben.

In the Austrian Regionalliga Mitte [third tier], as low as that?

I suppose maybe the second division would have been reachable. I know I’ve had a lot of luck in my career as a manager. From when Rolf Fringer took me as his assistant at VFB Stuttgart in 1995. I wasn’t sure at the time, whether to take it, because I was player manager at FC Frauenfeld in the Swiss 2nd Division, and it was me who made all the decisions. I heard this internal voice telling me, ‘Hey Löw! You can’t let this chance slip by!’ So I went to Stuttgart, and a year later I took over from Fringer. In the first year we won the German Cup, and in the next we reached the final of the Cup Winner’s Cup [losing 1-0 in the final to Chelsea].

After Stuttgart, your career moved in other directions; Istanbul, Karlsruhe, Adana, Austria. Where was the worst?

Certainly not at Karlsruhe, even if we did only win once in ten matches. FC Tirol Insbruck, now that was a shock! We’d just won the championship, and I’d been speculating about Champions League qualification. Then the club president comes to me saying, ‘You can go now Mr. Löw, we no longer have a licence’. The club closed down, it was finished, pure and simple. FC Tirol Insbruck no longer existed, from one day to the next. Another time, at Austria Vienna, we were top of the league but I had to leave before the end of the season because of disputes with the owner. After handing in my resignation, I remember thinking on the way home, ‘Perhaps I should have been more reasonable…’.

If things had carried on in the same vein you might have wound up in Abu Dhabi or in Georgia? Would you have been prepared to manage there?

It never worried me. But I have to admit that when Jürgen Klinsmann got in touch with me, I had to ask myself, ‘Do I really want to be an assistant again?’. After all I’d been a manager for several years…But he managed to convince me, explaining that I would have major responsibilities myself. It was new to me because I always used to work alone, when a manager. At Fenerbahce for example, to the great disappointment of Frank Wormuth who was my assistant at the time, I didn’t know how to delegate. He would have been able to take care of certain things himself, he knew a lot. It was with Jürgen that I learnt more.

You spent a considerable time, both as player and manager, in Switzerland, a country whose football is not taken quite so seriously in Germany. Did you ever feel, on your return, marginalised in some way compared to those at the equivalent level in Germany?

I wouldn’t say ‘marginalised’. It’s true that I learnt a lot during my time in Switzerland, I found things there that I didn’t find in Germany. I’ve always secretly hated German training methods. When I was a player, I suffered a lot physically, especially with those medicine balls that you had to carry until you threw up. Tactically too, I felt that a lot was always left to chance. In Switzerland it was much more about organisation, positional play, the collective. I was won over!

And you have, since then, brought many of these ideas back to Germany. Are you considered something of a revolutionary?

No, not at all. Jürgen Klinsmann was the revolutionary. He transformed certain aspects of the wider structure, to do with the Federation, that were seriously outdated, and he worked with sports psychology, which had been something of a taboo up to that point.

What I mean is, since the World Cup 2010, Germany has become known for its attractive style of play.

That makes me happy because, for me, football has always been about aesthetics and grace. At the end of a match, I like to know that we’ve been the better footballing side.

Do you have a vision of an ‘ideal’ football?

I have always been attracted towards Brazil. For people of my generation, Socrates, Eder, Zico and Junior- these were magicians. Their football was a fascinating thing, even if they sometimes got knocked out in the early rounds. Arrigo Sacchi, and the pressing of his AC Milan side, also inspired me. At Bayern, when Van Gaal was manager, you could see that it wasn’t just individual talent that brought them results. Right now its Barcelona, and also Real Madrid, who have improved a lot under Mourinho. Last season I really liked Borussia Dortmund, constantly pressing, not giving the opposition time to breathe. The effect of Jürgen Klopp’s training sessions. And on the whole I think Arsène Wenger has done some great work.

What appeals to you about Wenger?

He doesn’t stop at a transfer. In the past I’ve thought because a player cost 10 million it would all come together regardless. I’d say to myself, ‘Well, he’s an international, he should know what he has to do’. But in fact no, a transfer is where the job of the manager begins. Wenger once told me that he had won all his titles only with intelligent sides. By intelligent, he means an intelligence for football, a certain curiosity and openness towards the game, and towards one’s lifestyle.

You also had an internship at Barcelona. What did you learn there?

Consistency! The director of the youth academy said to me, ‘We don’t reinvent the wheel here. But if there’s one thing that’s more important than anything it’s that there are no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. We have a consistency here.‘ That really struck home to me because when I was a young coach I was always all over the place. I didn’t know what was truly important. Now I do.

So do you know what you have to do to beat Spain?

Yes and the answer is simple. You have to be the better footballing side. The only solution is to be better with the ball. For the past eight years we have been following a clear doctrine; to develop a culture of technical skill. I don’t want fortune to decide things for me. I want to build a style of play in a rational way, from defence to attack. That’s why I was happy with the way my team played at the World Cup 2010. We may not have won the tournament, but now people say to us, ‘We like how the team plays’ and not, ‘We played badly but we won the match’. I feel like I’ve achieved something. Of course the fact that Rudi Völler got to the final in 2002 was a great accomplishment but Brazil, and several other teams, played the better football back then. When I see today how we can beat Brazil, Netherlands, Argentina, or England and that we will have done so by being the better team, I’m glad.

Would you rather be an attractive team that finishes third or a winner that plays ugly?

The question is flawed, because I am almost entirely certain that you can no longer win playing ugly. When I look at how football has changed over recent years, I get the impression that the military commando vocabulary of morale, fight and desire is no longer enough. That’s why we decided to put a system in place that will allow us to have more control of the ball. And I think that this new generation of players, Götze, Hummels, Badstüber, Reus or Bender are happy that we’re trying something new.

Everyone sees you as European Champions in waiting…

Of course we are going there to win. But I’m very relaxed when I hear people say, ‘If we don’t win it’s the end of the world’. The development of this side will not end with this tournament.

The last time Germany were victorious playing good football was at the European Championships of 1972, when you were 12 years old. What memories do you have of that side?

My first footballing memories go back to a few years before, to the 1970 World Cup, and in particular the matches against England and Italy. Beckenbauer with his arm in a sling and Uwe Seeler’s header [against England]. We didn’t have a TV and I watched the games with my entire family. 30 people in a living fill to bursting, and us children sitting on the floor in the front row. Günter Netzer was my hero at that time. A player full of ideas, and a slight eccentricity about him.

Could you use a Netzer in your team now?

Of course not (laughs). Netzer, Beckenbauer and Cruyff were really super players. But since then the amount of space available on the pitch has become smaller, and the amount of time on the ball lesser. The great players of this age find solutions in these conditions. Zidane was the first to be able to do that; even in extremely difficult circumstances he managed to control the direction of a match.

What kind of relationship do you have with your players?

You have to know how to take them seriously and let them know that the relationship is based on confidence. It’s easier to stand criticism that way. Really there’s a whole range of different personalities you have to take into consideration. There are some who tend to react instinctively, others who are more considered. One of them needs space, the other requires strict rules. I have to guess each time.

Nobody oversteps the boundaries?

I’m very relaxed. If I say to a Lahm or Schweinsteiger that the team can go out until 1am, I know that they are aware of what that means and that they will act accordingly. Of course sometimes there are players who will go to a club or who will try to test the limits. When there are such restrictions in your life, as there are in that of a footballer, it’s normal. We are of a different generation, you and I. After a win, we really thought we could go out all night, it’s what everyone did, when in fact, it’s the worst thing you can do.

There are quite a few people who complain that players today are too boring…

Ah well, the former players who boast about how they only ever played half as well as they were able, who believed nonetheless that they were the best and still think they’re the greatest… Personally I don’t care for people showing off about going out all night and turning up to training still half-drunk. I think it’s dangerous, stupid and selfish. Football is not a sport for individuals, there is a responsibility to the collective success of the team.

Who is your best player?

He doesn’t exist. Or, he no longer exists. Today, there are far more players who understand the concept of ‘the team’, players to whom one can delegate responsibilities, be they for tactics or the morale of the group. Phillip Lahm, Bastien Schweinsteiger, Miro Klose and Per Mertesacker are at least as ambitious as the illustrious grand old figures of the past, but they pay as much attention to the performances of others as their own. When I was a young pro, the leaders in the side would shout constantly, but without giving any direction. ‘You have to be more aggressive!’, but how exactly? I didn’t know. The next game I was sent off.

Ok, who would be missed most in the side if they were to get injured?

It’s a little macabre for a line of questioning! If a Lahm or Schweinsteiger got injured I’d have to live with it. Other players would fill their positions. There are also other players who emerge during a tournament, sometimes unexpectedly, like Arne Friedrich in South Africa. We are prepared for everything. The most important thing is the training sessions. You have to repeat the exercises, so that the players can gain confidence in what they’re doing, it’s like how you learn the alphabet.

They’ve a lot to study then, your players. And you then, what are you like?

I like to cut myself off. I like mountain biking, I go to see friends or I’ll stay at home with my wife and drink a glass of wine. During a tournament however, my quality of life is stripped down to the minimum. Every thought is about football. I analyse, discuss, plan, and for everything there’s too little time.

But then when things go well, you’re rewarded with victories.

Yes. Except the problem is I can’t enjoy them. Even winning 4-0 against a team like Argentina must be quickly forgotten, and five minutes later I’m thinking about the next opponent. Then, just after a tournament’s finished there’s always a period of transition where I begin everything from zero and examine certain decisions. It’s so exhausting that by the end I’ve really had enough of hearing about football. In 2010, one month after the World Cup we had a friendly match against Denmark. Olivier Bierhoff and Hans Flick had to come and find me, ‘Jogi we’ve got to talk about the squad’, and all I said was ‘Choose whoever you like!’. In fact you don’t realise the strain until the pressure is off.

This interview was published in So Foot #95 in April 2012. The interview was conducted by Christoph Biermann and Dirk Gieselmann, and translated from the German into French by Ali Farhat.

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