‘When Kevin Keegan’s England beat us, we knew something had to change’ – how Germany became the dominant force of world football

‘Before Klinsmann, we had a group of good players behaving badly. Now we have a team that is difficult to hate.’ – Ronald Reng

Raphael Honigstein spoke about his latest book, 'Das Reboot: How German football reinvented itself and Conquered the World' at the London Sports Writing Festival

Raphael Honigstein’s book, ‘Das Reboot: How German football reinvented itself and Conquered the World’ was discussed at the London Sports Writing Festival

Germany finished runners-up at the 2002 World Cup, but it was far from seen as a hard luck story.

Brazil, with Ronaldo on a personal mission to make up for his failure in France four years earlier, were worthy winners in South Korea and Japan.

For Rudi Voller’s side, it represented progress nonetheless, with the embarrassment of failing to emerge from the group stages of the European Championship finals in 2000 as fresh in the minds as the subsequent 5-1 loss to England in Munich towards the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Germany had a rather gentle passage to the final, having beaten Paraguay, the United States and hosts South Korea in the knock-outs, but they were comfortably defeated by Luis Felipe Scolari’s side thanks to Ronaldo’s brace.

Had Germany prevailed against the Brazilians, it would have stood as something of a false dawn, resembling the manner in which Italy triumphed over France in the 2006 final.

The Italians had created a club mentality in the face of turmoil back home caused by the match-fixing scandal, and many of the players who excelled at the tournament were in the autumn of their careers.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought a stubborn approach to the German national team in 2004

Jurgen Klinsmann brought a stubborn approach to the national team in 2004

While Italy took the glory, something more profound had taken hold of hosts Germany, who would prove the greatest beneficiaries in the longer term.

Just as France used the 1998 competition to create a sense of unity between football and the nation as a whole that would spill over into the following decade, the wave of optimism sweeping back into German hearts and minds under manager Jurgen Klinsmann made their semi-final exit far from a disaster.

‘2006 was the real turning point for German football,’ Raphael Honigstein, author of Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World, said at the London Sports Writing Festival on Thursday. ‘Germans started to feel good again about German football and Germany – those two things are closely linked. Everyone started to buy into what Klinsmann was doing.’

Honigstein says the move towards greater emphasis on club academies was a vital step

Honigstein says the move towards more emphasis on club academies was vital

Honigstein was joined at Lord’s by Ronald Reng – promoting his book Matchdays: The hidden story of the Bundesliga – who marked the point of transition further back, with the 3-0 defeat by a Portugal ‘B side’ at Euro 2000 representing ground zero during Erich Ribbeck’s tenure.

‘After that loss, there was a really uncomfortable press conference. The nation had gone out in disgrace, and Germany took a long hard look at themselves,’ Reng reflected. ‘Even Kevin Keegan’s England had managed to beat us!

‘We were playing a system that relied on man-to-man marking seen 30 years ago. As a boy growing up in West Germany, you were even embarrassed by the way we won. The physical approach has now been replaced with a focus on entertaining.  Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan in the mid 1990s really led the way with zonal marking that made Germany reconsider the need for a sweeper.

‘It was only then that the German FA realised we had a team full of defensive midfielders. Desperate attempts were made to find creative players across the world with German grandmothers!’

Kevin Keegan's highest point in international management was beating Germany at Euro 2000

Kevin Keegan’s highest point in international management was beating Germany at Euro 2000

The boost of being announced as the winning World Cup bid in 2000 was precisely what Germany needed given the extent of the malaise on the pitch.

‘We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves at our own World Cup,’ continued Honigstein. ‘We admittedly looked at the Premier League and French model and created a sense of momentum through the Bundesliga clubs working together. This was fundamental and money was also key.

‘The boom time of the ’90s in Germany was over at the turn of the century. Spending 10 million on an academy was seen as worth the investment. A major emphasis was placed on this.’

The dour and relentless manner in which Germany bulldozed teams into submission had become ineffective, but Klinsmann kick-started the process of change, bringing with him an American mentality whereby the national side was treated more as a club team.

Joachim Low learned from Klinsmann as his right-hand man at the 2006 World Cup

Joachim Low (right) learned from Klinsmann at the 2006 World Cup

‘He changed the attitude of German football,’ said Reng.  ‘Before, the players were just allowed to play, but now we weren’t just relying on ability. The squad woke up to the fact they had to work scientifically in order to succeed and they developed their own tactics.  Before, it was a group of talented players behaving badly. Now, we have a team that is difficult to hate.’

On the 2006 World Cup, Honigstein added: ‘Klinsmann really used the energy of the home crowd. He didn’t have the best players, but he brought a real professional approach. Things that seem totally banal nowadays, like eating the right foods, sports psychology and the shift in goalkeeper training, all started under him.’

Joachim Low took over from Klinsmann in 2006 having worked under him, but it was not until 2014 that the nation overcame a substantial mental block created by the fallow period without success dating back to 1996.

Runners-up to Spain at the 2008 European Championship finals, Germany lost by the same 1-0 scoreline to the same opposition two years later in South Africa, before Italy’s Mario Balotelli broke their hearts in the semi-finals of Euro 2012.

The ‘re-boot’ was 10 years in the making, the watershed moment in Holland and Belgium ending infamously with Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller taking apart Fabio Capello’s England in Bloemfontein. Much has changed in the way we now stereotypically view German football.

Mario Gotze stretches to score the only goal against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final

Mario Gotze scores the only goal against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final

When we think of Brazil last summer, we think of the surreal nature of the 7-1 crushing of the hosts, the way Manuel Neuer played like an outfield player against Algeria and of course Mario Gotze’s goal in the final.

But how difficult will it be for Germany to keep advancing? The Spanish model of possession football enjoyed plenty of success in a four-year period that brought three major honours.

But death by asphyxiation, wearing their opponents down through a breathless demonstration of tiki-taka, was brutally undone by Holland and exposed once more by Chile at the World Cup 17 months ago.

The danger is that if Germany stand still, they too will eventually come unstuck in half the time it took to rebuild, but the process of reform has already begun at club level.

German boss Jurgen Klopp is trying to impose a high-pressing game at Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp is trying to impose a high-pressing game at Liverpool

‘There’s a movement, headed by the Red Bull Leipzig manager (Ralf Rangnick), which is all about the high pressing game, but I think they’re trying to be too smart,’ added Reng.

‘It’s obsessed with pace and getting in behind teams. It’s full of running and they do point to numbers for its success. But I think this is a very dangerous movement as if you teach youngsters too much about a game based on pace, they’ll lose sight of technique.’

Honigstein disagreed. The high-pressing (or gegenpressing as it is known in Germany) is something Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool to adopt in the Premier League, and he placed his concerns elsewhere.

‘Thomas Tuchel has shown at Borussia Dortmund that this system works and teams can adapt. I think it’s more that we are in danger of letting players have things too easy. Maybe they could prepare on poorer pitches, for example. Now it’s more about small steps to optimise the success, it’s not a change of model that’s needed.’

Ronald Reng's book Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga looks at how supporters have a say in Germany

Ronald Reng’s book Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga looks at fan-presence in Germany

England and the Premier League could most certainly do with making a few giant strides to catch up with their German counterparts, at least in terms of the relationship between clubs and their supporters.

It was a subject brought back into public consciousness during Bayern Munich’s recent Champions League visit to face Arsenal at the Emirates, with many visitors taking their seats five minutes into the game to protest against the £64 ticket price.

While many supporters of Premier League sides have campaigned for cheaper matchday experiences, the biggest sides in Germany are now struggling to control the hardcore contingent, and Reng believes there needs to be a balance between supporters being heard and clubs honouring the need for financial growth.

‘Fans are not treated as customers in Germany,’ said Reng. ‘Supporters now behave like a power base. Fans don’t care about the game anymore; it’s like they’re there to praise themselves. They sing throughout regardless of what’s happening on the pitch and they feel like they are the show. The fans have taken over.’

Bayern fans create an incredible noise but sometimes don't react to events on the pitch

Bayern fans create an incredible noise but often don’t react to events on the pitch

Honigstein added: ‘German clubs realise that despite all the commercial deals, the number one market is still the local market – they never lose sight of this. It’s taken time for success as things have been done organically and there’s been a few false dawns. But Bayern and Dortmund are good examples of how it’s worked.’

Klopp caused a stir last weekend when he expressed his disappointment at seeing huge swathes of empty seats at Anfield towards the end of his side’s 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace, and while Germany is not entirely immune from the culture of fans leaving early, it is not something the Reds boss would have expected so soon into his reign.

‘I think he’s been a bit surprised by the atmosphere,’ said Honigstein. ‘You see even in Europa League games how German fans behave. Klopp has found Liverpool to be not quite as it was advertised. He came from Dortmund (with the famous Yellow Wall) and Mainz prior to that.

‘He’s acknowledged that he needs to change the atmosphere. He’s got himself heavily involved in the new stand and he’s got the ability to get players to play for him. Some managers don’t have his charisma. He has the ability to play players like an instrument. That’s what makes him the full package. He’s a great personality not just for Liverpool but for the whole of English football.’

Raphael Honigstein and Ronald Reng were speaking to Amy Lawrence at the London Sports Writing Festival. For more information on this year’s events, visit the website or via Twitter.

Michael Calvin: We’re dealing with human beings. If you praise them, they purr and if you criticise, they fight back


Michael Calvin will be speaking about The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager alongside Henry Winter, Patrick Barclay and John Cross at Lord’s

Football management has become a bit of a cause célèbre. It’s the job many virtually assume via the popular computer game, the opportunity many former players are afforded while a few dedicate their lives to coaching badges in the vain hope they will work their way up to the top.

Once in charge of the most celebrated clubs in the land, they are there to be shot at, to be made accountable and sometimes be provoked into five-minute diatribes that land them with an FA fine.

People say they are paid millions of pounds, but at what price? That’s the question award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin explores in his latest book, ‘Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager,’ and the subject brought again to the fore during the international break.

David Moyes was sacked as Real Sociedad manager less than a year into the job

David Moyes was sacked as Real Sociedad manager less than a year into the job

Often seen by owners as a natural juncture to assess how the season is shaping, there has been five managerial casualties in the Football League in the past week, with Blackburn’s Gary Bowyer the most recent to be relieved of his post at the Championship club. The trend is not exclusive to England, with David Moyes being dismissed at Real Sociedad following a run of disastrous results in La Liga.

Ahead of speaking at the London Sports Writing Festival, Calvin revisits the months spent collating interviews with managers, and his motivations behind a book that has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

‘The real incentive was to try to humanize what is a pretty dehumanizing job,’ Calvin began. ‘Everyone knows that football managers are recognizable…their sound bites become pretty familiar. But who are these guys? Do people really understand them and know them?

‘One thing that was really interesting talking to them was that, okay, they understand the world in which they work, the modern media press conference is a bit of a coconut shy of their agendas, but they don’t actually say that much of real insight or relevance, quite simply because it’s not worth the aggravation.

‘The great thing about writing a book is that you can contextualize everything in about 100,000 words. One of the common themes is that judgments are made that are pretty instant, usually cruel and sometimes abusive.

‘People make those judgments without actually knowing them, understanding their job and who they are, so a lot of what the guys in the book tried to do was provide an insight into not just their jobs but how they do it and who they are.’

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has found himself under increasing pressure this season with his side struggling for results

Jose Mourinho has found himself under increasing pressure at Chelsea

The modern football manager has myriad distractions to handle simultaneously when results are all that matter. Once the topic of the moment, every press conference is about his future.

The continual plight of Chelsea, for example, has even become a bit of sideshow itself to the on-going battle between the club’s manager Jose Mourinho, the English press and the Football Association. The Portuguese’s unwavering defence of his players, deflecting his venom onto the doctor, the referee, or even his peers, has become tiresome.

‘But he’s an interesting guy,’ Calvin notes. ‘He lives by the sword and dies by the sword. There’s someone who manipulates the media and most of his public announcements have an agenda of one sort or another.

‘There’s been a real disconnect this season at Chelsea right from the controversy involving the doctor (Dr Eva Carneiro) which was utterly disrespectful. It was surprising because dressing rooms are built upon professional respect.

‘Those players would have had a lot of respect for the doctor. Mourinho is someone whose behaviour and anger is very theatrical; a lot of managers use this.

‘Aidy Boothroyd once punched a wall at half-time in the dressing room and had a go at the oldest and youngest members of his team, but then when walking out for the second-half he was completely calm and rational. He did this for effect.

‘Perhaps the way modern management is going is that the younger manager is moving away from the teacup throwing spittle-flecked full-on frontal assault on players, verbally and occasionally physically.

‘It’s much more empathetic now. Managers have to understand they are working in a much more delicate working environment. Modern dressing rooms generally are multicultural melting pots so there are certain groups of players culturally who will not take kindly to being dug out in front of their peers.

‘Criticism can be administered now more subtly in private because southern Europe, South America, Asia – if you scream at someone in a dressing room situation they take that as profoundly disrespectful.’

Everton manager Roberto Martinez is someone who likes to treat his players like human beings

Roberto Martinez is someone who likes to treat his players like human beings

The whole nature of modern footballers is changing. At one end of the spectrum, young players at academies aged 11 years old are being courted by agents, have boot deals by the age of 14 and millionaires by the time they are 17.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez told Calvin, ‘I’m dealing with a footballer once or twice a week, when they play games. But actually I’m dealing with a human being seven days a week. The human side of management is a vital part of the job.’

Calvin wanted to get a really good feel for managers across the spectrum, speaking to Brendan Rodgers while he was still at Liverpool, right down to Micky Adams taking Tranmere out of the Football League.

Calvin spent the day with 25 bosses across the top four divisions in England, working with players whose wages ranged from £200,000 to £220 a week, watching them work not just in a training context but in all aspects of their job; that was the thing he says he felt most gratified about.

‘I was very lucky that some of the managers had read some of the other books I’ve done, so they understood what I was about in terms of providing a balanced piece in a way that was authentic, raw and real.

‘People in football don’t shy away from the realities of their job. The one thing they gave me, which is probably the one luxury they don’t have, is their time.

‘Having this was a huge privilege but it also gave me a chance to actually look at the big picture, rather than judging them on a five-minute press conference which doesn’t give much more than the superficiality of the job away.

‘We’re dealing with human beings. If you praise them they purr and if you criticise them they wince and their instinct is to fight back. It’s human nature that everyone likes to be loved, so they probably talk more when they’re doing well.’

Arsene Wenger has emerged the other side of a storm to still lead Arsenal

Arsene Wenger has emerged the other side of a storm to still lead Arsenal

Two managers who have stood the test of time are Arsene Wenger and Paul Tisdale. Wenger remains in charge at Arsenal having come through a trophy-barren run, while Tisdale is the second longest-serving manager in the English Football League having overseen two promotions with Exeter since taking over in June 2006.

‘Wenger and Tisdale have had time to bed into the job. The problem with the job is that it’s institutionalized impatience. The stats say the average time in management is 15 months; that goes down to eight or nine in the Championship, which is a complete drama house.

‘Rodgers I believe is what I call a survivable failure – he’ll get another job. He might need to reinvent himself in La Liga or somewhere like that but I think he’ll be fine.

‘But today there’s talk of Garry Monk (at Swansea City) going and he’s one of the most impressive guys I’ve met. It’s interesting how themes recur because the dispute at Swansea is the fact they want to impose a director of football above him.

‘It’s a bizarre one as Swansea have always come across as an exceedingly well-run football club, yet they appear to have made a strategic summersault because of the run of seven or eight games, where they feel Monk needs someone above him to give him a hand.

Garry Monk is reportedly under pressure with Swansea reassessing its structure

Garry Monk is reportedly under pressure with Swansea reassessing its structure

‘I can understand why he would balk at that as he is trying to develop his own style and I think he’s not naïve that if they don’t improve results he’s in trouble. But the fact they’re saying they’re going to do something completely different now with a director of football is problematic because who do you bring in?

‘I spent some time recently with Chris Ramsey at QPR, who had Neil Warnock almost hoisted upon him. Neil came in to help out in a position as director of football, and two weeks later he’s the interim manager while Chris has been sacked.

‘Football management is full of insecurities so if you’re a manager, and the club appoint a director of football above you and something tells you he still has managerial ambitions, there’s obviously going to be a fissure that opens up and there’s bound to be problems.

‘The one thing that struck me about Garry was his modernity. He comes from an old school background as a player but he really has a strategic approach to management. It’s right that he hasn’t become a bad manager overnight, but it’s the same with all managers; they all end up living a bit of a lie.

‘Eddy Howe is another one of the managers I came across in writing the book, who I captured on the way up and Bournemouth are now experiencing problems. Those problems inevitably reflect on you as a person because you live it 24 hours a day. As he says in the book, ‘I’m not superhuman, but as I manager I can’t be upset all week as my players look to me for strength.

Brendan Rodgers developed a closeness with the media when things were going well

Brendan Rodgers developed a closeness with the media during good times

‘Rodgers talked about viewing himself as a welfare officer who was ultimately gunned down by the fact that the team wasn’t good enough. No matter how good his sound bites were, they didn’t really protect him.’

Calvin writes of meeting Mark Hughes, when the Stoke City manager spoke of football as being a unique sport for magnifying failure.

‘Football managers are now a bit like matadors. They’re in the technical area, everyone’s looking at them. Their personalities are dissected much more nowadays than players. By and large, most players now have vanilla personalities; you can take them or leave them.’

Football management is now much more personality driven, with huge pay-offs when relationships break down midway through a lengthy contract. Rodgers walked away with £7million in compensation, a ludicrous sum of money, but the strain was what resonated with Calvin.

Martin Ling has recently made a managerial comeback at Swindon Town

Martin Ling has recently made a managerial comeback at Swindon Town

‘The book begins with Martin Ling undergoing chemotherapy in hospital. That’s a treatment that has echoes of the asylum really. He was desperate to get back in (to management). Speaking to Brian McDermott, his theory is that a lot people in football are depressed, but they don’t realize it because the game is so brutal anyway.

‘There’s someone in Brian who’s probably a lot happier now as chief scout at Arsenal, going around the world assessing players whereas at Leeds, his last managerial post, he was treated like dirt by an owner (Massimo Cellino) who has been very bad for that football club.

‘These are ordinary guys doing an extraordinary job with the same instincts and inclinations as most of us. They just happen to be good in that particular area of expertise.

‘They have really disconnected lives…someone like Ian Holloway moved home 33 times in his managerial career, and had to handle the deafness of his children, his wife having cancer. It is a problem that other people have to deal with as well – what I hope is that people can understand their job that little bit more.

‘On a Saturday, the instinct of some is to get on to Twitter and unload on a manager, but when you type those 140 characters that are full of bile, just pause for thought before you post it, because they have the right to be better understood.’

Michael Calvin will be appearing at the London Sports Writing Festival, Thursday to Sunday. For more information, please visit the website, or via Twitter.