It is nearly a decade since Bayer 04 Leverkusen reached the final of the UEFA Champions League. Back in 2002, the team of Michael Ballack, Lúcio and Oliver Neuville knocked out Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC before losing to Real Madrid CF in the showpiece. Now the Werkself are back in the UEFA Champions League under the management of summer appointment Robin Dutt.
After four seasons at SC Freiburg building a reputation as one of Germany's most talented young coaches, the 46-year-old Dutt, who never played top-class football, has succeeded Jupp Heynckes at the BayArena. Here he speaks to Champions, official magazine of the UEFA Champions League.
It used to be that you couldn't become a top-flight coach without having had a distinguished playing career. But you only ever played amateur football …
Once-established set-ups, such as 'former international equals successful coach', have changed thoroughly. And there's a reason for it – these days, an enormous expert knowledge is demanded of you in many fields: sports science, psychology or motivation. You cannot acquire such knowledge if you're a professional player and spend all your time on training and the games. Nobody can seriously study all this during this period. Of course there will always be natural talents who prove otherwise.
It seems a huge jump to go from Freiburg to the UEFA Champions League with Leverkusen.
I don't see it that way. Also, unusual leaps have been the custom whenever I've changed clubs. I don't consider it noteworthy to move within the top flight anyway. Nine years ago I made a much bigger jump, going from the Stuttgarter Kickers amateur side to a professional team.
But you will be more the centre of attention at Leverkusen than you were at Freiburg?
Quite the contrary. I have a director of football here called Rudi Völler, a great name in German football, who'll attract a lot of that attention. In Freiburg everything was more focused on the coach, but here I can concentrate on my work on the training pitch a lot more. However, there's one thing that is different about being coach at Bayer Leverkusen – you should lose fewer games than at Freiburg.
What is your ambition with Leverkusen in the UEFA Champions League?
We're not trying to copy or follow anybody. What I do hope is that we can leave a mark on the international stage and present ourselves as our own footballing brand.
At Freiburg you introduced a training regime known as Life Kinetik, which is meant to broaden horizons. Will you be doing that at Leverkusen too?
I've always been fascinated by this subject. I once attended a lecture that argued that we use only 10% of our brain, because everyday life doesn't demand more. Life Kinetik is meant to connect different areas of the brain. What we want to achieve is for our players to be able to process complex actions and find solutions on the pitch more quickly. In due course, we'll address this issue at Leverkusen.
Michael Ballack is back at Leverkusen, where he made his name. There has been a lot of debate in Germany about the end of his international career, so will you treat him differently from the other players?
You always have to look into a person's particular circumstances – and that's not just the case in football but in life. At the moment Michael Ballack is under daily scrutiny – there are always camera crews and reporters, and we try not to provide people with stories that aren't really stories. So I'll talk with him in private about some things I might ordinarily address directly on the training pitch with a younger player.
When you were young, who was your hero and which team did you support?
I'd rather keep this to myself.
Is this because, as you often complain, there's too much talk about irrelevant matters in football?
Some people are more interested in which bakery my wife prefers than in the most recent result. I have no time for that.
Is this why you don't want to disclose who your idol was?
You don't have to provide people with a story all the time and wherever you go. It's been my experience that you also get some respect if you just concentrate on your work and are not always mouthing off.
Which teams in Europe impress you most?
Those teams that have few resources but make more of them than other teams in the competition. One case are Schalke who reached the last four of the Champions League last season.
Who is your favourite for this season's UEFA Champions League?
Barcelona remain the measure of all things.
Which values remain the most important to you?
Respect and discipline. If a player possesses these basic values, not much can go wrong when he's working with me.
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