Ex-Bayern star and Gladbach assistant coach Alexander Zickler speaks in the t-online.de interview about the role of the striker and praises the work of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz.
Alexander Zickler struck with the striker FC Bayern Munich Every title that can be won in European club football: seven German championships, four DFB cup successes, UEFA Cup winners in 1996, Champions League and World Cup winners in 2001. After his career, he became a coach and worked for, among others RB Salzburg. He has been a co-trainer of Borussia Monchengladbach at the side of Marco Rose back in the Bundesliga.
In the t-online.de interview, Zickler talks about the requirement profile of the modern center forward and looks back at his former club RB Salzburg with admiration. He finds words of praise especially for a controversially discussed person: Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz.
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t-online.de: Mr. Zickler (46), you scored 55 goals in the Bundesliga and were twice top scorer in Austria. How do you let your experience flow into your daily work with the Gladbach strikers?
Alexander Zickler: The tasks of the striker have become much more complex compared to my active time. What has remained, however, is that a striker is still primarily measured by his qualifications and goals. And I would like to show the boys the best possible solutions together with the whole team of trainers. The main thing here is to internalize the right routes: how do I behave in the penalty area, how do I position myself against the opponent, how do I best free myself for passing. We succeed in doing this by having specific processes trained over and over and giving the boys a certain level of security in their tasks.
You say that the striker’s tasks are much more complex today than when you were active. Does this mean that you also had to acquire new knowledge – for example through video studies?
You used to need a gun as a striker: either you had enormous speed, or you had outstanding penalty behavior. However, this is no longer enough these days if you want to be a top striker.
Alexander Zickler (here 2001): The striker played for Bayern Munich from 1993 to 2005. (Source: Contrast / imago images)
I realized that there was this development into a more complex striker through regular football watching on TV and targeted video studies. I try to take these visual stimuli as inspiration for our game system with the extremely many trained walking routes.
How do you see that the young Gladbach goalkeepers Thuram and Embolo are already benefiting from working with you?
I have to say: Our strikers had an extremely high quality (smiles) even before we started work. Our work with them is more about adapting them to our game system. Specifically, this means sensitizing them to the extremely high pressing and showing how we can get to the switching moments as quickly as possible after winning a ball. In these situations we do not want to take advantage of the regular structure of the game, but rather to take advantage of the advantage we have from winning the ball. For the strikers, this means freeing themselves immediately and making their way down.
The switchover game also goes hand in hand with the renaissance of the classic nine, which can lie in wait for passers-by and dodge the defense with a quick start.
With Dortmunds Erling Haaland we have the best example of this in the Bundesliga. But it is his flexibility that makes him so: In addition to deep runs, creating spaces in the penalty area, letting yourself fall into the tens at the right moment and thus creating space for the winger – all of this makes a modern center forward for me. The days of the classic bomber, a Gerd Müller, are over.
Your great strength as an active player was that it didn’t take you long to make a difference in the game when you left the bank. Can you train something like that?
It’s about mental strength. You have to be able to deal with your situation openly, not fall into a hole just because you are sitting on the bench first. You need to take situations quickly, be able to watch and read the game very carefully, so that you know what to expect when you are substituted.
After a long and successful time at FC Bayern Munich, you moved to RB Salzburg in 2005. Was the development of the club in the past ten years foreseeable?
When I moved to Salzburg, the club’s first priority was to position itself in the league. You could also see that in the average age of the squad – they relied on a lot of experience. Three or four years later a makeover was announced and with it a new game system, the Ralf Rangnick refined in his time as sports director. Now you play the brave offensive football that you wanted at the time, and you can already give many young talents trust and responsibility.
Alexander Zickler: From 2005 to 2010 he stormed for RB Salzburg, won three championship titles (2007, 2009, 2010) and was top scorer twice (2007, 2008). (Source: Ulmer / imago images)
Are you allowed to take a look at today’s RB Salzburg and its attractiveness for young talents – one only calls Mané, Minamino and Haaland – write on the flag?
My teammates at the time and I certainly contributed through the successes we celebrated to a certain euphoria about the club, which also increased its attractiveness outside of Salzburg. I am pleased that Salzburg was able to celebrate international success with its young squad in the past – that is something I was denied with RB.
You started your coaching career in 2012 in the Salzburg youth division. What is particularly important in youth work there?first laid?
It is primarily about bringing the game philosophy that the first team exemplifies to the academy players. In all of this, we always want the boys to enjoy football. That must not be neglected.
How do you react when you are accused of having been put in place by Mr. Mateschitz for the rise of Red Bulls in football? The current protests and insults against Hoffenheim’s patron Dietmar Hopp emotionalize this topic again.
I think it’s a shame that such hostility happens. They haven’t lost anything in a football stadium. I know from Mr. Mateschitz what is behind his sporting commitment. Only very few people know how much he is socially committed in the respective communities and regions. It is fascinating what people like Mr. Mateschitz make possible. For that I admire him. This hatred of them in the stadiums is all the more incomprehensible to me.
Dietrich Mateschitz (right): The Red Bull founder, here in 2016 in conversation with RB Leipzig managing director Oliver Mintzlaff, is viewed critically by many football fans. (Source: Jan Huebner / imago images)
To what extent do you still feel that at Borussia Mönchengladbach you are now employed by a traditional club?
What fascinated me about Gladbach during my active time is this unrestricted cohesion, which does not fade even in difficult times. But who says that one day there will be no such cohesion in Hoffenheim or Leipzig? I see it with my children who are glowing Salzburg fans and who don’t care about the discussions about Red Bull. Factors such as fan culture and cohesion take time to emerge – and you should also give them to clubs such as Hoffenheim to develop their own tradition.
“Tradition beats any trend”: With this choreography, fans of TSG Hoffenheim 2017 protested against RB Leipzig’s promotion to the Bundesliga. (Source: Picture Point LE / imago images)
Let’s get back to the sporty side: Is there too little fun playing football in the professional field?
Difficult topic. Of course, we urge professionals to develop joy of playing. On the other hand, football is hard work. Finding a balance is one of the tasks of our team of trainers. Because despite all the pressure on us and the players, we need a certain looseness to be able to call up performance.
In 2017 you became Marco Rose’s assistant coach in Salzburg, celebrated two Austrian championships with RB and are now also a target aspirant in your first season in Gladbach. What makes the duo Rose / Zickler so successful?
Marco comes from Leipzig, I grew up in Dresden – it is our roots that connect us. It was right between the two of us from the start, which is why I decided to take the step with him to Mönchengladbach. Without him, it would have been much more difficult for me to make such a decision, since my family still lives in Salzburg.
Alexander Zickler (left) and Marco Rose (right): Both coaches are emotionally on the sidelines in Gladbach. (Source: Moritz Müller / imago images)
Working with him is always an eye-to-eye encounter. Even though he’s head coach, Marco never looks down on me. It is extremely important that we all feel the respect of each other in the trainer team. Marco is a great person who makes it easy for everyone around him to feel good. This way, each of us can devote ourselves unreservedly to his area and engage in factual – and also critical – exchange with Marco.
How important is the interpersonal relationship between the players for success? What share does this good understanding of space have in the current performance?
It will never be the case that all players in the team are friends and always go out with each other in the evening. But what is important to us is respectful interaction with one another. With 23, 24 players in the squad – who all have their aspirations, who all prefer to play more than less – it is extremely important to give everyone the feeling that they are an important part of the team. The interpersonal competence of the coaching team is required to convey this feeling to the players through many intensive, personal conversations. Marco does this very well with his buddy character – without forgetting that the players are demanding a lot from them. The players need exactly this approach: open visor, constructive, factual criticism and a team of coaches who trust them. In this way, they also deal with our suggestions in a more profound and serious way and can work together to add value for the future.
What kind of team and infrastructure did you find when you came to Gladbach? Are there things you brought from Salzburg that Gladbach lacked?
Gladbach is in a very good position, so we don’t have the feeling that we are missing anything compared to Salzburg. However, there are differences: There is a training area in Salzburg for the professional team alone, which has made it possible for you to work very calmly and with concentration. On the other hand, I like it very much in Gladbach that we see the youth teams as part of our family and that we can look for a daily exchange with various coaches.
Alexander Zickler (left) with t-online.de editor Dominik Sliskovic in Gladbach’s Borussia Park. (Source: private)
How can the possible championship title give Gladbach a boost for the future and can the club return to the size of the 1970s? Or is the gap to Bayern and Borussia Dortmund too large?
There is no question that Bayern, Dortmund and Leipzig currently have completely different options than the rest of the Bundesliga. That is why we do it well when we concentrate on our work and keep doing it. If we succeed, we can think about the little things that can be improved or expanded so that we can take the next step towards establishing ourselves in the Bundesliga top group.
So you still can’t get the M-word?
Definitely not. We are humble with the current situation and know very realistically how great our boys have done so far this season. We will then see what will emerge in the end.