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Coach Marco Kurz and new-look Kaiserslautern are turning heads

Few predicted newly promoted Kasierslautern would win their first two matches, especially as one of their foes was Bayern Munich. Deutsche Welle spoke with coach Marco Kurz about the embattled club's change of fortune.

Marco Kurz

Marco Kurz - disciplined and passionate

When Marco Kurz took over Kaiserslautern in summer 2009, the Red Devils' situation was truly diabolical. The former league champions had been reduced to battling against relegation from the second division - a consequence of poor investments and financial difficulties in the early years of the millennium.

The club was also running through coaches at the rate of one roughly every 12 months.

Fast forward a little over a year to the second round of the 2010-11 season, and Kaiserslautern are not just back in the top flight, but have beaten Bayern Munich.

Lautern's 2-0 win over the reigning champs on Friday was more about perspiration than inspiration. The Red Devils stymied Bayern with tight defending in midfield, and their thrusts forward were incisive enough to exploit lapses in concentration by Munich.

"We knew that this was a good time to play Bayern Munich," Kurz told Deutsche Welle after the victory. "Our opponents had a lot of national team players in their ranks who hadn't yet gotten into the rhythm of practices. We hoped that would give us a physical advantage."

Kaiserslautern played physically against the champions, without a doubt. But there was more to their game than just kicking their opponents' shins.

And while Kurz remains modest, a lot of credit for their performance has to go to their coach.

Stay cool and read the rules

Kaiserslautern players celebrate

The mood hasn't been this good at Lautern since the 1990s

In his playing career as a defender, Kurz had the opportunity to work with and learn from some excellent coaches. In 1994-5, he was part of the Borussia Dortmund side that won the Bundesliga under coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. And two years later, he won the UEFA Cup with Schalke under coach Huub Stevens.

Both Hitzfeld and Stevens are coaches who stress tactical discipline, and that quality seems to have rubbed off on Kurz.

"I had coaches with whom we trained really hard and I noticed, 'Wow, physical fitness is definitely the basis for successful football,'" Kurz said. "We had unbelievable discipline under Huub Stevens, especially in his treatment of the team. I learned that footballers need that. Footballers need hard and fast rules."

Those rules are not just about behavior, but what players do on the pitch.

"The players have clear instructions in matches how they are to play their positions," Kurz said. "The individual parts of the team - defense, midfield and attack - receive clear instructions, and you hope they work as a collective. There's no one on the pitch without instructions and a plan."

But the skill has to be there for players to execute the coach's plan. And this Kaiserslautern squad features a very particular collection of skills.

Munich's Holger Badstuber, l, against Kaiserslautern's Srdjan Lakic

Striker Srdjan Lakic is one of Lautern's new, inexpensive stars

The cast-off crew

Kaiserslautern used to be a breeding ground for German talent - club alumni include Andy Brehme, Miroslav Klose and Michael Ballack. Those days are long gone. Of the current starting 11, only goalkeeper Tobias Sippel is a homegrown product.

Instead, Kaiserslautern have built their squad around Eastern European players and underrated castoffs from other clubs. Lautern's offensive duo Srdan Lakic and Ivo Ilicevic came for cheap from Hertha Berlin and Bochum respectively.

Those two clubs now play in division two, while Lakic and Ilicevic scored five goals between them in the first pair of matches in the top flight.

Martin Amedick and Rodnei, the heart of the defense, were also picked up for a song from bigger clubs where they failed to make their mark.

"In terms of the makeup of the squad, we chose players who have reason to be hungry, who have to show they're good enough for division one," Kurz said. "We did without established veterans, because we wanted to say, 'Look, the guys who got us promoted have the necessary quality.'"

Kaiserslautern fan dressed up as red devil

The Red Devils are once again inspiring fear in foes

Kaiserslautern's career revivalists have also reanimated crowds.

With a home city of only around 100,000 inhabitants, Kaiserslautern inhabit one of the smallest markets in the Bundesliga. The football club play an especially important role in local culture, and in the team's heyday, opponents used to hate playing in Fritz Walter Stadium in front of especially passionate fans.

That twelfth-man spirit is now back.

"You could see how everyone was drinking in the first division," Kurz said. "Everyone was slavering for it, and now it's here, and we have a duty to show we're up to the top flight.

With a perfect record, three points earned against Germany's top team and a restored relationship with their supporters, Marco Kurz's Kaiserslautern are well on their way to proving precisely that.

Marco Kurz was interviewed by Kamilla Jarzina for DW-TV's Bundesliga Kick-Off, which is broadcast every Monday/Tuesday.
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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