Karlsruhe coach Ede Becker is a rare breed in football. At 52, he's spent more than half his life at the club. You'd have to search long and hard to find that kind of fidelity and loyalty in the game today.
You've been with Karlsruhe for 31 years, both as a player and coach. I'd like to start by asking bluntly... didn't you ever receive a better offer? Or did you like it here really that much?
As a player I had a really tough time at the outset. I had come from a small club and I guess I didn't have the self-confidence I needed at the time. And then at some point the great Max Merkel came to Karlsruhe and - don't ask me why - he said to me, or it wasn't to me, it was a great big headline in Kicker magazine, "I need another ten men like Ede Becker." So this confidence in me... I don't know where it came from, but in any case it was a big boost for me.
I continued to grow as a player. As far as my style was concerned, the fighter in me and the strength was always in me. But then I was injured pretty bad and, basically, my footballing career was over before it had really even begun. But I had always kept my eyes open as a player. In my final contract as one I had a clause inserted that I would move into the Karlsruhe coaching staff, with a date set and everything.
And then head coach Winnie Schäfer gave his blessing: a former player, supposed to be pretty good, OK, fine. And that's how my coaching career began on the big stage. And I must say it was fantastic to be with great players like Thomas Hässler, Wolfgang Rolff, Manni Bender and Thorsten Fink, and Tarnat and Kahn, Sternkopf and Scholl.
They were great names that produced some great memories for fans, like the 7-0 thrashing of Valencia in the UEFA Cup. In 1994 Karlsruhe made it to the semifinals, under Winnie Schäfer... and assistant coach Ede Becker.
When you were offered the head post at Karlsruhe, in the 2004/5 winter break, people say they had to beg you because you weren't interested. Was that the way it was?
Basically, I was always interested in the head coach's job and worked in that capacity with the amateur side for a very long time. But from watchig Winnie Schäfer and Lorenz-Günter Köstner, I also saw what a huge toll the job took in nerves and emotions, especially when the team isn't winning much anymore. What I experience personally is that for 18 or 20 hours, or even the entire week, you're permanently fixated on the subject. But I must say, there are much tougher jobs than that of football coach and we're paid quite generously, so I really can't complain.
The second part was that I didn't necessarily seek public attention or the career ladder, because I take a certain satisfaction from other parts of my life. I don't need TV, and the public, and seeing myself all the time in the paper or on video, so that I can say, 'boy, Ede, what a smooth character you are,' because there are other things in my life that are very, very important to me.
I experienced him as a player. It's great that the club could persuade Ede Becker to stay on as coach.
He comes from the Karlsruhe family. We couldn't have a better coach at the moment.
Ede Becker knows what he's doing.
How does someone get elected Baden native of the year, like you were in 2007?
I can't tell you exactly. But this being so deeply rooted in the region, it's a bit square, isn't it?
It's an attribute.
Reliability, honesty and things like that. We can also add, say, ability to build friendships, not being superficial, not spreading oneself too thin, but concentrating, intensely. Something you can get your hands on, that's what I can identify with.
In 2007, after nine years in the wilderness, Karlsruhe were promoted back into the first division. And Ede Becker was elected Badener of the Year. Like Hoffenheim now, Karlsruhe was mixing it up in the Bundesliga, but on the league's smallest budget.
A whole lot has to fit together, like last year, but we showed that we can make it up to fifth, sixth, seventh place. Then we're in good enough shape to keep our place in the Bundesliga. Then instead of buying this or the other player, we work on stabilizing ourselves to keep Karlsruhe securely in the Bundesliga. But then we lose key players. It can get you down from time to time, I must admit.
The stadium, built in the 1950s, is the oldest in the league. And with almost five million euros of debt, Karlsruhe's finances aren't in good shape either. Year for year the club loses its best players. Since Becker took charge, he's had to say goodbye to the likes of Russian international Ivan Sayenko, captain Danny Schwarz, second-division goal scoring champ Giovanni Federico and, in Mario Eggimann and Tamash Hajnal, two national team players.
Where do you get your motivation from? Is it the fighting heart of Ede Becker? Or how else do you endure it all?
It really is a big challenge to stay up in the top flight under these conditions against teams that have totally different circumstances than you. But then I have a job where I can be creative, make decisions, have influence, and all with the backing I need from the club. So I look at the coaches in the Bundesliga now and see that I'm third. Bremen's Thomas Schaaf and Friedhelm Funkel in Frankfurt are the only coaches who've had their jobs longer. That's amazing, and of course it would be great to keep it all going longer.
We wish you plenty of luck!