Michael Skibbe has been coaching Bayer Leverkusen since October 2005. Skibbe has kept his feet firmly on the ground despite his success, and has little time for the glamorous sides of the job.
Kick Off: Michael Skibbe, how important is your public image to you?
Michael Skibbe: My image doesn't interest me. I want my team and my players to see me as a coach who wants to help them; as someone who takes responsibility for the team, who is the leader of the pack and the decision-maker. My public image isn't important to me. The only paper I read is Kicker, which is just about football. So I'm not subject to any kind of external influences.
So who is the real Michael Skibbe?
I'm 42 years-old and have been a football coach for half of my life. I am very pedantic in the way I do my job. I'm also very conscientious and a bit of a perfectionist. That makes me as predictable for my players as I want to be; as authentic as I want to be and as authentic as I am. And for me it's really important that away from football, I lead the same sort of life as everyone else. This is just my job, but it isn't my personality. It isn't about the person, it's about the job.
Your footballing career began as a player at Schalke. But it was a short, and painful experience. You were an up-and-coming player cut down in your prime. How was that for you?
It was a real blow. I suffered my first serious knee injury in late December 1983, when I tore three ligaments. I had an excellent surgeon called Dr. Löhnert who did a great job of healing my knee a couple of times. The first thing he said to me after the operation was, 'Mr Skibbe, I know that you're a budding young player at Schalke, but with damage like that to your knee, it'll be tough to make it as a pro.' He told me not to neglect my schoolwork. That was a huge shock. Over the next few years, I played a bit, got injured, came back, played again, got injured again, and so it went on. I got my final serious injury in August 1986. But by then I'd already become quite indifferent. So I decided fairly quickly that it was time to call it a day and I went on to study journalism. I got a job as a trainee sports reporter at a local newspaper in Gelsenkirchen -- I was really interested in journalism."
But then you decided against that career path and became a football coach instead. Why?
That was because Rudi Assauer, who was the commercial manager at Schalke, asked me if I'd be interested in coaching the under 17s and co-ordinating the club's youth teams. It sounded like a great role and I thought it'd be fun, so I agreed to do it. Quite quickly, I went from trainee journalist to a trainee football coach.
So basically Rudi Assauer is the reason you're now sitting there and not in my seat?
Absolutely. He's the guilty one.
After a couple of years, you moved on from Schalke to co-ordinate the youth set-up at local rivals Dortmund. At the age of 32 you were made first-team coach, but you stepped down just over 18 months later, foregoing two million euros in pay in the process. Is that typical Michael Skibbe?
That is typical for me. I don't mind being paid well for what I do, like when I was coaching Dortmund or Germany, or Leverkusen. But when the day comes when it's all over, then it's over. And after that day, I don't want to be paid a head coach's salary if I'm overseeing the youth set-up. For me it's very important that the people I worked with over the years in the youth teams didn't think I was earning five, eight or ten times more than I used to -- while working less or differently. Those people have a right to be working with the same person they used to work with. Otherwise it would've made me feel dishonourable to myself. It's important that I am honest and behave accordingly.
Who taught you to keep your feet on the ground in this money-obsessed business?
I think that comes from my up-bringing, so from my parents. I come from a coal-mining family from Gelsenkirchen. My dad was a miner, so we're a working-class family. I still enjoy going back home. My parents still live in the same apartment they lived in 40 years ago. My roots are very important to me.
Working down the mines of the Ruhr Valley is clearly not easy. But how difficult is life as a Bundesliga coach?
It's a job that comes without any days off. You're basically on the go seven days a week. You don't have a regular eight hour day like other people. You have to do interviews, watch games, travel to the next appointment, watch the next opponent, travel back, keep an eye on potential players, call new players, talk with your own players. Then of course you have to prepare training and analyse it afterwards. So there are lots of jobs that keep you busy. But it's also a lot of fun, and I can switch off quickly. When I get home, I don't want to have anything to do with football for a few hours. My motto is: at the end of the day, it's just sport. It's important because it's our job. But it's two teams playing against each other and it's all over after 90 minutes. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. That's the way it is with football.