Daniel Farke has taken Norwich City from the Championship relegation zone to the brink of promotion in less than two years. It's brand new territory, but the former BVB U23 coach believes the fundamentals never change.
Norwich City could have secured promotion to the Premier League on Easter Monday but a fourth consecutive draw postponed the party in Norfolk. At least until Saturday, when another draw against Blackburn Rovers would be enough to see the Canaries return to England's top flight.
German head coach Daniel Farke, however, is taking the title race tension in his stride. The 42-year-old may be approaching the end of only his second season in professional football management but he insists he's seen it all before in Germany's lower leagues.
"I've been a head coach and sporting director from my early thirties," he told local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten (RN) this week, referring to his time in Germany's fifth tier Oberliga Westfalen. "I've experienced title races and relegation battles, finished first and second. And now I have almost 100 games as coach of an English second-division team under my belt. So it's nothing new to me."
Indeed, should Norwich get the point they need against Blackburn this weekend, it will be Farke's third promotion as a coach. But successive promotions from the sixth to the fourth tier with local amateur side SV Lippstadt 08 and a second-place finish in the fourth-tier Regionalliga with Borussia Dortmund's reserve team are one thing — leading a club out of the notoriously competitive Championship is another entirely. Still, Farke insists that while the stage is bigger, the fundamentals remain the same.
"Content-wise, football in the fourth division isn't that much different to football in the top division," he told RN. "The effects of success or failure on a team remain the same, as do the chances and the dangers. The environment is different but the processes are similar. I know what it takes to win a league."
Germany's got talent
Farke is not the first German coach — nor the first Borussia Dortmund coach — to attract the attention of English clubs in recent years. He was brought to Norwich by sporting director Stuart Webber, who had previously enticed Farke's BVB predecessor David Wagner to Huddersfield Town. Farke's successor in Dortmund, Jan Siewert, has since replaced Wagner in Yorkshire, while former Hannover coach Daniel Stendel is now at Barnsley. It's a Teutonic tsunami of Trainer-Talente.
"I really do believe that Germany prepares its coaches best for their careers," Webber told Training Ground Guru, an English website specializing in football coaching, conditioning and academy development. "The [coaching] courses [in Germany] are the most regulated and the hardest to pass."
But Farke is not just another disciple of the Ralf Rangnick and Jürgen Klopp Gegenpressing school; the former striker prefers a more controlled and thorough style of play in a 4-2-3-1 formation. "My fundamental idea is dominance through possession and the idea that my team should be as perfect as possible in every area," he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet this week. "However, that means we also run the risk of doing nothing perfectly at all."
That frequently seemed to be the case in his first season in Norwich when the Canaries won only three of their final 16 games and finished in mid-table. "I still felt that we were on the right path," Farke told the Daily Mail. "We were ranked third or fourth in all the statistics which were most important to us: possession, passing and chances. The problem was taking the chances!"
This season, Norwich went five games without a win over Christmas and New Year, conceding 10 goals and losing to third-division Portsmouth in the cup in the process. But still Farke trusted his instincts and stuck to his philosophy. Anything else, he says, would be counter-productive and contrary to his confident nature. "I'm a staunch methodologist," he told RN. "I believe the probability of success is much, much greater when you have a clear idea and follow a consistent route. Constantly changing the plan doesn't achieve anything."
No plan can work without the right players and, here too, Farke has a clear set of prerequisites. "We're always on the look-out for players who fit in terms of quality and character," he says, and Norwich have found the Bundesliga — and Borussia Dortmund in particular — to be fertile ground.
Moritz Leitner, Christoph Zimmermann, Marco Vrancic and Felix Passlack have all come through Borussia Dortmund's youth teams while Finnish top scorer Teemu Pukki spent three seasons at Schalke. "Our strategy is not to sign as many players as possible from Borussia Dortmund or from Germany — a player's passport is irrelevant," Farke insists, "but it is easier to find good quality for an affordable price in Germany."
That quality will be put to the test in the Premier League next season but for Daniel Farke, who's been there and done it in the Oberliga Westfalen with SV Lippstadt 08, the fundamentals will remain the same.