David Wagner is the latest man tasked with steering Schalke back to the road to success. The German-American coach spoke to DW about the Bundesliga, the Premier League and his good friend Jürgen Klopp.
DW: David Wagner, your interim predecessor Huub Stevens was almost driven to despair by the character of this Schalke team. How have you managed to restore structure and team spirit in such a short space of time?
David Wagner: That wasn't me, that was the whole team. When I started my work here, I heard and was told a lot of things. The comments certainly weren't the best you could hear about a team.
How did you perceive your players?
To be honest, I found a team that was very open, that has a good mentality and a good character. The players wanted to learn. Maybe it's like this: If you haven't done all that much right in the previous season, than perhaps you are more open to change. And that's exactly how the boys were.
In your opinion, what are the most important things that a team needs to function well, and how do you draw them out?
There is not one particular thing that makes a group work. The players need the right mentality and the right attitude. And they have to be open and ready to shift their personal boundaries. You can only get better if you're prepared to go beyond your limits at times. That's very important for success.
Which personality types do you need in a team?
You definitely need the right balance. You need players who are technically strong, but also tactically aware players, fighters, creative players. You need big players as well as agile ones. Hopefully we've got the right mix at Schalke and we can go on to make something special out of it.
You're one of seven new coaches in the Bundesliga this season. Almost all of them want to press early and high as well as switching the play. Seen from the outside it doesn't seem very imaginative. Is there no longer any other way to be successful in the Bundesliga?
There is never just one path to success. For me personally, these are all just words anyway, because the much more important thing is that you can deliver the right performance on the pitch. The most important thing is that you find a way that suits your team, and that the players believe in that way.
The style of football favored by your friend Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool has been widely imitated throughout Europe. But what can Klopp learn from David Wagner?
Nothing, because he's the best. We talk about everything of course and some things several times. But we have no intention of copying each other.
Having coached in the Premier League and the Bundesliga, what do you see as the main differences between the leagues?
The Premier League is a globally marketed product and it's backed by one of the best marketing strategies in world football. The Bundesliga is also one of the best leagues in the world but the most talented players and the most talented coaches are to be found in the Premier League. We are working hard to close the gap, but the truth is that there is a gap. There no need to be ashamed of that, we just have to accept it and keep working to ensure it's eventually closed.
Your move from Huddersfield to Schalke has also brought a change in roles, from manager to coach. This means you have less of a say in terms of the makeup of the squad. To what extent does this impose limitations on you and your work?
For me personally, it's great. I have great people around me in general manager Jochen Schneider, technical director Michael Reschke and the chairman, Clemens Tönnies, all of whom are very keen to take our club forward. I am now able to focus more on the daily work on the pitch. If you have people you can trust, as is the case here, it makes the job much easier. For me it is a great advantage that I know exactly what's going on in their heads, because I've already done those jobs.
Schalke are somewhat financially disadvantaged compared to the likes of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig or Bayer Leverkusen. How can you close the gap on the pitch despite this?
The financial glory days are over here for the moment. We have to accept that and make intelligent decisions. We now need to develop values within the team and individual players. And of course, if we are successful on the pitch as a club, that will be even better.
Are Schalke fans going to need to be patient?
Patience is one of the most important attributes in football. But it's also one of the hardest to find. Teams that have demonstrated consistency in key positions are the most successful in the end. Everyone knows that, but not everyone sticks to it. But ambition is also important, and we are ambitious.
When do you think you will feel that you have reached your goal as a coach?
You are never satisfied as a coach. You can always be better. But if the atmosphere in the team is good, the fans are happy and the club officials can go home from a Schalke game and say: "That was very tidy, maybe not perfect and we didn't win but that was Schalke 04 football" that's good, and exactly what we want to develop. But it may be a long road to get there.
David Wagner has been coach of Schalke since July 1. The 47-year-old played for the club and was part of the team that won the UEFA Cup in 1997. After he ended his playing career he was a youth coach at Hoffenheim and then coached Borussia Dortmund's reserve side before taking over as manager of English club Huddersfield Town. He guided the unfancied second-division club to the Premier League in 2017 before departing in January. As a player, the German-born son of an American father made eight appearances for the US national team between 1996 and 1998.
The interview was conducted by Jörg Strohschein.