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Thomas Doll: 'You must not be a know-it-all'

Steffen Focke
March 27, 2017

Thomas Doll has been coaching in Hungary for more than three years. He has won three titles in Hungary, including the league and the cup double last season.

Ferencvaros Budapest Thomas Doll
 press conference
Image: picture alliance/dpa/F.Demir

DW: Thomas Doll, how football mad are the Hungarian people?

Thomas Doll: Not all that crazy actually. If they were really crazy about football, the stadiums would always be full. In the summer of 2016 they were quite excited about it due to the European Championship. Then you could see what an unbelievable footballing tradition exists in this country. Unfortunately this enthusiasm doesn't extend to the league.

So Hungary's participation in Euro 2016 didn't have any positive effect?

I think it did actually. A lot of teams are getting new stadiums. In the east of the country in particular this is not that easy to make happen, especially in terms of the financing. We were the first to get a new stadium. A lot of other clubs are now following suit. The stadium in Debrecen is also new. Now MTC Budapest, Haladas Szombathely and Vasas Budapest are also getting new stadiums. The stadium in Ujpest will also follow soon. So a whole lot of good things have happened. Unfortunately, so far the number of spectators hasn't increased.

How does a coach have to conduct himself in Hungary in order win acceptance?

The main thing is to communicate your expertise within the club in the right way. You must not be a know-it-all, instead you need to be something of a revolutionary - by trying out new things or making a couple of changes to established routines. I believe that the Hungarians are very proud. We got all of them on board from the get-go. It didn't matter if it was us in the coaching team or the other people involved in the club. So it became clear to them that we on the coaching staff (another German, Ralf Zumdick works with Doll as a co-coach at Ferencvaros) weren't out to just do our own thing. In addition to that, you have to be hard working and invest a lot of your time. Only then will the people realize that you take your work very seriously and you don't see the job simply as a rung on the ladder to the next job. We want to build something good here.

Former Hamburg coach Michael Önning is also working in the Hungarian league, the national team coach, Bernd Storck is also from Germany. Why are there so many German coaches in Hungary?

To be perfectly honest, there were no opportunities for these German coaches in Germany. When that happens, you look for alternatives. I came here three years ago, then came Bernd, then came Michael. The positive effect on Hungarian football has been there for all to see. Michael stabilized Vasas and saved them from the drop. This season they are in the top three in the standings and he has formed a really good team. Bernd has made unbelievable changes to Hungarian football. We work in a very professional manner. At Ferencvaros we have been working with a GPS system that allows us to monitor the performances of our players on a daily basis. Despite all of this, we haven't reinvented football. Everything is going well at the moment.

UEFA EURO 2016 - Achtelfinale | Ungarn vs. Belgien | Trainer Storck und Wilmots (L)
Hungarian national team coach Bernd StorckImage: Reuters/S. Perez

What has Bernd Storck done particularly well as coach of the Hungarian national team? What is the main focus of his work?

He is very meticulous about his work. He puts a lot of emphasis on the athleticism of his players and he had introduced a lot of new systems. It is important to him that players like to play for the national team, something that wasn't always the case. He has brought in new staff and reorganized the youth program. I think he is doing a really good job and the results and the successes reflect that. This is an important factor in winning the support of both the football association and the players. He really has proven himself, after in his early days there were plenty of calls for [Hertha BSC coach] Pal Dardai to take over. In the meantime, he has put his stamp on this team.

You have brought a lot of German players to Hungary, including former Werder Bremen player Janek Sternberg. How has this gone down in Budapest?

The important thing is how much quality each individual player has. If he is just here for a payday, then that doesn't go down well at all. This wouldn't be good for us either, since we are the ones who are bringing them in. We have to take a player's character into consideration. If we have the chance to bring in a player who doesn't have the chance to play in the Bundesliga and is looking for a new challenge, then this is a good opportunity for us. For us, this makes more sense than signing somebody from Uruguay or Argentina, who we have never seen and would be a long way from home.

DDR Sportstars, die nach der Wende 1989 Karriere machten Flash-Galerie
After the Berlin Wall came down, Thomas Doll made 18 appearances for GermanyImage: dpa

What have you learned during your time in Hungary?

That I sometimes need to be more patient, even if this isn't easy when standing on the touchline - when you see your team lose the ball in a way you hadn't been accustomed to in other leagues. It's no different for me than for my fellow coaches.  So you learn not to comment on every situation or get worked up about it. Football is so full of nuances. So much can happen in 90 minutes. I am still learning. In principle, I think it is great that the people who work here do so with such enthusiasm. Not just that, but they are also open to new ideas. This is particularly pleasing when compared with Germany, where a lot of things happen behind the scenes and as the coach, your hands are tied.

Why do you think German football is so popular in Hungary? Is it the fact that Germany won the last World Cup? Or is the trauma of Hungary losing the 1954 World Cup final to West Germany still a factor?

I think a lot of Hungarians are still living in the past and are nostalgic about the days of Ferenc Puskas or Florian Albert. These were great footballers. However, time has moved on and German football has evolved. A lot of money has been invested in establishing the many football boarding schools. And of course the training of coaches is highly developed in Germany. You can only achieve this when the necessary preconditions are in place. I believe that not just the Hungarians, but many others have a lot of respect for the German program. The Bundesliga is unbelievably interesting because top players play there - instead of moving abroad. The stadiums are always full and the atmosphere is great. It is a different kind of football than in Italy. I think the Hungarians have a lot of respect for this.

Thomas Doll is a former professional footballer who played in the Bundesliga and Serie A. He played for the East German and later the German national team. He has been head coach of the Budapest club Ferencvaros in December 2013.

The interview was conducted by Steffen Focke.