Thorsten Fink On Bayern Munich, The Highs And Lows Of Champions League Finals And Managing Across The Globe

Thorsten Fink On Bayern Munich, The Highs And Lows Of Champions League Finals And Managing Across The Globe
Thorsten Fink On Bayern Munich, The Highs And Lows Of Champions League Finals And Managing Across The Globe

An interview with Thorsten Fink, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You started your career in the youth set-up at Borussia Dortmund, how important was that for your development as a footballer?

“Being a player at Dortmund was a great experience because we had a good team even if it was a different time for Borussia Dortmund as a club.

“It was not the Borussia Dortmund of today, let me put it that way.

“However, to play in a good team is always enjoyable and we won the trophies at youth level which meant a lot to me at the time.

“Overall, I enjoyed my time at Borussia Dortmund because it is a great club that everybody knows all over the world.”

You left Dortmund in 1989 to begin your professional career at SG Wattenscheid before you went on to play for Karlsruher SC. Looking back, you gained a lot of experience playing at both of those clubs, which set you up for a move to Bayern Munich in the future. How pleasing was that time in your career?

It was important to go to Borussia Dortmund for the education and experience that I gained there as a youth player.

“However, when I played in the second team of Borussia Dortmund, I knew that it was time for me to move on and play first team football elsewhere if I wanted to make a career in the game.

“So, I moved to Wattenscheid 09 who were a Bundesliga. 2 club at that time.

“It was a perfect move for me because I went on to work with a very good coach called Hans Bongartz.

“He was very good with the tactical side of the game and his handing of young players was very good too.

“He immediately gave me the trust to play in the Bundesliga. 2 which was the step that I needed at the time because I was not ready to play regularly in the Bundesliga at that time.

“It was better for my development to go step by step from Bundesliga. 2 to making the move to the Bundesliga after my time at the club.

“Wattenscheid was a small club with a small, passionate fanbase and it was good for me to grow and to gain experience at a club like that.

“I played very well in the number 10 position while I was there, but I was not really fast enough for this position for a higher club.

“That was shown when I was moved to the number six position by Winfried Schäfer who signed me for Karlsruher SC.

“I also enjoyed my time at Karlsruher because it was a club with a rich history. They played in Europe every year when I came to the club either in the the UEFA Cup or in the qualification phase for the UEFA Cup.

“Thankfully, I adapted to the step up with the club which led to interest in me from another club.

“When I was 28, Uli Hoeness called me to ask me to join Bayern Munich and I could not turn that move down. Having the opportunity to play for such a prestigious club was important for my career and development as a player.”

At Bayern Munich, you won four Bundesliga titles, three German Cups and the Champions League in 2001. What was it like playing for the club in the Bundesliga because you were very dominant at that time?

“Representing Bayern was fantastic because everyone at the club had a winner’s mentality and a desire to win everything.

“When you come to Bayern Munich, they tell you that only winning titles is important for us. Nothing less than that.

“That being said, as well as being a big club, they are also a family club with a unique atmosphere of warmth between Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the players.

We had great team spirit and that is so important in order to achieve success. Football is not all about tactics, technique and physicality, it is about teamwork and unity.

“We had everything in our team at Bayern because individually, we were not the greatest. There there were some teams in Europe at that time with more great individual players than us, but we were a great team as a unit and that is critical for success.

“I have taken that philosophy into my work as a coach. Tactics are important. Everything around the club is important but if you have no passion, no vision or no unity, you cannot have success.

“That is what I learned at Bayern Munich by what we achieved by being great team as a collective rather than being a team of great individuals.”

“Both were a little bit different; Giovanni Trapattoni was more a coach for the defence whereasOmar Hitzfeld wanted to focus on the attacking side of the game more often.

“What was important for both of them was how good they were with relationships and everything.

“I think Giovanni Trapattoni was a fantastic man with a fantastic character and Omar Hitzfeld was the same.

“That is why they also won a lot of titles in their careers. Between them, they have 40 trophies which is incredible.

“However, as I said, Giovanni Trapattoni was more of a tactical guy and Omar Hitzfeld was more of a people management guy.

“I enjoyed my time working with both and I learned a lot from them.”

You’ve experienced the pain of the Champions League final and the joy of it as well. In terms of the 1999 final against Manchester United, from your perspective, having played for Bayern on that day, could any of you – as players on that night – believe what had happened come full time given how quickly that game turned? 

“Both finals were very important for me because you need to learn from defeat as much as you do from winning.

“My main memory of 1999 is always the same, I don’t know who we lost that game.

“We felt that United had robbed us of the cup in the last minute. I actually feel like I have ended up speaking a lot of times with people about this final because everybody knows more about the final in 1999, we lost rather than the final in 2001 that we won which is extraordinary.

“I actually have goosebumps just thinking about it because it was surreal but, for us, it made us stronger.

“You cannot learn if you always win everything. You need also sometimes to lose, reflect and learn.

“We were more united as a team than ever after such a disappointing ending to that final. It hurt us at the time, but we were determined to move forward and have the opportunity to write history again in the future.

“Thankfully, 2001 was the time that we were able to do that when we defeated Valencia on penalties to win the Champions League at San Siro.

“After the madness of 1999 and Manchester United, it felt amazing to have our hands on the famous trophy.”

“At Basel, we had a strong team, with a passionate support, a good president and sport director too.

“That enabled us to have good times together with league title success and domestic cup success in Switzerland.

“My success at Basel attracted the interest of Hamburg and it was an opportunity that I could not turn down because Hamburg is one of the biggest clubs in Germany.

“They have 75,000 fans and a rich history as a club, but my time there came in a difficult period for the club. In my first season, we survived the threat of relegation which the club was in before I arrived, then we went on to finish in the top ten of the Bundesliga in my second season.

“I left the club in 2013 and since then, I have had the opportunity to manage in Cyprus with APOEL, in Austria with Austria Wien, in Switzerland with Grasshoppers and also in Japan with Vissel Kobe.

“While at Vissel Kobe, I had the opportunity to work with the likes of Andreas Iniesta, David Villa and Lukas Podolski.

“We won two cups during my time in Japan, and it was amazing to experience the Japanese culture and work with players of that ilk.”

“I think Kyogo has everything that you want in a footballer.

He came into professional later than many players would have in Europe and before going to Celtic, he spent all of his career in the Japanese league so it is a testament to him that he adapted to life in Scotland as quickly as he did.

“He’s quick, strong, always he wants to score every time that he gets the chance to shoot, and he can assist from different areas of the pitch.

“I think he has this quality to play in one of the best leagues of the world.

“There are many players like him in Japan who could make an impact in Europe, the Japanese market should be important for everybody in Europe because they are consistently producing a high quality of player.”