Ralph Hasenhüttl, is the RB Leipzig coach who, with his aggressive pressing tactics, has made the youngest squad in the German top flight the most successful newly promoted team in the 50-year history of the Bundesliga. He talks being a reserve, selecting assholes and ponders the musings of established winners
for the Love of errors
THE RED BULLETIN: There are quotes from huge icons of various sports hanging around the training ground at RB Leipzig. Which one of them speaks to you most?
RALPH HASENHÜTTL: The one from Michael Schumacher. “The flowers of victory belong in many vases.” Because it shores up the stance that even an individual sportsman, like Schumacher, can only achieve success as a member of a successful team and that you can’t be too full of yourself.
Are you a successful football manager because you’re not too full of yourself?
I live by that credo. If everyone does their job – the whole team, the manager, the physio, the press spokesman, everyone – then we’ll achieve success together and then that joint success will be mine, too. You’ve got to turn the usual way of thinking on its head. It’s not “I’m important and things work thanks to me.” It’s “Everyone here is important and things work thanks to all of them, too.” In my experience that’s exactly how success works.
Here are a couple more sayings. Maybe you can add them to the ones already up around the training ground. The first one is from Pep Guardiola. “Success is far more the result of doubt than it is the result of certainty.”
If we change doubt to scrutiny, then I can happily go along with that. Scrutinising is better than doubting.
The second saying is one of your own. “What’s the secret of my success? Not accepting when something doesn’t work.”
It’s my way of not being defeated by setbacks. The saying doesn’t rule out failure occurring, but what counts is your reaction to it, constructive defiance.
And now another one of your sayings. “Football is a game of errors.” By that you mean this extremely aggressive style of attacking play that your teams adopt when opponents are on the ball, which is, essentially, an attempt to get the opponent to make a mistake, right?
That falls short. It also covers how you deal with mistakes. I also want my team to deal with mistakes when they’ve repossessed the ball. I love it when a player loses the ball three times when he’s dribbling it, but gets through the fourth time. Only when a player knows that he can make mistakes will he take the risk – that makes us successful.
“You see how good you are on bad days”: Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager.
I wholeheartedly agree. When I see Bayern Munich and all the stuff they win on their off-days…
Some people say it’s Bayern luck.
And they’re wrong. Bayern’s basic level is extremely high. Others only get close on their really good days. So that already means it’s very unlikely that Bayern are going to lose.
“I would never sign an asshole just because he’s great at football.” That’s Klopp again.
Actually, he didn’t put it quite like that. What he said was, “I don’t know how good a player would have to be for me to accept his being an asshole.” I know because I’ve borrowed the expression myself in the past.
But they’re exactly the type of players who can make a team!
My system isn’t cut out for me to accept one player who has too big an ego in my squad.
But what would you do if that very player scored the winning goal in the 90th minute, even if he hadn’t run around like a madman for the rest of the game and hadn’t constantly attacked the opponents when they were on the ball?
He wouldn’t have scored the winning goal for any team of mine because he wouldn’t have been on the pitch.
“As a coach, I would never have signed Hasenhüttl as a player…”
…that one’s got to be from me, even if only because Hasenhüttl the player would definitely never have been on the radar for Guardiola, Klopp or Ralf Rangnick.
But you played for eight different teams, won the league four times in Austria and were promoted to the top flight of the Bundesliga with FC Cologne.
I wouldn’t have signed him because he wouldn’t have suited my system physically. He wasn’t a good enough runner. But I’d have taken on Hasenhüttl the guy straight away. I was the kind of player who could suppress his ego for the sake of the team. I could make sacrifices for the team.
You were the classic brawny centre-forward. It was your job to score goals. How can you make sacrifices for the team in that position?
By running into space you know the ball’s not going to come to, thus creating space for one of your teammates who might then get a chance to score a goal, or, if you’re on the bench, making your contribution to the team succeeding that way.
How can you contribute to success when you’re on the bench?
You can often do a lot more on the bench than you can when you’re on the pitch. You’re responsible for the overall level in the squad. You’re incredibly important for morale. Being a sub is a test of character; you have to put in more, train even harder, even if you might not be perceived as doing so at all. It isn’t at all easy, but it’s extremely important for any team.
Why are you a better manager than you were a player?
It’s definitely been a great advantage that everything wasn’t handed to me on a plate in my days as a player. I know how it feels to have to learn how to do something, to not know how to do something, to have to watch others to learn how to do something. That makes me feel like I might find it easier to help other players, that I might have more understanding and greater patience than others. Hasenhüttl the manager is lucky that Hasenhüttl the player wasn’t over-endowed with talent.
This last quote is also one of yours. “If you’ve lost five games in a row, no player will believe a word you say to them.”
I can hardly imagine what that must be like. Telling players for five long weeks that everything they’re doing is great. And that all we’ve got to do is keep going and then the wins will start coming, and then to carry on losing. I seriously have a hard time imagining what that must be like.
What’s the worst spate of losses you’ve ever suffered as a manager?
Three games in a row. With FC Ingolstadt. After which I decided to leave the club.
Was your decision to leave the club pivotal to those three successive defeats?
When I look back, I think it was. Maybe I wasn’t quite as on the ball any more, not as utterly focused as I had been. I might have only been a couple of per cent off, but that’s all it takes in the Bundesliga.