“Similar to the first team” – Interview with Tobias Schweinsteiger
Tobias, be honest: how difficult was it to make the transition from player to (assistant) coach, how often do you still want to go out and play yourself?
Of course I was really sad and disappointed at the end of the 2014/15 season, when my contract as a player wasn’t renewed. But I quickly found joy in my new tasks and wanted to see training sessions and games from the outside, rather than be on the pitch.
The U-17s had a fantastic start into the season with six wins from seven games, making them leader in their division table. But how important is the position in the table – do results really matter, or is the bigger picture, the continued development of the team, more important?
Our main focus is on developing each individual player. However, we are still FC Bayern, and we want to win every game; with our style of play and our means of achieving it.
What does this style of play look like?
It’s quite similar to that of the first team. We want to control the game, be on the ball as much as possible, and make the opponent adapt to us, rather than the other way round.
Is your team the only one that tries, even at that age, to always control games?
There aren’t a lot of teams with that ambition, most try to be stable defensively and not act as much themselves.
Sounds like you’re preparing the youth teams for what it’s like to play for FC Bayern in the Bundesliga.
We know, of course, that only a very few of them will eventually become members of Bayern’s first team, and that therefore the majority won’t have the issue of having to face deep-set opposition week in and week out. But we also believe that, in a youth team, you learn more when your team has more possession, is active, and often has to defend one against one against the ball.
Would you, the managing team, adapt the style of play to get a better position in the table?
We are convinced that our style and our formation will eventually lead to success in the table.
You mentioned that the U-17s’ style is similar to that of the first team. Does that mean that the wishes of people like Rummenigge, who asked for a clearer tactical structure even in the youth teams, have been fulfilled?
I don’t think that the most important thing is to play the same formation. What’s important is that our teams create an image that represents the values and the style of FC Bayern. Controlling the game with or without the ball. Playing offensively, pressing, joy of playing, and an unconditional desire to win.
Within FC Bayern, do you ever compare yourself to other well-known youth academies, like Barcelona’s La Masia?
I think we need to continue on our own way. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t look at what’s going well elsewhere so that we in turn can develop further.
One part of that continued development is the new youth training centre that’s currently being built near the Allianz Arena. What are your hopes for that project?
It will be a massive improvement for our infrastructure. And having the option of more players living on site and focusing more on each one individually will also considerably increase our options.
How intense is communication with Carlo Ancelotti and his assistant managers, how closely do they watch the youth teams?
Tim Walter, our head coach, is currently doing his internships for the coaching certification with the first team, so we have a certain level of communication going on with their coaching team. Apart from that, many of those who are responsible for the goings-on within in the club watch our games.
Including Hermann Gerland, who discovered Alaba, Müller, and Badstuber?
I would say his focus is more on looking after the young players within the first team; he acts kind of as an intermediary.
Gerland’s good eye for young players is legendary. As a young coach, do you try to learn by watching him?
Of course Hermann Gerland knows a lot and he has a very good eye. But I try to always judge players for myself, to form an opinion on them and to then discuss that opinion with the other coaches who are involved.
Critically speaking, the last big successes from within Bayern’s youth team happened quite a while ago – why are no new talents coming up who are good enough to work their way towards a permanent place within the first team?
There are several reasons for that. Most of all, the competition between the youth teams has increased and has become better, which makes it more difficult to attract young talents. Often, the distance to home plays a role, and other clubs offer lots of money for young players, too. In addition, the depth and quality of our first team is much better than it was ten or 15 years ago – which means that young players who, ten years ago, would have gotten their chance in the first team, are now struggling to get in and therefore don’t get into focus.
Attracting talents is one thing, but are there also other clubs trying to lure players away from Bayern?
There certainly are, although we’re still in a dominant position. In those cases, we need to convince the players that making it at Bayern may be tougher, but that they can reach a higher level if they stay here, than if they choose an easier path early on.
Let’s speak a little about your work with your players: how can you tell them that the team comes first, when in the end, everybody is most focused on their own careers?
Before the season, we clearly define rules within which the players are free to move. A lot of that has to do with reliability and respect. We also teach that everybody needs all their team-mates to be successful via our style of play and certain processes. Success makes the guys realise that this appraoch works, which of course makes it easier for us.
How do you try to support the players: is it more about priming them for a particular position, or do you try to put them into different roles to find out where they are the best match?
Being variable is one thing, but the other is to realise where somebody will end up, and to train him accordingly. Nonetheless, many positions have similar procedures and situations that players need to recognise and solve. In those cases, it’s up to us to educate them as broadly as possible.
Single players from the U-17s, like goalkeeper Früchtl, already train with the first team quite regularly. How does that influence your work as a coach?
Not at all, really. We know it’s part of this club that youth players train with the first team.
Früchtl in particular drew some attention as a big talent. How do you teach a 16-year-old to stay patient and grounded?
That’s difficult, because we’re not the only ones talking to that boy, there are also parents, advisors, team-mates, and other people. The way I handle it is to give him my honest opinion, but at the same time not be too headstrong and accept the influence of the executive team. And a goalkeeper is different, anyhow. My influence there only goes so far as to show him our way of playing in training, and to take pressure away from him.
In a way, the U-17s are the crossover from youth to men’s football. What’s the most important thing to look out for in players during that phase?
Physical and personal development. For one, we often need to decide in individual training whether we focus more on football, or more on physique. And then of course there are big differences in personality (puberty, school, girlfriend, parents). They always need to be seen separately, without treating players differently.
A little more about your own career: Tim Walter is highly regarded at FC Bayern. Do you see him as a good mentor for you as a young coach?
It’s perfect, because he’s an absolute expert for youth football. We got along personally as well, from day one; he enables me to play an active part and to evolve. We can openly discuss many topics without grudges, and always reach a result that both of us are convinced by.
What are your next steps? How do you want to evolve as a coach, and what role does FC Bayern play in that?
I’ll get my A licence in the winter, the second-highest licence that will enable me to train teams up to the fourth division. Tim’s absence for his own coaching licence gives me plenty of opportunity to be responsible for training sessions, which is a good next step for my personal development as a coach. Of course I want to continue working for Bayern, maybe take over a team of my own within the Junior Team (Bayern’s youth academy). My big dream, of course, is to one day manage Bayern’s first team – but then who doesn’t have that dream…?