5 things on Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer
Union Berlin are fast becoming a permanent fixture in the Bundesliga - and a large part of the credit for that has to go to the man who led them there.
bundesliga.com tells you all you need to know about Union head coach Urs Fischer, who became so popular with fans that a Berlin zoo named one of their animals after him.
1) A two-club man turned caring coach
Fischer played for just two clubs during his career, captaining both FC Zurich and St. Gallen. The combative centre-back, who could also play in midfield, featured in well over 500 league matches as well as earning four caps for Switzerland. He only won one trophy as a player, however, lifting the Swiss Cup with Zurich at the end of the 1999/2000 season. That was a feat, incidentally, that his daughter Riana matched in 2019 with the Zurich women's team.
Now in his mid 50s, Fischer has developed into a hardworking and modest coach. He has previously spoken of the need to adapt to his surroundings in Berlin, becoming used to a more direct approach in dealings with players but also becoming calmer than he was on the field.
"As a coach I want to give the team a certain calm, even when things are hectic," he told Zurich newspaper the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Union captain Christopher Trimmel told local radio station RBB that Fischer is someone who spots things very early on - both on and off the pitch. Despite a big turnaround of players during his time at Union, there has been regular praise for the family atmosphere within the club. Former striker Taiwo Awoniyi even said Fischer was like a father figure to him because of the way he welcomed the Nigerian to Union and helped him improve as a player.
2) Fischer likes fishing - and has a namesake at the zoo
Fischer got into fly fishing - using a rod with an artificial fly as a bait - when he was coaching Basel. One of his players suggested trying it during some downtime, so Fischer tagged along with a beer to watch.
Watch: Fischer & Union - flying high
"I had resisted," Fischer told Bluewin about what he felt like when he was eventually asked to have a go himself. "Fly fishing is not for me, I thought. Until I had the rod in my hand. One or two throws were enough - from then on I'd discovered a new passion."
While Fischer has to travel a couple of hours outside of Berlin to find suitable conditions for fly fishing, there's a shorter trip required to visit the red panda that was named after him in October 2021. Union's charity foundation sponsored a panda family that came to the Tierpark Berlin zoo as part of a conservation programme, and a public appeal was later launched to find a name for a newborn. Already the "godfather" of the young animal, Fischer himself noted that - given the word ursus means bear in Latin - it was probably a good choice of name.
3) He learned from Lucien Favre
Fischer was in charge of three clubs in Switzerland, starting out with Zurich and also serving time with Thun and Basel. He led Zurich to a runners-up finish in his first season there, and got both them and unfancied Thun to the UEFA Europa League group stage. He then won back-to-back league titles and one Swiss Cup with Basel, where he also gained UEFA Champions League group stage experience.
One of the coaches he observed closely on his way to Germany was a former Borussia Dortmund, Borussa Mönchengladbach and Hertha Berlin boss.
"When I was coaching Zurich's U21 team, Lucien Favre was head coach," he told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. "His mentality and the way he coached left an impression on me: an obsession with details, always practicing, being precise."
4) He led Union to the promised land
Fischer was appointed Union head coach in June 2018, and felt confident he could be a success at the Bundesliga 2 club.
"Swiss coaches have already left their mark on German football, and I'll do everything I can to add to this successful track record," the new man said after landing in the German capital.
Watch: Union qualify for Europe in dramatic style
Fischer's first year in charge will live long in the memory. He guided the east Berliners to a remarkable first promotion to the German top flight by finishing third in the second tier and then getting the better of VfB Stuttgart over two legs in May 2019. Union drew the first leg of their promotion play-off 2-2 away from home, then played out a 0-0 draw at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. That meant Fischer's side went up after winning the tie on away goals.
That set the scene for wild celebrations among Union's famously passionate support, but Fischer was keen to show that "Iron Union" belonged at the top level. They did so early on in their first year in the elite, shocking Borussia Dortmund 3-1 at home on Matchday 3 on another unforgettable night in Köpenick. Union would continue to prove an awkward and effective opponent, comfortably securing another season of top-flight football thanks to an 11th-placed finish.
5) European qualification, Bundesliga leaders
There was no danger of second-season syndrome for Union in the Bundesliga. High-scoring wins against Mainz and Arminia Bielefeld coupled with one more high-profile triumph against BVB and back-to-back draws against champions Bayern Munich meant the capital club were a real force to be reckoned with under Fischer.
Watch: Fischer's Union continue formidable run at Schalke
"With the sense of achievement and the points we've collected, we've become more courageous," Fischer told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in January 2021 when explaining his side's success. "The more self-confidence you have, the braver you'll play. And you'll be more willing to try something."
A last gasp 2-1 win against Leipzig on the final day of the 2020/21 season helped Union to qualify for European football for the first time, the Berliners earning a spot in the inaugural UEFA Conference League. "That the season ended like that is a script for Hollywood," an elated Fischer said after the final whistle.
It was to get even better for the shrewd tactician and his side, who - incredibly - were pushing for Champions League qualification right up until the final stages of the next season. A fifth-placed Bundesliga finish was accompanied by a run to the DFB Cup semi-finals and the adventure then spilled over into the following campaign. While advancing from a tricky Europa League group, Union managed to top the Bundesliga for seven consecutive matchdays prior to the break for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, cementing Fischer's reputation as one of the top bosses around.
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