Appointed with eight games to go, Felix Magath is on a mission to save Hertha Berlin from relegation. What can the veteran coach bring to the role?
bundesliga.com examines how the multiple Bundesliga winner could help turn things around for second-bottom Hertha.
Winless in 2022, in nine games overall, and on a five-match losing run following their 2-0 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hertha felt they had to make a change. Tayfun Korkut was out, Magath was in, and the reason was quite simple.
“Felix Magath’s CV speaks for itself,” said Hertha sporting director Fredi Bobic.
Magath hasn’t had a coaching role for five years. Few people, however, can boast of the type of success that he has enjoyed as both a player and on the sidelines.
“Felix Magath is not just any former German player or coach, but one of the best ever,” former Bayern Munich and Germany captain Lothar Matthäus wrote in his column for Sky after the news was made public. “He knows how to win.”
A natural winner
A gifted attacking midfielder, Magath scored 63 goals in 388 games for Hamburg between 1976 and 1986. With the likes of ex-Liverpool and England legend Kevin Keegan and imposing striker Horst Hrubesch for teammates, his time in Hamburg coincided with the club’s most successful period. The Red Shorts lifted the league title in 1979, 1982 and 1983, and also became only the second German team to win the European Cup. Magath’s stunning left-footed strike against Juventus decided the 1983 final in Athens.
Working under iconic Austrian coach Ernst Happel rubbed off on the former West Germany international, since he soon began picking up trophies after his playing career, too. At Bayern in 2005 and 2006, he became the first coach in Bundesliga history to win back-to-back to league and DFB Cup doubles.
With Wolfsburg in 2008/09, meanwhile, he led the club - in a dual role as head coach and sporting director - to their maiden Bundesliga title. The third-youngest squad in the Bundesliga that season - with the devastating Edin Dzeko and Grafite in attack - top scored with 80 goals. They became champions by two points, thanks in part to a spectacular 5-1 success against nearest rivals Bayern in April 2009.
A different challenge awaits Magath at Hertha, but it’s one the club feels he can rise to.
“We needed a coach with a lot of experience, a strong personality, and a clear and tough way of doing things,” said Bobic. “That’s exactly what Felix Magath stands for.”
A survival specialist
By taking over at Hertha, Magath will be drawing on his early experiences as a coach - when he became known as a firefighter. His first job at Hamburg ended badly the season after he lifted them to a European place, but he bounced back at Nuremberg in 1997/98 by guiding the pre-season relegation favourites to top-flight promotion.
He then helped guide Werder Bremen clear of trouble - and to the DFB Cup final - before saving Eintracht Frankfurt from the drop in 1999/2000. Taking over at the midway point of the season when the promoted Eagles were second from bottom, Magath picked up 30 points in 17 matches after Christmas - the third-best record in the division.
For his next escape act in 2000/01, Magath replaced Ralf Rangnick at VfB Stuttgart. The Swabians were second bottom with 12 games to go when he took over, and he not only steered them to safety but helped them finish second the following season and fourth the year after that.
Success at Bayern and Wolfsburg followed, before Magath ran the Bavarians close in the title race with Schalke in 2009/10. Two days after leaving the Royal Blues in March 2011, he was back at Wolfsburg for another salvage operation. He succeeded there, too, with two goals from Mario Mandzukic on the final day enough for the Wolves to avoid a relegation play-off with a 3-1 victory at Hoffenheim.
Appointed as Fulham head coach in February 2014, Magath couldn’t save the Cottagers from the drop in the English Premier League. Back in his homeland after another stint abroad in China between 2016 and 2017, though, this time the veteran tactician knows the culture, the league, the teams - and what it takes to stay afloat.
“We all need to work together to get out of this tricky situation,” he said at his first media conference at Hertha. “We will only be successful if we put in a joint effort with maximum concentration and focus on the basics. We want to be at least one or two places higher in the table at the end of these eight games.
“I’ve never done anything in my life other than football - I can’t do anything else anymore. I love this game.
“I think I’ve proved before that I can adapt to different situations. There is something in the job I have to do here which suits me. I want to help Hertha BSC and keep the club in the league.”
A hard taskmaster
Magath is renowned as an old-school coach - a strict disciplinarian who works his teams hard. Former Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz once told the BBC about the changes Magath made in his first role as head coach, when the club legend took charge of Hamburg after they had gone winless in their first eight games of the 1995/96 campaign.
“When he took over at Hamburg we were bottom of the league,” Henchoz recalled of a season that his team ended in fifth position. “He didn’t speak a lot, but he got results by working the team very hard and putting discipline in the squad… it was quite basic and hard, but it was needed at the time.”
Magath’s former Eintracht striker Jan Aage Fjortoft, meanwhile, joked that the first training session at Hertha would involve a run from the Brandenburg Gate to Potsdam - about 21 miles or so.
“And back,” added Fjortoft on Twitter. “Backward without breathing.”
Fjortorft knows that Magath has the ability to oversee a major improvement, and Bobic believes that his qualities are well suited to getting Hertha out of their current predicament.
“I’ve always seen his reputation as a tough coach differently,” Bobic said. “There are many things in football which can be broken down into just two things - work and a culture of performance.
“It’s great to be a professional footballer, but you have to work hard for it and have discipline.”
A fighting chance
Matthäus, who came up against Magath as a player and was still active in the Bundesliga when he performed some of his greatest escapes as a coach, is sure that the new Hertha boss will keep things simple.
“He’ll try to implement a footballing idea and above all the team spirit that hasn’t been there until now,” he said. “And I’m sure that he can do both.”
With only six league wins all season and 60 goals conceded, the Old Lady - as Hertha are known - could do with a new lease of life. Magath’s first three games are daunting - against high flyers Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen as well as a derby against Union Berlin - but then they face fellow strugglers Augsburg, Stuttgart and Arminia Bielefeld.
Watch: Hertha Berlin stunned Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 17
Matthäus suggests that the Hertha players will soon be pulling in the one direction. He also pointed out, however, that as well as expecting them to put in a serious shift, Magath’s teams have often played good - as well as successful - football.
“Felix Magath deserves this chance, even if he hasn’t coached in the Bundesliga in a long time,” Matthäus wrote. “When he was head coach at several different clubs in our league, it was mostly a successful or very successful time.
“To this day, no coach has since managed to win back-to-back league and cup doubles with Bayern. He created a sensation by turning a Wolfsburg side in danger of relegation into German champions, and he saved several teams from relegation. That’s why I also think he has the ability to do the same with Hertha.”
A rallying cry
“I’m going to take some time to get familiar with the training ground first of all. I’ve always placed great importance on what infrastructure there is, so that I can utilise the facilities we have at our disposal to maximum effect - even if that includes a hill or a staircase,” Magath joked, with a nod to his reputation for pushing players to their physical limits.
“It’s always about training the players as best as we can and preparing them for matches. Discipline is an equally important aspect of sport, especially in team sport.
“That’s something which I had to learn when I was a player, and now I’m asking my players here at Hertha BSC to be disciplined. I’m not doing it for me. My most treasured players will be those who make a great effort to help out in this club’s quest to stay in the Bundesliga.”
Magath, whose father is from Puerto Rico and served in the US army in Germany, has a deal that runs until the end of the season. From now until then, as Bobic suggested, what his team produces doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to be effective.
“Survival is the only goal and nothing else counts anymore,” Bobic said.
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