Freiburg head coach Christian Streich says football “never gets boring” for him as he celebrates a decade in charge of the Black Forest side.
That’s right, the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current tactician brought up 10 years in the job on 29 December, a remarkable achievement in what is famously a results-oriented and subsequently often a transitional role.
There was a certain poetic elegance then, when the 56-year-old recorded his 100th Bundesliga victory as head coach in his team’s final game of 2021, the last-gasp 2-1 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 17 a fitting way of ushering in the anniversary of his appointment.
Watch: Highlights of Freiburg's win over Leverkusen
Yet Streich’s association with Freiburg runs far deeper. Born and raised in the region, he speaks with a thick Black Forest accent, while his friends and family all live locally. A left-footed defender during his playing days in the 1980s, he spent a season with the club in 1987/88 – in a side containing future Germany coach Joachim Löw – but only made 10 Bundesliga appearances (with FC Homburg) and 64 in Bundesliga 2 before hanging up his boots.
Already a qualified industrial clerk, Streich spent his retirement from active duty preparing himself for the next chapter, completing a degree in German Studies, Sport and History at Freiburg University.
He was back on the club’s books in 1995 – where he has remained ever since – starting out as a youth coach. Streich began to make waves when he led Freiburg’s U18 team to the DFB Youth Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2011, and the German Youth Championship in 2008.
An assistant to first-team head coaches Robin Dutt and then Marcus Sorg, he was asked to step up when the latter was dismissed following a disappointing start to the 2011/12 campaign. Streich, however, initially refused.
“I had the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I wouldn’t cope,” he told the TagesWoche publication. “I imagined having all that responsibility, and what would happen if we didn't play well, in the first or second division, the stress, and the jobs at stake. I know everyone at the club. I didn’t think I could live up to that responsibility.”
But his love for the club, and particularly the well-trodden pathway from the youth academy to the first team that he helped create, ultimately led Streich to change his mind: “A new coach would have brought in new people and we can’t forget that we have an academy programme that is incredibly important for Freiburg. The question was, how do we connect them? That was at stake.”
A good number of current professionals, including Freiburg alumni Matthias Ginter, Oliver Baumann and Ömer Toprak, will be glad he stayed to oversee the start of their careers – and not just in terms of football. Streich is an advocate for equality and social justice, often speaking out publicly on issues such as refugees and migration, while encouraging his players to vote in local and national elections.
There are currently 12 academy graduates benefitting from his wisdom both on and off the field in Freiburg’s first-team pool, the most recent success story being Kevin Schade, the 20-year-old who hit the winner against Leverkusen on Matchday 17.
Watch: Streich, the most emotional coach in the Bundesliga?
It total he has overseen 304 Bundesliga games to date, recording 90 draws and 114 defeats to go with his century of victories. His overall record in all competitions stands at 138 wins, 101 draws and 128 losses from 367 matches.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s great that I’ve been able to experience this,” he said ahead of his landmark 300th top-flight match at the helm in November 2021, a 2-1 defeat in Bochum.
“I really like watching football and being involved in football, so I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to do this. I’m sure there are people who think ‘he must have a screw loose to get up and go and kick a ball around every Saturday. It must be boring’. But if it’s something that interests you and is something you live for… it never gets boring for me. I find it exciting. So I’m just grateful. The number [of Bundesliga games as coach] isn’t a small one.”
Across Europe’s top five leagues, only Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has been in the role anywhere near as long – longer in fact, by a mere six days – while only five coaches in Bundesliga history have ever boasted more longevity: Hennes Weisweiler (at Gladbach 1964-1975), Winifred Schäfer (Karlsruhe, 1986-1998), Thomas Schaaf (Werder Bremen (1999-2013), Otto Rehhagel (Bremen, 1981-1995) and Volker Finke (Freiburg, 1991-2007).
Not that it has all been plain sailing for Streich. Freiburg were bottom of the Bundesliga when he took over, five points adrift of outright safety at the halfway stage of the 2011/12 season. Only five teams earned more points than they did in the second half of the campaign however, as Streich steered the ship to the safety of 12th place with a nine-point cushion over the drop zone.
The south-west club even finished fifth the following year in his first full campaign. That achievement was a double-edged sword though, as a small squad with a comparatively limited budget struggled to juggle the demands of UEFA Europa League football with domestic duties, and Freiburg ended 2013/14 in 14th.
Worse was to come the following season with automatic relegation, but Freiburg stood by Streich. He repaid the club’s faith by winning the Bundesliga 2 title the next year – ahead of runners-up RB Leipzig, no less – and they have remained in the top flight ever since, finishing 7th, 15th, 13th, 8th and 10th in the five subsequent seasons.
All of which led to Streich signing a contract extension in February 2021, the sense of trust and mutual appreciation between coach and board crucial to the relationship lasting as long as it has. “I’m pleased with the recognition and the trust that has been placed in our work,” he said at the time. “Our work together has all the essential requirements we need to continue along the path we’re on.”
That path has not only allowed Streich and Freiburg to move into a new state-of-the-art home stadium, it has led them to third place in the Bundesliga standings over the 2021/22 winter break. Alongside Bayern Munich, they have conceded the fewest amount of goals so far this season (16), while they have also beaten Borussia Dortmund, drawn with Leipzig and recorded the club’s biggest ever Bundesliga win with a 6-0 thrashing of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
That is no accident. The team plays in his image and, perhaps unsurprisingly for the son of a butcher, there is a precision in the way they slice through opposition defences, all skilled carving rather than hopeful hacks.
“To me, good football means having variation in your build-up play and being well-organised in terms of your positioning,” he said after the Matchday 17 victory over Leverkusen, when asked to explain his philosophy.
“It’s very important against strong teams that you have time on the ball yourself and that the opposition also chase after the ball. That way you can build your self-confidence by circulating the ball around your team and allowing lots of players to keep getting touches of the ball. We want to play football ourselves, not sit back and defend, regardless of who we’re playing against. We’d prefer to lose than just sit deep and defend, because that’s the way we play and that’s what we want.”
Watch: Highlights of Freiburg's 6-0 win over Gladbach
Such directness, honest and bravery has made Streich universally loved by players, staff, fans and media, a charismatic figure unique to the game.
“His story is incredible,” said veteran forward Nils Petersen. “I think the footsteps he’ll leave behind when he’s no longer here will be huge. I can’t imagine what that’ll be like, because Freiburg without Streich just isn’t Freiburg somehow.”
That day is hopefully still a long way off. For now, we must simply salute Streich’s success, and enjoy what is to come.
Hoffenheim vs. Leverkusen: team news
Will Xabi Alonso's Leverkusen return to winning ways on Pellegrino Matarazzo's Hoffenheim debut?
Mainz vs. Augsburg: team news
Will Mergim Berisha extend his three-game scoring run as Augsburg visit Mainz?
Matchday 20 probable teams
Will it be Youssoufa Moukoko or Sebastien Haller – or both – up front when BVB go to Bremen this weekend?