Florian Kohfeldt (l.) has seen what Josh Sargent (r.) is capable of in training and games and believes he can become one of the best strikers in the Bundesliga. - © /
Florian Kohfeldt (l.) has seen what Josh Sargent (r.) is capable of in training and games and believes he can become one of the best strikers in the Bundesliga. - © /

"Josh Sargent is going to be one of the best strikers in the Bundesliga" - Werder Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt

Werder Bremen head coach Florian Kohfeldt believes that American striker Josh Sargent has all it takes to become one of the best strikers in the Bundesliga.

In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Kohfeldt discusses his time in charge of one of Germany's biggest clubs, what Werder look for when scouting young talent and why he believes USMNT forward Sargent has what it takes to become one of the best in Germany.

On being Werder's third-most longest-serving head coach in their history...

Florian Kohfeldt: "I don't think I would mention myself in the same breath as them - they're in a different category, you have to say. What Otto [Rehhagel], and then Thomas [Schaaf], or rather both - but I know Thomas a bit more from day-to-day goings-on - but what they did here went on for a decade, at least. They won trophies too, something I'm unfortunately yet to achieve with this club, so I would stay separate from them and say they're in a different category. However, I have to be honest, in the long history of Werder Bremen, to be the coach with the third-most games in charge of Werder is something I'm proud of, even if I don't look at stats too much. It shows a bit of continuity, and it's great. I find it really good."

On a difficult season in 2019/20...

Kohfeldt: "Realistically, it's hard to explain. You have to consider the season before too, which was the club's best season for 10 years. And then last year we had a ridiculous amount of problems with the squad. I'm saying this with caution because I don't want to absolve myself of the responsibility, but we had a run of injuries that meant at one time it was actually not possible to train the team. We didn't have a team for a point. To explain it further: in the whole season, I had four weeks of training before the COVID break where we theoretically could have put together a game of eight vs. eight from the first team. Four weeks in the whole season, including pre-season. So that means we had to keep sending players straight back into games when they'd just come back from injury, they hadn't trained properly, so we had a lot of repeat injuries, and overall it was just really difficult to find our way together as a team. But you can't just say we were unlucky. I do think we made mistakes, in our communication, internally that is, between the fitness staff, physios, coaching staff, and ultimately that responsibility lies with Frank Baumann and myself, because we built this system together.

"But then, what ultimately happened on the pitch was all just a logical consequence and there was really nothing we could do to stop it. And then I think during the corona time, when we had the players back, after the COVID break, we could use it for ourselves, and we were ninth in the league if you look at that table since the break. So I think that shows a bit more the true capability of the squad that we'd shown the season before, a squad that honestly was never together last season. We were very critical with ourselves about what happened over the summer, how that all came to pass, but I think we've definitely taken the right steps now. We needed to sell a lot of quality because we're in a tough economic situation, and this season, with a young, perhaps not too established team, we're having a very solid season from my point of view. That's something I really would class as a success for us, but this year is all about keeping Werder in the league and finding some economic stability. That's our goal this season - anything else would be a bonus. From this position, after this season, what happens then and what opportunities we have, that's the next step. But just looking at this season, I think we can be very satisfied."

On the young talent in Werder's squad...

Kohfeldt: "Yeah, we have a few young players who have really shown themselves to deserve a starting place, and they've already taken on some responsibility. It begins in the centre of defence with Marco Friedl, a young central defender, left-footed, very solid, with a lot of potential who has really shone this season. Next to Niklas Moisander, our captain, so that's not something to take for granted. And in Felix Agu we've got a very quick player who is a big part of the U21 national team who can play on either side. In Josh Sargent, in my view, we have a striker who is going to be one of the best in the league. He's so young, but he brings everything to the table up top, absolutely everything. So yeah, we've used the opportunities we were given and we've developed these players, well, players always develop themselves, we don't develop them, but we've built them up and they've given us this spine that we can build an exciting squad around. We also have one or two cornerstones of the side too: Ömer Toprak is having a really good season and he'll be able to play at this level for two or three more years, Maxi Eggestein is a key player. The spine is there, and we have to make sure that we develop and add more talent in the coming years."

Watch: Josh Sargent, coming of age

On what Werder have to do to improve...

Kohfeldt: "There are two ways, from the way I see it. The first is obviously what we did three years ago, where we were in a really good way: it was about taking risks, perhaps doing a couple of transfers where we brought more established players in. I think of Davy Klaassen, who we brought in from Everton back then. And then from there, you have improvements on the sporting side, which we definitely had two years ago, which leads to increased income and then you build a squad with that. Now, with the pandemic, it's nothing new, but Werder Bremen is one of the clubs highlighted the most - it means at the moment, everything is about gaining stability. And then it's all about developing younger players - nothing else is possible for us at the moment. The second way - and you have to see it like this - Werder is a big club. For me, one of the biggest clubs in the league, no matter how you look at it. But in terms of financial power, we're in the bottom third. If that were to change because of an influx of cash, from wherever that may come from, the possibilities would immediately change. I'm not saying I have a preference for one way or the other - I've just detailed the possibilities we have. The fact is, if we don't have the source of income, we need to focus on the development of players."

On what players need to bring to the table...

Kohfeldt: "Fundamentally, they have to have the physical capacity, because that's tough to develop. You can refine it, but developing it is tough. He has to be ready to play football: it sounds silly, but he has to be brave. I don't like players who hide on the pitch; they should come to the play, look for solutions under pressure, so bravery is an important word when it comes to my way of playing. They have to want to learn. There are a couple of exceptions in my squad where I can say they don't need to learn any more - I didn't re-sign Claudio Pizarro three years and say 'Pizza, great, you've got a lot to learn!' But the majority of players who join us have to be in a place where they want to develop. It's not always that obvious in a first-team squad. And again, I talk about bravery - it has to be there. The fundamental way that we want to play football - even if we don't do it all the time, sometimes because of a consciously pragmatic approach - a player has to be ready for it. If we're playing against Bayern Munich, we still play out from the back, because that's how you develop, that's how you get better. We'll still play aggressive football against Bayern, not passive. Those are characteristics that you try and find in a player, and then in terms of scouting, you have to say that the player needs to have good decision-making skills on the pitch. My players have to make a lot of decisions on the pitch."

Florian Kohfeldt is looking to add to his growing legacy at Werder Bremen by winning a trophy. - AFP/Getty Images

On the culture of feedback...

Kohfeldt: "I believe that as much empathy a head coach has, or tries to have, the man is still the decision-maker. He's the one who decides whether you play or not, whether you're in the squad or not. A player will never completely behave with me like he does with a physio, a therapist, or a bus driver. It's not about over-listening to these people, you never want to lose the trust of the players. So it's not like a physio tells me something from the bench and then a week later the player is out of favour with me. But this way of feedback can give you a good feeling: how the team is doing, are there any outsiders, does anyone have any private problems, what's wrong. So these people are very important to me, and I spend a lot of my time every day with these people. I'm not doing it to give them the feeling that they belong to the team - they simply belong to the team. And then on the other side of the coin, when things aren't going so well, the staff simply cannot say 'oh yeah, the coaching staff and the players lost today'. No - we all lost together. We all belong together. And I think the players notice that there are no gaps. That's really important for me."