Munich - As a former Bundesliga professional, television pundit and national youth team coach, ex-Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04 midfielder Steffen Freund is able to offer a unique perspective on the current state of play in Germany's top flight.
Currently working in the English Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur under Andre Villas-Boas, the 42-year-old assistant will always have a soft spot for the Bundesliga. As a result we took the chance to catch up with the 21-time German international to talk about how the league has changed since his playing days and whether he'd ever consider returning in another capacity.
bundesliga.com: How much has the Bundesliga changed since you stopped playing?
Steffen Freund: Overall, I think that teams, coaches and clubs focus a lot more on possession. They don't try to play like they did in my time with compactness and defensive organisation. On the contrary, they try to work on their quality on the ball in an attempt to improve the team in that respect. It's a consequence of coaches and clubs having the courage to play more attacking football. Joachim Löw has certainly had a strong influence on this as he places great emphasis in training on being dominant and now he's achieved the quality in possession which ensures that German teams, both internationally and in the Bundesliga, can create chances at any time. It's really great to see. Hannover, for example, have the quality to launch quick counterattacks, requiring very few touches to get forward. It makes for more attractive games in the Bundesliga.
bundesliga.com: How has the position you previously played in, defensive midfield, changed in modern times?
Freund: There has certainly been a very positive development with regard to my old position in recent years. The 'number six', as we call it, has become the playmaker and moved further back, sometimes even into the back four. Now you see centre-halves dribbling out and trying to swell the numbers in the midfield. That's going to become even more the case in the future. Nowadays, central defenders have got to be strong in possession, as well as the number six, but that doesn't mean there's no place for typical ball-winners. If I don't have a ball-winner in my side, then I lose the balance. I believe a healthy mix of all of this will be important in the future. The technical quality of a defensive midfielder has certainly improved.
bundesliga.com: Why do you believe that the Bundesliga has become one of the best leagues in Europe?
Freund: I think the Bundesliga has always been strong, there was just a phase during which not many young players emerged. Many people were looking at the foreign market and that led to a lot of 'average' players arriving in the Bundesliga. It's the opposite now, in my opinion. There are many hungry, young German players coming through who have worked hard in the youth development centres. It's also a consequence of the brave decision by Jürgen Klinsmann to take young players to the World Cup. Joachim Löw has maintained that vision, applying the philosophy with the German national teams at all levels. I believe there are lots of positives which all come together and that's what the Bundesliga has benefitted from. The euphoria that we had after the World Cup in 2006 and the new stadia should also be taken into account, as well as the fans who support the Bundesliga with such dedication. Records are being broken year on year and it's great to see.
bundesliga.com: Given the fact that there are strict rules to ensure Bundesliga clubs do not go into debt, do you think they can compete with their Premier League counterparts in terms of bringing in top-class talent?
Freund: Bundesliga clubs are well advised not to go to into the red because it increases the likelihood of things going wrong. I believe economic stability is very important. Of course you want to be successful on the field, but the reality is you can't compare the Bundesliga with the Premier League. In England, big investors can buy shares and even take clubs over. This gulf will always remain. We only have one club [in Germany] who can compete financially and that is Bayern Munich. Borussia Dortmund are heading in the right direction and Schalke are certainly another club who could join them. In truth, only Bayern Munich can compete financially at the moment, but that's not a bad thing because it means clubs have to put more emphasis on their own youngsters.
bundesliga.com: One final question: could you imagine coaching in the Bundesliga in the future?
Freund: I'd have to say no at the moment because it's very important for me to focus on my current position. I'm assistant coach at Tottenham Hotspur, one of the biggest clubs in England, and I was head coach of Germany's Under-17s until a few months ago, which was a job I enjoyed immensely. I was happy to change my situation by becoming an assistant coach in order to move into club life and work under a great coach like Andre Villas-Boas. I think it's logical that when you've been coaching youngsters since 2004 like I have, you have to take things step by step. The logical step for me was to work as an assistant coach at a top club and I'm very proud I got the opportunity.
Interview by Bernie Reeves