New Bayer Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich is acclimatising quickly at the BayArena. Twenty-four years after leaving the club as a player, the former Germany striker is impressed at the next generation at his disposal…
bundesliga.com: Heiko Herrlich, sport and football in particular often lends itself to exaggeration, but is it still safe to say that coaching your former club Bayer Leverkusen is more than just a job?
Heiko Herrlich: Yes, that's for sure! I took my first steps in professional football here in Leverkusen, coming here as a 17-year-old. However, this is a new start. There are some familiar faces, though: two people in the restaurant, a secretary, security personnel. I was very happy about that and also with the friendly reception I received from everyone else.
Herrlich: Hakan of course has huge quality, as do Kevin and Chicharito. But ultimately it’s important that the players that you have available identify 100 per cent with the club. Things will soon be clear - then we'll see more.
bundesliga.com: Can you afford to lose a goalscorer like Chicharito if you want to return to European competition?
Herrlich: I think a club like Bayer Leverkusen will never find themselves depending on just one player. Chicharito has given great performances in his two years here, but so have many others. You can only achieve success as a team.
bundesliga.com: In Julian Brandt you have an extremely talented player who has not yet reached his potential. How do you handle a player like this?
Herrlich: First of all, I have to get to know him personally. But Julian is a great player. And [sporting director] Rudi Völler and [sporting manager] Jonas Boldt have told me a lot about him. I’m not worried about him. He’ll take another step in his development and have a great season with us. He can be confident after winning the Confederations Cup with Germany.
Watch: Chicharito's Top 5 goals in 2016/17
bundesliga.com: What do you expect from Stefan Kießling, who had a slightly disappointing season last season [Kießling scored four goals in 20 appearances – 14 of them from the bench].
Herrlich: A club role model like Stefan Kießling is very important. He’s internalised what I’ve told him. He sees the club as the most important thing, not himself. From the way he lives his life to his sporting prowess, he should be an absolutely top player. Of course, he also knows that at 33 or 34 he cannot start every game at the highest level. He can always be involved, though.
bundesliga.com: Who else do you have alongside Kiessling and team captain Lars Bender in terms of leaders?
Herrlich: Everyone should be a leader. Everyone has to contribute. [New signing Sven Bender] has mentality and spirit that make him an ideal leader on and off the pitch, just like his brother Lars.
bundesliga.com: Your own playing career ended 13 years ago. Apart from higher transfer fees and advances in sports science, has the Bundesliga changed in other ways?
Herrlich: Football has developed so much that changeovers in possession are almost like in handball. Everyone attacks and defends together – a good balance between attack and defence is therefore more important. If an attacking player doesn’t defend the whole team is in trouble. Against strong teams you sometimes cede 70 or 80 per cent of possession. Defensive ability is just as important as good technique and speed.
Watch: The best of Herrlich's six goals for Bayer Leverkusen?
bundesliga.com: You were coached by Ottmar Hitzfeld, Udo Lattek, Matthias Sammer and Berti Vogts in your career. Who made the biggest impression on you?
Herrlich: You may think I’m dodging the question but I’ve taken something from each of them. I was always very open to constructive criticism. I was always a good worker, and I always listened and watched. I’ve benefitted from them all, first as a player and now as a coach.
bundesliga.com: And what about on a personal level?
Herrlich: When Ottmar Hitzfeld – one of the most successful coaches in the world – won something, you had to be careful that he didn’t fall off the podium during the celebrations. He put his players first. His modesty and humanity impressed me very much.
Herrlich was speaking to Andreas Kötter