One word springs to mind when describing Felix Magath’s career: eventful. As a player, he spent a full decade with Hamburg, with whom he won the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the European Cup and three Bundesliga titles. An elegant midfielder, Magath was also a member of the Germany team that seized the 1980 European Championship crown and finished runners-up at the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups™.
Magath's rollercoaster career really went into full swing after he hung up his boots. He led Stuttgart to second place in the Bundesliga in 2003 before switching to Bayern Munich, whom he guided to back-to-back league and cup doubles. In 2007, he took charge of Wolfsburg, and within two years had masterminded their maiden Bundesliga triumph.
In July, however, the 56-year-old became coach, general manager and board director at Gelsenkirchen giants Schalke. On the eve of the new season, FIFA.com spoke to Magath about his new challenge, goals for the club and where German football stands on the world stage.
FIFA.com: Felix, you’re known for putting your players through the mill in pre-season, and it’s been typically gruelling for the Schalke squad this summer. Are you satisfied with your new players?
Felix Magath: They’re working hard, and they’re all getting stuck in. In our friendlies in Vienna and the defeats in the T-Home Cup [against Stuttgart and Bayern], my players surprised me with extremely good displays for that stage of pre-season. But we still have a few things to sort out before the Bundesliga restart.
Players are perfectly well aware that pre-season training is arduous, but some of them can’t resist complaining. Are players spoiled nowadays?
I’m not bothered by moaning players. At the end of the day, the players are responsible for what goes on in training. If a player’s reached peak stamina, I don’t need to send him on stamina-building runs. If that’s not the case, there’s no getting round it.
You led Wolfsburg to the title, but you’ve quit and come to Schalke, passing up the chance of UEFA Champions League football. The Royal Blues aren’t even in Europe this season. Surely your sights are set higher than this?
By winning the title in Wolfsburg, I completed the task I was set to do there, so I’ve taken on a new challenge here with Schalke. The club has been waiting 50 years to win the German championship. That’s both a motivating factor and a true challenge.
Almost without exception, you’ve succeeded in all your previous coaching roles. You led Nuremberg to promotion, you kept Eintracht Frankfurt in the top flight, you finished runners-up with VfB Stuttgart, and you won the title with Bayern and Wolfsburg. How would you explain your success as a coach?
I just try and continue what I learned as a player from the likes of Branko Zebec and Ernst Happel. They taught me that success is the product of hard work. That’s still true today.
Your consistent record is one of the reasons you were hired by Schalke. What are your short-term goals for the coming season, and your longer-term targets over the course of your four-year contract?
I want to re-establish Schalke among the leading clubs. What I’d prefer is to qualify for the Champions League three times in a row, rather than winning the title once and then finishing seventh or eighth. Obviously, my long-term goal is to try and lead Schalke to the title.
Schalke last won the German championship in 1958, in pre-Bundesliga days. It’s been a long and frustrating wait for the club and its fans ever since. This is a huge club with a cult following, and they’re desperate for the league title, so what are the pressures on the playing and coaching staff?
Obviously, I was aware expectations would be awakened by me coming here. Lots of people are thinking: 'He’s done it with Wolfsburg, so he’ll do it for us'. Obviously, it’s not that easy. Leading Schalke to the title is my challenge here. I can cope with the pressure.
You’re coach and manager in one at Schalke, and you’re also on the board. That gives you a lot of power, but a lot of responsibility too. How would you describe yourself as a person? Are you a powerful, autocratic ruler, or are you more of a thinker and a strategist?
They’ve brought me here to instigate change. There’s a good reason why I’ve taken on the various responsibilities of coach, manager and director. Each of these positions means some extremely tough decisions, but it won’t work without a strategy or plan.
Your squad includes a clutch of interesting, diverse and occasionally controversial personalities, the likes of Jermaine Jones, Kevin Kuranyi and Manuel Neuer. Do you adapt your day-to-day style to suit individuals, or do you expect the players to bow to your and club’s authority?
I want my players to be professionals, career footballers if you will. People in our society earning six or seven-figure salaries must be prepared to serve their employer round the clock. I want my players to become very conscious of that.
Thinking back to your playing days, would you have wanted Felix Magath as your coach?
Of course. I don’t demand anything from my players which I’ve not already delivered myself.
You were yourself a gifted player, a classic playmaker in fact. What are the qualities needed for the role in today’s game? Who’s the best playmaker in the world right now?
The big stars such as Kaka or [Lionel] Messi aren’t your typical number 10s, so I’d go for [Juan Roman] Riquelme of Argentina.
Germany finished second at EURO 2008, Werder Bremen made it to the UEFA Cup final, and Bayern reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. Where does German football stand in world terms?
Obviously, the competition is distorted at club level. Many clubs, especially in England, Spain and Italy, sign players with money they don’t own. Our licensing system is much stricter, and in Germany we don’t have investors or patrons like Abramovich, who provide the funds to sign the best players. So Bayern will only ever win the Champions League if the other teams wobble. It’s different when it comes to the national team, because the Bundesliga is such an evenly-matched competition and rates as one of the best leagues in Europe.