Though German through and through, Bernd Schuster is Spanish by adoption, having spent the majority of his playing and coaching career in the Iberian nation. Few footballers possessed his class and vision on the pitch, qualities exhibited during successful spells at the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico, and which made him one of the finest midfielders of the past 30 years. Few also possessed his strength of character, which led to stormy relationships with several of his coaches.
Time, and more than 15 years sitting on benches across the world, has made Schuster a coach who believes in dialogue with his players and in transmitting the confidence he did not always feel from his own trainers in the past. Following spells at Getafe, Besiktas and Real Madrid, the 53-year-old has now committed to a new project with a Malaga side under reconstruction following the summer sale of the team’s biggest stars.
In this exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the German discusses that new challenge, his career as a player and his very own coaching philosophy.
FIFA.com: You once said that you needed football to be happy. Are you happy in Malaga?
Bernd Schuster: I am very happy. This is a long-term project, because we knew that important players were going to leave (note: at the end of last season, the Andalusian club lost the likes of Isco, Toulalan and Saviola), but the idea of forming a new team and implementing a style of play was something that attracted me greatly. And I am happy with the city, the climate - it’s fantastic. Apart from that, our life is football, so when we don’t have it, we are not so happy. Coaching gives you a great feeling in life.
Before Malaga, your last experience in La Liga was with Real Madrid, but you've also coached some smaller sides. Would you say that coaching a big club is a greater experience or does the pressure detract from that?
Obviously I enjoyed coaching Madrid a lot, because I love fighting for titles and working with players of great quality, but in the end it doesn’t matter if it is a big club or not, I feel the same excitement for the job. For example, getting good results for Malaga would feel the same for me as winning a title with Madrid. In fact, when you're at a big club, you know that what's valued at the end of the season is how many titles you have won, so you don’t celebrate the victories so much in the day to day. When you win, you just think, ‘We'll be relaxed for the next few days’, until the next game comes around. It's more that relaxation than being happy about the victory.
As a coach with more than 15 years experience, would you say you've enjoyed your time in the dugout more than when you were playing?
No. You enjoy football most when you are a player, because you participate much more in the game and everything depends much more on you. Being a coach is a consolation prize for a player after retirement. When I was player, for example, I didn’t want to be a coach when I finished. All of the responsibility that comes with the job seemed a hassle to me, but when you retire, you go through a bad time, because you've been doing it your whole life. And the reason many of us opt to become coaches or sporting directors is to stay connected to football, the smell of the pitch, the atmosphere in the stadiums. In a way, football is like a drug. You always want it, you need it.
As a player, you were always renowned for your strong character. However, as a coach you seem more placid. What would you put that change down to?
I have often seen players suffer due to the attitude of their coaches during a game, so I said to myself: ‘As a player, what kind of coach did you prefer – someone relaxed or one who reprimanded you for every misplaced pass?’ And I went for the first option. That is why I don’t spend the game running along the touchline. I want my players to see that I am relaxed and that I have confidence in them, whatever happens.
Your relationships with coaches weren’t always good. How would ‘Schuster the coach’ deal with ‘Schuster the player’ in a squad these days?
I think I was an easy player for my coaches, because I was a professional. I liked to train. The more, the better. I treated the training sessions like matches, so I don’t think any of my coaches can complain about my attitude. The problems I had were more related to personality. I had some coaches who were unable to comprehend that at the big clubs, it is the players who are in charge. For the fans, for the press, the most important people, the protagonists, are the players. And there was always one who didn’t understand that and who would confront us. That complicated the relationship.
What was missing from the coaches you worked with over the course of your playing career?
For me, it was very important to have a coach who would look after me, who I could talk to. But often they considered that to be unnecessary. All players need those conversations. Today, however, communication is much more important than 30 years ago. The days of ‘I give the orders, I am in charge’ have gone. Now, a coach has to talk a lot with his players.
Even though your coaching career began in Germany, you have spent most of your time training in Spain. Would you like to return to German football in future?
Yes, I would like to coach in Germany one day and take with me all my experience, everything I have learned in Spain as a player and a coach. Also, I have always thought that German-Spanish mix is good for building a team to play good football. Germans have always done well in Spain, and now the Spanish are doing very well in Germany.
In that respect and from afar, what is your opinion of the new project at Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola? Would you like to be in his shoes?
I never doubted Pep would triumph in Germany. He is at the best club and, while it’s clear that Messi, Xavi and Iniesta are unique, and that the German philosophy is a little different, he has arrived at a team with players of enormous quality who will help him reach a great level and win titles there. He is at one of the great teams in world football, so why wouldn’t I want to be in his shoes? But it’s not easy to get there. You have to impress greatly for a club like that to call you.
Finally, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ just around the corner, do you see a favourite?
If we focus on Europe, the main favourites are Spain and Germany, although it is always difficult for European teams to win in South America. Brazil have also impressed me, especially after beating La Roja at the Confederations Cup. They showed they could handle the pressure in front of their own fans. And I wouldn’t rule out Italy, who are looking strong and can cause problems for any side, or Argentina, who could also be in the mix.