Christoph Daum is finally a national team coach. He made his mark in the German Bundesliga by creating teams at Cologne and Bayer Leverkusen that almost became league champions, by surprisingly winning the German title with VfB Stuttgart in 1992 and by almost being appointed head of the German national team.
At the beginning of his career in particular he was an innovator, but was also strident and confrontational. Many people even described Daum, who never reached the top of the game as a player, as one of the league's first 'concept coaches' before the term even existed. He found a second home in Turkey, where he won the league and cup with Besiktas and took the title twice with Fenerbahce, while he enjoyed further success at Austria Vienna by winning the double in 2003.
At Leverkusen, Daum once made players walk on shards of glass in order to illustrate their "mental strength" to them, and one of his former charges summarised his powers of motivation thus: "If you're only 5'4" and speak with Daum, then you feel like you're 6'1"." Daum always wanted to be a national team coach – and now he is, having been appointed by Romania in July 2016. He is fully motivated once again.
"It's always been one of my aims to participate at a European Championship or World Cup with a national team because you have to be at your best in a short space of time," the 62-year-old said in an interview with FIFA.com. "As a club coach you have lengthy periods to prepare, but with a national team you have to apply your experience together with the players and staff in a very short time. Having to take such quick decisions is a new challenge for me."
The golden era of the Romanian national side was in the 1990s, when Gheorghe Hagi's star shone brightly in helping them knock out Argentina in the last 16 at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™. Their last outing at the tournament came four years later in France, while they were eliminated at the group stage of UEFA EURO 2016.
"The new board of directors at the Romanian Football Association are building new and, above all, better structures in every area of football and I'm happy to be able to contribute to that," said Daum, who considers it an honour to be the first foreign national team coach in the history of Romanian football.
It did not take Daum long to realise how different the role would be to that of club football: "The level of responsibility of a national team coach is far greater than that of a club coach. At a club you're contributing to working on ideal structures in a localised part of the country, whereas a national coach's sphere of influence extends across the whole nation. The influence and opportunity to shape matters are very comprehensive and appealing. As national team coach I see it as part of my duty to be an instigator in many areas and a supporter of every club, coach and player in the country."
Fundamentally, both then and now I view myself as an instigator and, to some extent, a trailblazer.
Initially, however, he is charged with giving greater impetus to a team that disappointed at the European Championship, returning home with just one point from group games against France, Switzerland and Albania. "So far the task has primarily been about gathering information, which means evaluating and scouting a lot of our potential players' matches in person, as well as selecting the best possible staff around the team and making minor adjustments to the infrastructure," said Daum of his first steps in his new job.
"Romanian players have always been associated with attractive football. Constantly attacking, both with and without the ball, was a Romanian virtue. We have to make ourselves aware of that again, and, combined with flexibility and tactical discipline, activate an unwavering winning mentality and the best possible team spirit."
In order to achieve that, Daum will not insist on one specific playing style or rigid philosophy: "My pragmatism means always making the best decisions for the team to be successful." Throughout his career Daum has repeatedly managed to form teams that have surpassed expectations. "Everywhere in football the objective is always the same: make the individual players and therefore the whole team better," he said. "We all have one objective in our hearts and minds: to qualify for the World Cup. I'm convinced that after 20 years, Romania will take part at a World Cup again."
Having been a coach for over 30 years now, Daum has gained a wealth of experience – which has in turn changed him. "I could fill a book," he said in answer to a question about how exactly he is different from his former self on the touchline. "In many areas of training I've had to make constant adjustments. The tactical requirements have become ever more expansive, the technical equipment has changed my work as a coach and the amount of public relations work has increased dramatically. Football has gained speed in every department." Not that it bothers him. "Fundamentally, both then and now I view myself as an instigator and, to some extent, a trailblazer. That hasn't changed and nor will it. For me it's a pleasure to embark on new and, above all, better ways of doing things."
In that regard it is helpful that he has recognised that his role is not only about teaching his players. "I've actually always been able to learn from my players," said the Rhineland native. "Early on, I had many private conversations with Morten Olsen in which he shared his ideas about playing attractive attacking football. I adopted several features in transitional play from him. Pierre Littbarski taught me how to be successful with a little more calmness and authority. Michael Ballack illustrated the importance of flexibility in players and the team as a whole at a time when we were still very much focused on positional play. Roberto Carlos unequivocally demonstrated how important it is to constantly practice set-pieces."
Romania will now face Poland, Denmark, Armenia, Montenegro and Kazakhstan in Russia 2018 qualifying Group E. "I know everything I need to know about each of our opponents," said Daum ahead of his side's opening fixture at home to Montenegro on Sunday. "Every team that plays against us will be highly motivated. We have ten difficult finals ahead of us, in which we'll have to continually push ourselves beyond our current limit in order to leave as victors. Only as a unified team on and off the pitch will we achieve automatic qualification. I'm certain that every Romanian player will give their all in this difficult group to qualify for the World Cup."