Fink: Coaching is my calling
Many former Bayern Munich captains have been irresistibly drawn to coaching once their playing days were done. Franz Beckenbauer and Lothar Matthaus both were, and Stefan Effenberg is currently acquiring the necessary qualifications. There is no guarantee of success, but men who have worn the armband for the Bavarian giants are in demand in the dugout.
Thorsten Fink also skippered Germany's biggest club, albeit for the third-division Bayern reserves in a stint as an overage player, following his official retirement from the highest level of the game in 2003. Nevertheless, in a nine-year spell with the Bavarians, the defensive midfielder featured in a star-studded line-up including the likes of Matthaus, Effenberg and Oliver Kahn, winning everything there was to win at club level.
Before hanging up his boots, Fink had already decided to emulate his illustrious predecessors and move into coaching. One reason for dropping into the second team was to pick up initial experience in the field, as he was officially a player-coach in his brief spell in the German third tier.
Fink explained to FIFA.com: “I realised that I wanted more responsibility, so I stepped up to coaching. In my time at Bayern, we had huge personalities like Effenberg and Kahn. I never played for my country, so I was always in the background compared to these great players. Now I share the responsibility for an entire club and I really enjoy that. Coaching is my calling."
After a steep learning curve with leading Austrian outfit Red Bull Salzburg and German second division side Ingolstadt, Fink arrived in Basel in 2009. He immediately led his new club to a domestic league and cup double, and although Basel were knocked out of last season's cup competition in the quarter-finals, they retained their Super League crown.
The articulate coach is clearly picking up where he left off as a player, evoking comparisons with Beckenbauer and Matthaus before him. Uli Hoeness, president of Fink's former club Bayern, ranks among the 43-year-old's many admirers. “Thorsten doesn't need any advice from me," Hoeness recently told Swiss paper Blick. "He’s done a superb job so far and won the league twice.”
Speaking to FIFA.com, Fink responded with typical modesty to the words of praise: “I won't deny there were certain advantages at the start. A few of the players will have thought, 'Well, he played at the highest level.' A coach who hadn't done that would be viewed much more critically.
"But at the end of the day, the decisive factor is whether you really understand what coaching is all about, not whether you were a good player. I've always been a strategic thinker, which may well be a plus in terms of tactics. But it's also vital to be a good leader, and have the ability to deal with the media and club officials. These are all important aspects of today's football."
As a player, Fink observed many coaching greats in action, including Hannes Bongartz, Winfried Schaefer, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Giovanni Trapattoni, four contrasting personalities who each influenced the former midfielder in his own way.
Fink said: “Schaefer was an excellent motivator, and his teams were always confident. Trapattoni was a strategist. Bongartz introduced me to the concept of a back four, which no-one was using at the time. From Hitzfeld, I learned about totally professional preparation for a match, dealing with the media and managing players. Each of them has influenced me in certain areas."
As a result, Fink has developed his own leadership style, which he describes as co-operative but adaptable to individual situations: “You manage one player in a certain way, and the next player another way. I believe that’s increasingly necessary in football. I can also sense when a player has problems, and I'll approach him. Just having a go at him helps no-one. I'll give my players their freedom, but there are limits."
For now, the coach is under intense scrutiny in the light of Basel's modest start to the new campaign, with two wins, three draws, two defeats and seventh place in the standings. It is a delicate situation for the Swiss champions, and Fink expects a response from seasoned individuals such as Marco Streller and Alexander Frei.
“At difficult times, you need experienced players who know exactly how to conduct themselves," he said. "For example, they mustn't give interviews criticising other players, but they should focus on their own form instead. And I involve the dressing room leaders when we settle these things internall."
Fink tips Germany for EURO glory
However, Fink is also noted as a strong advocate of up-and-coming talent, so it is little surprise that he is closely watching developments in his home country and the patent success of the German Football Association's (DFB) youth programme.
He said: “I'd single out Mario Goetze and Mats Hummels in particular. Goetze is hugely talented. Joachim Low started the process of integrating a host of youngsters into the national team, and they've repaid his faith. They've shown nerves of steel and produced great performances. They're determined to go far, and I believe Low could win the European Championship for Germany. It’s a realistic target."
The Germans have overcome the first hurdle in the quest for UEFA EURO 2012 glory by sealing their berth in Poland and Ukraine with maximum points from eight qualifiers so far. But is a national team or a major club, again following in the footsteps of Beckenbauer and Matthaus, a future possibility for Fink?
“I could certainly see myself taking on one of the big clubs in one of the big European leagues at some point, although I wouldn't want to name any specific team," he said. "But to be honest with you, it's not something I think about very much. I'm very happy with Basel, and I'm aiming to win a few more things with the club."