Considered an authority on South African football, Ernst Middendorp spent almost two years at the helm of eleven-time national champions Kaizer Chiefs of Johannesburg, before returning to Germany last March to help Arminia Bielefeld stave off relegation in his third spell in charge of the Bundesliga outfit.
The 48-year-old, voted "Coach of the Century" by his current employer, still enthuses about his experiences in South Africa, and he also has fond memories of his time in Ghana, where between 1999 and 2004 he coached Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club.
Middendorp remains convinced about the quality of South African football, as evidenced by the inclusion two Bafana Bafana internationals, goalkeeper Rowen Fernandez and striker Sibusiso Zuma, in his Bielefeld squad for the upcoming season. Now, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the coach talks about his experience in South African football and the significance of the FIFA World Cup™ coming to the continent for the first time.
FIFA.com: Herr Middendorp, now that you are back in the Bundesliga with Arminia Bielefeld, what would you say is the biggest difference between working in Johannesburg and your current job in eastern Westphalia?
Ernst Middendorp: Basically the main difference is that football and the clubs in Germany are all profit-oriented, while in South Africa it's more about entertainment, both on and off the pitch. There the emphasis is on pleasing the fans, and it's mainly about generating applause. During a match this means that you don't always look for the direct route to goal.
*Would you say this approach makes a coach's job more difficult? * It's just a different mentality. The real question is where you want to go. In that sense I look at things from the perspective of the CAF Champions League [Ed.: Since 1964 only one South African club has won this tournament: the Orlando Pirates in 1995] and the national team. I'm sure that under national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira they'll make tremendous progress.
During your time at Kaizer Chiefs you criticised the Tsiki Tsiki, the term South Africans use to describe dribbling purely for show. In your opinion, is that something that has to change?
Yes, exactly. That's the way it has to go. They have to be more efficient on the field, more result-oriented. At the moment the Mamelodi Sundowns are leading the way in this respect in South Africa. They deserve to be champions, and you can really say that they've got the message.
How was your life in South Africa? Did you enjoy it?
Absolutely! South Africa is a fantastic, wonderful country, which is now very close to my heart. I was very happy during my time there, and I still have an apartment in Johannesburg. Who knows, maybe I'll go back there again at some time in the future. I can't discount the possibility.
What is it in particular that has made you so enthusiastic about South Africa?
You just have to experience the unbelievable scale of things there. I got on a plane and within two hours I was in Cape Town, a wonderful place by the sea. OK, it only takes two hours to fly from Germany to Mallorca, for example, but in South Africa you have everything in one place, within the same country. I definitely came to experience and appreciate a very high quality of life in South Africa.
*Were you pleased when the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ was given to South Africa? * I felt a massive surge of joy and I was really delighted. Four years previously I'd been in Ghana and I saw the scale of the disappointment when South Africa missed out on the 2006 World Cup. And this disappointment wasn't just felt in South Africa, but throughout the entire continent. So I know exactly how much it means to the country to be able to host the tournament now for the first time.
In your view, what effect will the decision to award the finals to South Africa have on the continent?
It's just the right time for the first World Cup in Africa. It sends exactly the right message. And I'm absolutely sure that it has set in train a positive trend, both sporting and economic.
As far as the standard of football is concerned, do you think South Africa 2010 will give another boost to the continent as a whole?
Yes, there will be progress in this respect too. They'll realise that you must also play efficiently, and it will help make the game more professional. In the past year, top European clubs such as Manchester United have played in South Africa, a clear sign that football in South Africa is coming along in leaps and bounds.