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Mid-season interview, part 1

Sammer: That’s the mark of champions

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After a highly successful but also intense and energy-sapping year, the players, coaching staff and management at FC Bayern are now on their mid-season holidays. The rapidly approaching New Year is a good time for sporting director Matthias Sammer to cast his eye back and review the last 12 months at the club. In the first part of a major interview, Sammer discusses why FCB managed to remain unbeaten in the Bundesliga despite a difficult summer, offers his thoughts on coach Pep Guardiola, and analyses the persistent problems with injury this year.

Interview with Matthias Sammer, part 1 Matthias Sammer, the first half of the season could hardly have gone better for FC Bayern, although most people expected a much trickier task following a World Cup summer. How do you explain the last six months?
Matthias Sammer: It really was a tough going-in position: the World Cup, relatively little recovery time for the World Cup players, injuries... but I’d still describe the team’s performance so far as outstanding. The key has been good organisation of our performance resources.

What do you mean by that?
A key factor is that we have a coach who’s seen it all before, with Barcelona in 2010 after Spain won the World Cup. The way he organises training and his concept of how we should play football have benefited the team. It was also important that our squad wasn’t too small. I recall many conversations with Pep last summer. Obviously, a big squad brings with it the danger of dissatisfied players, but a lack of alternatives when crucial players aren’t available for big matches is much worse. The talks led to us having sufficient quality for a first half of the season like this one.

Did the players, and especially the German World Cup winners, need a very special level of desire to put themselves through it all for another six months?
The fundamentals are mental strength and a hunger for success. Our players are really fantastic in this respect. For two and a half years now this level of character combined with footballing quality has led to the team gaining extraordinary momentum. Provided this team remains competitive, the hunger won’t be any less. The trophies they’ve won have led to a certain addiction to success. The players have realised success is the best thing of all.  

Great success can also lead to a loss of appetite...
That doesn’t happen to great players. Champions in every sporting discipline are never satisfied with a couple of trophies. Their hunger for success is insatiable. That’s the mark of champions.

How do you think the team has developed compared to last year?
It’s good to see the team and the coach growing even closer together. The players know they can always keep developing, partly due to the experience of 2012. Back then they were losers, but now they’re champions! It’s kept the players open to change and made them willing to keep on working at the details, making all our opponents feel we’re a step ahead of them mentally.

That sounds like bad news for Bayern’s Bundesliga rivals...
We should approach the second half of the season modestly, with respect and sensitivity. The crucial games are still to come, especially in the Champions League. So we need to stay alert. We must never forget just how hard we worked for everything we’ve experienced in recent months.

Are you concerned that the huge lead in the Bundesliga could be a disadvantage for the Champions League?
Let’s be clear about one thing: we want to win the league as quickly as possible! But we must be smart, professional and serious. We dropped off a few percent in this respect last year and lost our rhythm. If that happens, you don’t get it back overnight. We need to learn from the experience.

You’ve worked closely with Pep Guardiola for 18 months. What’s it like sitting next to him in the dugout?
You don’t find him in the dugout very often, it’s not where he spends most of his time. You have to watch out that he doesn’t leave the coaching zone. But seriously, working with him is a pleasure. He’s exactly the right person for FC Bayern. I can personally testify that we have a deeply trusting relationship. We work very, very closely together.

Everyone who sees Pep Guardiola at work enthuses about him afterwards. What’s special about him?
He’s a very congenial coach. He loves and lives football and he wants his ideas to influence it. He wants the ball, and when we don’t have the ball, he wants it back as fast as possible. That’s his big idea. He organises the player’s positioning so that when we’re in possession the players have the freedom to use their individual quality, but are just as perfectly organised when we lose the ball. That’s his passion and he lives it night and day

How much has he modified his concept of football at FC Bayern compared to what he developed at Barcelona?
Naturally, he tries to integrate players’ individual strengths in his football. That’s why he needed time to settle on what he wanted and on what terms. He’s been brilliantly successful at combining the two. That’s his biggest achievement.

The club has been plagued by major injury problems this year. What’s the latest news regarding the injury roster?
Holger Badstuber has made a lot of progress, and I think he’ll resume team training in early January. David Alaba might need a few more days, but he’ll be back in the thick of it in the course of the training camp. I think the situation’s the same with Tom Starke. The timeline with regard to Philipp Lahm is that he could be back by mid to late-February. As for Javi Martínez and Thiago, I’m not going to offer an opinion. We’ll give them all the time in the world, because all that matters is getting them fit again.

Will the entire squad travel to the winter training camp in Qatar?
Lahm and Thiago won’t go to the training camp. We’ve not taken a final decision with regard to Javi Martínez. We’ll come back to the subject at the start of the year. All the other players will be there.

The second part of the mid-season interview appears here on 29 December