Borussia Dortmund’s head coach Peter Bosz has been on his new job for about three months now. The Dutch manager gave his first newspaper interview to Reviersport this weekend. Here’s a translation of parts of the interview.
Mr. Bosz, you’re sitting here and looking out into the stadium. Have you become accustom to the vista of your new living room?
Can you ever become accustom in the sense of it becoming routine? I don’t think so. I’m in Dortmund for three months now but it seems as though it’s been only three weeks. Everything came about so quickly, I was the coach of Ajax in the summer.
How did you react when BVB’s offer reached you?
That was a very good feeling. Dortmund are one of the two best teams in Germany. When such a big club from one of the most important leagues in Europe asks for you, you’re proud and excited.
No but. I had a very good year at Amsterdam. At the end it was clear to me that I wouldn’t continue at Ajax. We decided that together.
Sounds like you’re very consequent.
I’ve always been that way. An example: I always wanted to become a professional football player when I was young. That’s why I didn’t commit many sins of one’s youth, alcohol or cigarettes, for example. My friends went clubbing and I was home to get enough sleep. When I was 16 years old I went to Vitesse, turned pro at 17 and played there for three years. But that was before the Bosman ruling. When your contract ran out clubs still had to pay a transfer fee for you. I found that outrageous. I wanted to be free after those three years, that was logical for me. Then I negotiated with the president of the club — I never had an agent when I played. He said I could earn more money, I said I didn’t care about that, that I’d rather be able to leave on a free transfer at the end of my contract. He called me crazy. I voluntarily returned to the amateur ranks and bought myself out of my contract.
What is important to you, then?
Family, friends, friendship, honesty. That I can trust the people I work with. And that they can trust me in return. Living your life is also important. Sure, we have to work very hard, but everyone has to let loose now and then. That’s tough, but you can learn it.
How did you learn it?
When I was a young coach I thought the days needed to have more than 24 hours. I thought I had to work even at 11 pm, had to talk to this player and prepare that other thing. Today I say: Okay, it’s 11 pm, we’re done now, let’s drink a glass of wine and unwind. Experience helps knowing when and why you have to do something. And I believe the quality of work gets better this way, as opposed to getting too little sleep constantly and becoming a chased person. We have long days, put in the hours, do all the important work diligently. But when I come home it’s important to me that my wife is there and that we’re together and we can relax.
How do you relax?
Red wine helps (laughs). I spent three years as a professional in France, at Toulon, and there I learnt a lot about French wine culture from my team-mates. Those experiences teach you a lot. I’m very happy I spent time in France. I’m very happy I saw Japan and played in the Bundesliga, for Hansa Rostock. Those are interesting stations in a career. Just like my decision to go to Israel as a coach. Everyone asked me: What are you doing now, going to Israel? When you’ve been a coach in the Netherlands you go to Spain, Germany or England, they said.
Why did you do it?
Jordi Cruyff was the sporting director at Tel Aviv at the time and asked me on the phone almost every month if I didn’t want to come. I always refused until a friend told me: “You’re always saying no to a thing you don’t even now. Why don’t you say: Okay, I’ll take a look first.” I did that. And when you’re there, it’s fantastic. Tel Aviv is beautiful.
What role did sporting considerations play?
The sporting challenge is always the most important. Just like it is here at Dortmund. I’m trying to soak everything up and strike roots here. I didn’t go to Tel Aviv because the beaches are so pretty. That was a sporting decision. But I’m also trying to learn the language and soak everything up. The whole life.
You also met Jordi’s dad, the Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, in Tel Aviv.
That’s right. I’ve been a fan of his from my childhood days. For me and my football philosophy he was very important. I knew at 15 or 16 that I wanted to become a coach. I had all my licenses at 19 already. My friends and I collected everything Cruyff said about football. There was no internet at the time, we bought papers and cut out articles. One friend ended up writing a book about how Johan thought about football, youth football, about offense, defence and organisation. And all that over a span of 20 years. Very, very interesting. At Ajax I worked with someone who worked as an assistant of Cruyff’s for six years at Barcelona. Before that European final against Sampdoria he had to analyse the opponent and talked about a striker called Gianluca Vialli after his return: “Johan, I’ve never seen someone like that guy, you can’t mark him.” Cruyff said: “Then we won’t mark him. You said he can’t be marked. He’s used to everyone being close to him, he doesn’t know the feeling when nobody does that. We don’t mark him!” Everyone threw their hands up in despair. Barcelona won 1-0. Those things interest me.
How often did you meet Cruyff?
I met him once when he was a player at Barcelona. We only shook hands quickly. Later again when I coached Vitesse. I talked to him for 30 minutes and shyly asked whether he had watched my team play. When he came to Israel and I was able to talk to him for a week it was the greatest thing for me.
That was shortly before his death. How was he doing back then?
I’ve never met a man who was so positive. He had cancer and the treatment visibly took a lot out of him. But he never said he was tired or not doing well.
Are you continuing his idea of “Voetbal total” in the present age?
I believe we have a different opinion in some details. But our philosophies are similar in the sense that we want to play attacking football for the fans. Of course, we want to win. But we also want to entertain the fans. They want to see Messis and Ronaldos, no destroyers like I was one. We want to inspire the fans. Which teams or players from the past do we all remember? Those that entertained us. And those two worlds — the attractive and the successful — can come together. I truly believe that.
But it’s more difficult.
That’s true. When you’re trying to play attacking football and make mistakes, the defence is open and it gets dangerous. So we have to defend well together.
Are you surprised at how incredibly well that’s working in the league so far?
A little, yes. Because for me as a coach who hadn’t been in the Bundesliga over the last few years it wasn’t easy to gauge whether that would work in the Bundesliga. I believe Pep Guardiola had the same problem in his early days at Bayern. He had his style at Barcelona. But does that work here in the Bundesliga? I didn’t know, I believe he didn’t, either. But we’re also far from where we want to be.
Might there be a moment when opponents adapt to BVB’s playing style?
That moment is there constantly. It’s a continuous process. We switched up against Real Madrid during the game. But the principles remain the same: We want to play attacking, brave, attractive football.
Do you need some different, faster players to show that at a higher level in the UEFA Champions League?
We analyse every game for itself. The Real match was totally different to the Tottenham Hotspur match. Against Tottenham we did very, very well but the result was terrible. I don’t think we deserved this, especially because a good goal wasn’t allowed for us. Tottenham was before our goal twice and scored on both occasions. But against Real the opponent was the better side. Madrid were too good for us in this instance. Now we have to analyse again: What can we do to win regardless? It’s not about the defenders. We have to defend as a team. If — to bring up a fictitious example — Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang doesn’t press well at the front, the opponent can easily string up his buildup play. And when the midfield isn’t compact, our defenders are in trouble. But when we apply pressure on the opponent on the ball it gets tougher. Everything has something to do with everything.
Dutch coaches such as Rinus Michels were regarded as stubborn and stoic …
I can see that. I can only say about Michels: He was an absolute authority. When he was the Bondscoach and I played for the national team you had the utmost respect for him. His assistant was Dick Advocaat …
He had the nickname “the Little General” …
(Laughing) When we laughed in training, Advocaat looked at us sternly. He was very structured. Michels was the man to lead team talks. Once he said before a game: “We have to defend!” Then he said: “Where do the best defenders in the world? In Italy! Why are they the best defenders?” Than Michels explained en detail why that was the case. Impressive!”
And you soaked up his words like a sponge?
Yes. I went to my room, took out my notepad and wrote everything down.
Do you still have those notes?
Do you still write down your impressions as a coach in a book?
Yes. After our win at Wolfsburg I wrote down my thoughts in that book. What I liked, what didn’t go so well. When we play Wolfsburg again, I take out my book and take a look: How did it go back then? What was the lineup? The pictures return to me all of a sudden.
Is it some sort of a coaching diary?
Yes, if you want to describe it that way. I also give out grades for my players.
Like in school?
Almost. I give out grades for my players between one and 10. One is bad, 10 is perfect. But I can reveal to you: Nobody has ever got a 10 from me.
Everything would have to have been perfect, every pass, every movement, every duel, every shot. That doesn’t exist in football. Mostly the ratings are between five and seven.
How do you lead a team? As a dictator? Or a team worker and someone who understands the players?
You can be both. An authority and all the same someone who understands the players. I speak my players, the management and the sporting director and other directors. But at the end I decide who plays!
Do you take a calm look at everything before you make changes?
Yes. I don’t come to a place and say: Now I’m doing everything differently. When something is good, it can stay that way. Dortmund is a big club after all. They must have done something really well in the last years. Otherwise BVB wouldn’t be this high up the pecking order. I can’t come in, turn everything upside down and say: Now we’ll do everything the way I want it! I’m not like that.
Bayern seem to be vulnerable. Can Dortmund become champions this season?
(Laughing) Do I have any influence on what happens at Bayern? No! I only have influence on my team. All my concentration is on BVB.