Raphael Honigstein Talks BVB with Ben McFadyean

Raphael Honigstein is the UK’s leading Bundesliga TV presenter, appearing on Sky TV and BT Sport channels. He is also an author of a number of award-winning books including “Bring the Noise” a biography of Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp and “Das Reboot: How Germany conquered the Football World.”

He recently was interviewed on the BVB London Fan Podcast by Ben McFadyean. Excerpts are published here. 

Ben: Firstly, what do Borussia Dortmund need to do, essentially, to catch up with Bayern Munich? What are the weak points at the club? Has the key to BVB’s inconsistency been Lucien Favre, in your view? 

Rapha: It would be very good for the league if Dortmund were to win it. I think looking back, I see the last couple of seasons as really lost chances for Dortmund. I think they had a real opportunity with the quality of the squad that they’ve had. Even as someone who looks at Dortmund with no real emotion, I find it annoying when you see a team that has so much potential, not getting that out on the pitch and having these poor results like BVB have had against relegation-threatened teams like they have had this and last season. It actually makes me quite angry, like most German football fans; I find it quite frustrating. 

Ben:  Absolutely. As BvB fans, we have felt a lot of frustration. Particularly the season before last, throwing away a nine-point lead and essentially collapsing in the last part of the season. I never felt Favre had the winning mentality, although he is technically brilliant, and his 2.09 points-per-game average is the best of any coach in Dortmund’s history.

The Borussia Dortmund squad is packed with quality with players like Bellingham, Brandt and Haaland; they have so much potential. Do you think the problems at BVB has been down to the Favre mentality? I mean, he hadn’t won anything since winning the title with FC Zurich back in 2011. Was Lucien Favre ever the guy to lead BVB to the Meisterschaft?  

Rapha: I have had my doubts. Technically, the team are pretty balanced. Athough, I think having said that, I think there’s a bit of a mismatch between Favre’s way of doing things and the expectations of the club. The team have been drilled by Favre to be quite reactive when it comes to winning the ball back. They don’t play a pressing game, and I think that’s something that hasn’t suited the team. Also, I think that style of play doesn’t suit the fans at Signal Iduna Park, even though that’s less of an issue at this time, unfortunately.  

I feel that the game Favre’s teams play is too slow to really get the crowd excited, and then the fans seem to get nervous. I think that translates onto the pitch. and then the players seem like they don’t feel 100% secure in what they’re doing. On top of that, I think what is quite clear . . . Favre is very professorial, but as a person, he is too distant. He has a very technical way of doing things, a way that guarantees a certain base level of performance, and it’s a high one, but perhaps an extra 10% of emotional motivation and this Dortmund team could have just got that little bit further.

At the end of the day, Favre will never be Jürgen Klopp, and until somebody comes and wins the league for BVB, people will always compare whoever is the incumbent with Jürgen Klopp. It feels to me as if when it comes to the crowd and the emotional side of things at BVB, it didn’t align that well with Favre.

Ben: Who would you see as a potential coach for Borussia Dortmund? I’ve always thought Mauricio Pochettino would be a great coach, but the problem I think in Germany is that they just won’t hire a coach who does not speak German well. In the past, coaches like Giovanni Trapattoni or Nevio Scala only got so far in the Bundesliga. Fluent German seems essential in the Bundesliga.

An English-speaking coach could be an option for Dortmund

Rapha: I think it probably would, in theory, work with an English-speaking manager. Steve McClaren wasn’t a big success at VFL Wolfsburg, but I don’t think it was because of the language. But of course, the clubs in Germany ideally want somebody German-speaking because they can relate to them better. But there’s an extra problem, which is probably bigger than the language issue, which is that if you get a coach like Pochettino, he will come with five or six ‘mini Pochettinos’ who will take up all the strategic coaching positions. And I think for a club like Borussia Dortmund where the leadership, people like Michael Zorc, want to be very much in touch with what’s happening, it’s a very uncomfortable place to be in when you just don’t know really what’s happening in the dressing room. It’s also financially a big risk to hire all these people if it doesn’t work out. You have huge payouts to make. 

Pep Guardiola of course, had great success at Bayern; he had Bayern playing beautiful football. But also, I am aware that there was a lot of conflict behind the scenes, and they felt it very difficult to deal with him because they didn’t have those direct lines of communication that Bayern are used to. I think the same would be true of Dortmund. 

Ben: Before I mention other candidates, let me qualify the question. In terms of a successor, does a coach that coaches a team like BVB actually need to have won silverware in the past? 

Rapha: So I think the answer is no, he doesn’t have to have won titles, but it makes it easier for him to be seen as a winner. I mean, people didn’t look at Lucien Favre and think he is the guy that won the Swiss League in 2011; that was just too far back. Thomas Tuchel, I think, could have worked out with BVB. He won the German Cup in 2017 and silverware is good and could have led to more in my view. I think silverware backs up your status as a coach. It makes it easier to sell yourself to the dressing room to find acceptance as a coach, but it’s not a must, no. 

Ben:  I’m going to throw a name in the ring here. How about Marco Rose? He was a very good player at Mainz, and BVB have had success with Mainz coaches, as you say, like Tuchel or even Klopp. We had Delron Buckley on the BVB London Fan podcast show I present a couple of weeks ago and he was talking about his friendship with his former colleague at Mainz and expressing the degree of professionalism and the results Rose has achieved at the Borussia Park. What do you think of Rose as a potential coach for Dortmund?  

Rose could be available and in terms of the personality there are parallels with Klopp

Rapha:  I like Marco Rose as a coach a lot. I think he could potentially become available, but not until this summer. Although it seems that his time at Borussia Mönchengladbach has only just started, but his results, especially in the Champions League, have been impressive.  I think he would find it difficult to turn a job like BVB down, however.

We have to see how he keeps things going in the second season. For me, it seems that Rose has the kind of charisma that motivates the players. I mean, when I have spoken to the players and the coaching staff at the club, they’re all very complimentary about him and draw a lot of parallels with Klopp in terms of how he relates to people. So I think he would be a good option for Dortmund. The question is, simply, is the timing going to work out? 

Ben: Another strong candidate, surely, is Jesse Marsch from RB Salzburg. I was really enjoying the videos of him at RB Salzburg on the biographical show that was done on him on YouTube this summer. You may have seen them?  He really seems like he has a perfect kind of coaching personality. And as that kind of charisma is exactly what has lacked in Dortmund in the past two years, it could be a great fit. BVB have also got English and American players like Sancho and Reyna who would benefit from an English-speaking coach. What about Jesse Marsch? How good is the fit for Borussia Dortmund? 

Rapha:  I like Jesse Marsch. I had a chance to speak to him. I think he is a very impressive manager, and the results at Salzburg show that. What I don’t know is how well he really relates to the players. Yes, I saw the team talk in the mini-series on Youtube, but I just haven’t got as much insight into how his coaching really works. I have not spoken to his players either, but he certainly seems to be doing a very good job, and the football is very impressive. I think he has to be one of the contenders at Dortmund, and an English-speaking manager could work. 

Ben: So with Rose and Marsch, there are two great options for coaches. I think, surely, Nagelsmann with RB Leipzig riding high in the Bundesliga would have to be another on the list? 

Rapha:  Nagelsmann is for sure a candidate who has excellent motivational skills, although he hasn’t won anything yet. But getting him will be more of a challenge, although BVB is always one of the top jobs in the Bundesliga. 

Ben:  Let me briefly touch on the key positions BVB need to tackle to compete for the title again. I write a Borussia Dortmund season preview for Bundesliga Fanatic each season, and this season, actually the same as last, I think BVB have had an issue with the backline. Hummels does not have the right guys in the backline with Akanji and Schulz, and Zagadou is still unproven in my view. Although Emre Can has worked, I see Can as more of a defensive midfield player. And Bayern’s backline is one of its key strengths. Basically, to think that you’ve got a guy like Boateng sitting on the bench, and you’ve still got Sule and Fernandez and Pavard on the sidelines. Bayern have strength in numbers. I feel the backline is BVB’s issue. What is your view? 

Dortmund need to become more of a destination club to compete with Bayern

Rapha:  Well, I think it’s a combination of all these factors, of course. Man for man. Munich are stronger. They have an 80 million euro player on the bench in Lucas Hernandez. They have Alaba in the form of his life. They have Alphonso Davies, one of the best-left backs in the world. Pavard is a World Cup winner. I mean, there’s just much more quality there in defence than at Dortmund. But does that stop Dortmund from winning against VFB Stuttgart? Does that stop Dortmund from conceding goals against Dusseldorf? I think the Favre team had deeper issues: a lack of stability and the issues arise out of the technical problems under Favre that we have already touched on. 

Bayern’s way of playing means they defend with a very high line. They have this insane pressing game, which makes it very difficult for opposition teams to play against. Dortmund under Favre in contrast tend to fall back, wait for the team to lose the ball, and then slowly, patiently start to build their game. And if that doesn’t work in the past two seasons, Dortmund have looked very passive, anemic even. It can invite teams to push forward. And if you play like that, we saw what happened in the 5-0 against Bayern like season. But let me say this clearly, BVB is by far the second-best squad in Germany, but they need a coach that gets more than 80% of their potential out on the pitch on a regular basis.

Ben:  And without putting your finger on it, I mean, what would be the two key positions that you would buy in the transfer window? 

Rapha:I mean, I think Dortmund is a bit stuck, because their business model is buying Sanchos and Bellinghams and Haalands for relatively little money, build them up into superstars, and then sell them and off they go again. I think that takes you quite far, and it should take you to the odd cup win or final appearance. But it’s going to make it difficult to challenge in Europe, and it’s going to make it difficult to challenge Bayern, who are a destination club. Dortmund has begun to somewhat change this, bringing in the likes of Hummels or bringing in Can, but unless that way of business changes and unless Dortmund are no longer forced to develop players, I don’t see the balance of power changing in the Bundesliga, especially in the current financial crisis the game is in due to the pandemic. BVB would need to sell Sancho to improve the squad, and that of course, would bring its own risks in terms of replacing that kind of quality.

About Benjamin McFadyean 10 Articles
For the last 7 years, I have been writing about this unique football league I have followed since I moved to Germany as an 11 year-old in the 1990s. The club I follow is the eight-time champion Borussia Dortmund. As a teenager, I had a season ticket on the Dortmund's 'Yellow Wall' the Südtribüne until I returned to live in the UK in my 20s. The Bundesliga for me has the balance right and is an example of what football can be, great passionate crowds, member-owned football clubs and fair prices, not to mention outstanding football in the land of the four-time FIFA World Champions. In addition to my writing, I am a qualified German-English translator specialised in the football industry and am currently translating a biography by one of the leading figures in German football. For the last 7 years I have been president of the official BVB fan club in London,  when I am not in Dortmund, I regularly attend games of Portsmouth FC at the legendary Fratton Park stadium.