Mark McGhee

01 Dec 2011


People often talk about the ‘international language of football’, but sometimes you need a little more than that to allow effective communication. One such occasion was the recent Internationaler Trainer- Kongress (International Coaches’ Congress), hosted by the German Football Coaches’ Association (the BDFL).

Although the 1,100 delegates included visitors from as far afield as Iceland and Scandinavia, the event was conducted in German, with no translation. This, however, wasn’t a serious problem for the LMA’s (and, indeed, the UK’s) sole representative, as Mark McGhee is close to being fluent in German, having learned the language during the two years he spent as a player with Hamburg in the mid 1980s.

“My German’s okay,” says the former Wolves and Leicester manager. “It’s a long time since I lived there, but I’ve been back and forth often enough over the years to keep my hand in.”

The event’s theme, inspired by the recent successes enjoyed by Spain and Barcelona, was ‘quick change’. All of the sessions and demonstrations were designed to encourage the quick, short-passing game employed by those two sides.

McGhee felt that this showed a vulnerability in the German psyche which he wasn’t expecting: “I got the impression that there was a lot of self-doubt running through German football. It was obvious that this had been created by Spain and Barcelona. The impression I got was that the Germans felt they were falling behind Spain, which is a bit hard to understand when you think that Germany qualified for next year’s European Championship without dropping a point.”

The sole voice speaking against this tide of pessimism was Matthias Sammer – the former international sweeper and current technical director of the German Football Association (DFB). “Sammer pointed out that there are a lot of good things going on in German football,” says McGhee. “He argued quite sensibly that it would be crazy for German football to try to imitate the Spanish; that they should instead learn what they can from them and assimilate it into what they’re already doing.”

In addition to being able to gauge the current feeling within Germany at first hand, McGhee enjoyed the conference for other reasons: “I caught up with people I haven’t seen for a while, such as [BDFL general secretary] Karlheinz Raviol who ensured that I was never left out of anything. I also met up with the man I replaced at Hamburg, Horst Hrubesch, which was great as I’d never really spent any time with him before.”

And it wasn’t just about networking either, as McGhee explains: “On the coaching side I saw a few things that I hadn’t come across before, which made me a bit frustrated that I’m not in management at the moment. To be honest, I wanted to get straight out on the training pitch and put some of what I’d learned into practice.