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Interview with Raphael Honigstein

honigstein Interview with Raphael Honigstein Following a busy season, Raphael Honigstein of The Guardian and Footbo was kind enough to talk with me and address a few questions I had about the end of the season and the start to the silly season.

Which player(s) surprised you the most this season? 

a) Misimovic. We knew he could play football, but not that well, nor that consistently. He became, alongside  Diego, the best central midfielder in the Bundesliga. Quite a step-up.
 
b) Grafite. Looked a little slow and ponderous in front of goal last season. Different story this time around. (probably only half the player without Misimovic and Dzeko)

c) Trochowski. In the Misimovic-mould of nearly-men in recent years, now a good reason to leave Schweinsteiger on the bench at the World Cup. 

Who was the most important player to his team?

Maybe Mario Gomez. He really carried the side, especially in the second half of the season, with his goals. 

We seem to becoming a league based on streaks: Stuttgart 2007; Hoffenheim – Hertha – Wolfsburg this year. Which was more impressive: Stuttgart’s run two years ago, Hoffenheim’s start this year or Wolfsburg’s finish?

I’d say Hoffenheim’s and Wolfsburg’s runs were equally impressive on the face of it, but then Wolfsburg had a semi-decent first half, too, and timed theirs much better. I think winning 14 out of 17 games in 2009 is unbelievably good.

All three promotion sides survived. Of the 3, who looks most likely to suffer a sophomore slump?

Michael Frontzeck has already taken two teams down, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he got Gladbach relegated as well. Köln’s chances will depend on who they can get as manager. Hoffe will be okay.

We lost our last East German team. What do you think East German football needs to do to make itself competitive?

Actually, Union Berlin are going strong and things are happening at Leipzig. I don’t think anything in particular needs to change. You just need a few good men with good ideas and little bit of money.


It seems that Magath has some concerns with Schalke: aged backline and a unbalanced squad. How long do you think it will take for Magath to get Schalke contending?

That really is one of the most interesting questions for next season. Rumors are that Schalke have very little money to spend, so he won’t be able to transform the team instantly over two seasons the way he did with VfL. He will surely get them fitter. But can this squad actually play decent football? I’m not sure.

It’s a question I asked the last time we talked. With Wolfsburg retaining the “gaffer” system and Schalke now being the second club to employ it, is there any chance of more teams adopting the style? Or do you see Armin Veh folding under the pressure of both jobs only to see Wolfsburg return to the Sports Director method sooner rather than later?

I remember talking to you about that a year ago. I must admit I’m very surprised that the Bundesliga has gone down that route. Of course, success breeds copycats and Magath at Wolfsburg is getting copied. Managers have become more confident to ask for wider powers. It seems like it will be the trend for the next few years, as even Bayern are giving van Gaal more power than Klinsmann ever had. But you are right, these things can be cyclical. The first club who fires their manager and finds itself with 20 players they don’t want will think very carefully about the whole system again. 

Why is Hertha’s Lucien Favre making noise about leaving?  It would seem that Hertha’s upside is still considerably large.

He was flattered by the attention from Bayern and HSV and used it politically. His threat to walk was really a clever ultimatum: he forced Hertha to choose between him and Dieter Hoeness. Hoeness was fired two days ago. 

Do you know why Christophe Daum suddenly left?

Money. And the chance to win titles and play internationally. In his own mind, Daum is on a par with Mourinho et al, so helping Köln to another mid-table finish had limited appeal for him. 

Last year, we saw the emergence of some new young managers in Jurgen Klöpp and Bruno Labbadia. Both were fairly successful in their first campaign at the top level.  Why then do you think so many managerial changes so far involve a merry-go-round approach rather than trying to find new blood like Dortmund and Bayer 04 did last year?

Klopp was fairly established before Borussia went for him but it’s true: the Bundesliga seems to have become quite risk-averse. Better the devil you know – it’s a consequence of the Klinsmann debacle, probably. 

With the team that Bayern seems to be building this summer: Van Gaal, Prajnic, Gomez, Olic, Boumjohann, as well as Sneijder, Tymochuck and Pandev likely; It feels like a team, regardless of Ribery’s impending departure, that on-paper are good enough to win Europe.  Do you think that we could see our first German team making a serious run at the UCL since 2002?

Hmm, I don’t know. Gomez for Toni doesn’t really change that much. I like Olic as a defensive forward (copyright Jonathan Wilson). Tymoschuk should have been bought four years ago. Baumjohann won’t feature much. Prajnic and Braafheid will be interesting although it’s never easy to evaluate the true strength of Eredivisie stars. I don’t think Pandev is really in the mix at all. Now, if they could somehow keep Ribery, they might really have a chance. But that’s highly unlikely. And Van Gaal is the first real big ego-manager at Bayern. That poses just as many risks as opportunities. I think this could go either way. Remember what happened when they put together the “White Ballet” in 2002/03 with Ballack, Ze Roberto, etc? Out in the groups stages. 

Will they end up with Adler, Neuer or other?

The word on the street is that Adler’s back isn’t quite up to it.  Neuer might yet happen. Schalke need money to pacify Magath. 

Aside from Ribery and Diego, which player seems most destined for foriegn shores this summer?

Dzeko to Milan is more than a rumour. Barnetta wants out and might be able to find a middle-class EPL team. Petric is keen to make more money, possibly in Spain.