He has been called “Saddam” and “the torturer” by his players. Felix Magath is known for his brutal training sessions, but how has he managed to become one of the most successful coaches in the history of the Bundesliga?
The Bundesliga season has taken it course, and Schalke seemed to return to the form of the last season. Winter had
arrived, and the massive amounts of snow that came from the sky made Germany look like a magical place that one otherwise only sees in commercials for CocaCola. But one Saturday afternoon nothing seemed to work. Christoph Metzelder and Benedikt Höwedes didn’t connect with keeper Manuel Neuer, Jermaine Jones passes were lackluster, Raul couldn’t bother to run. Kaiserslautern sent Schalke home with a whopping 5-0 defeat.
Back in Gelsenkirchen “the torturer” knew how he should punish his players: nobody was allowed to wear gloves or snoots. Magath left no room for misunderstandings, he was mad as hell.
More than torture
Given the fact that Magath has won three German championships, and the DFB-cup twice, one is tempted to ask: is there anything else to this man?
Magath is actually a well read man, who in his spare time often plays chess. The 57 year old has actually very often likened the tactics of football with the tactics chess players use to defeat their opponent. Magath’s strength as a coach is that he is able to build a functioning team with the players he has at his disposal. Magath himself has said about his players: “They have to understand strategy and tactics to play at the top level.”
Magath himself has pointed out that mainly the tactical schooling of his players has made him win titles, not his physical toughness of his training sessions.
Let them eat cake
However, Magath’s physically demanding training style has had the effect that the teams he has coached in the past at one point became tired of Magath, and the former German international and Hamburg star was shown the door. Raphael Honigstein made the exact same point in the last Bundesliga podcast by Dan Levy and the Eurosport2 Bundesliga commentators. Honigstein told Levy that “many players told you off the record that they couldn’t have managed to be exposed to Magath’s training sessions for another year”. Former Schalke defender Rafinha told the tabloid paper Bild that Magath’s training sessions were so brutal, that he now felt qualified to become a general in the Brazilian army.
I will finish my post by given another example of the brutality that Rafinha speaks about: Back in 2008, while being at Wolfsburg, Magath told a delighted group of players that the training for this afternoon had been canceled. The VfL had just finished another brutal training session in the training camp in Switzerland, and the players sat at their lunch tables. Magath told he delighted team that the players would be rewarded with coffee and cake at a cafe nearby with the provision that the players retain their training attire just in case.
The players turned up in their training attire at the gondola that was supposed to take them up the mountain to the cafe. The mood was good. Magath managed to make their smiles disappear with one sentence: he told the group of young players they would get up the mountain by running the full 2362 meters. The players of the VfL Wolfsburg had to run for two and a half hours straight up the hill with Magath running right behind the team. Star striker Grafite collapsed before the end, and it is reported that a number of players broke down in tears as they reached the summit where they were finally able to enjoy their coffee and cake.