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Ace of base: How to keep players happy

india Updated: Jun 22, 2006 19:11 IST
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Before a major tournament like the World Cup, a question always arises before the coach: How do I keep 23 men together for four weeks without huge arguments breaking out and without any of them going mad with boredom?

Things have changed much since I stopped playing; it’s no more like it was in the days when players could secretly climb over the perimeter fence to escape the confines of a training camp. In 1974 — the world was then becoming a more dangerous and uncertain place — even I, for a bit of variety, got the police to drive me out of the Malente sports school in northern Germany.

However, Spartan sports schools as lodgings are a thing of the past. Players today don’t want to give up their pleasant surroundings and comforts.

If you include the pre-tournament preparations, you are talking about players spending up to eight weeks together for a tournament like the World Cup. Variety really becomes a necessity.

Above all, players today need the internet and all the other modern means of communication. If they don’t get them, you are headed for trouble. In 1974, when we stayed at Malente during the World Cup, the only mode of communication we had in the sports school was a coin-operated telephone, and there always was a queue of players waiting to make a phone call. Actually, there can really be no comparison with life in the camp then and now.

However, I always liked being in the sports schools, especially in the run-up to the World Cup, because for me it was always the most practical way. You did not need a team bus to ferry you to a training ground: For football teams, bus rides are the highest form of punishment.

In a sports school, you can go straight from your room to the training ground and back again with no loss of time. Sports schools may not exactly be fivestar hotels, but in Germany at least they are usually well appointed.

For the 2006 World Cup, a number of these sports schools have, in fact, found favour with teams — despite the choice of more than 100 luxury hotels in our catalogue of accommodation.

The Oberhaching sports school that is booked by Paraguay, lies just outside Munich — no problems, therefore, if the players want to visit the Bavarian capital. Paraguay’s Bayern players Roque Santa Cruz and new signing Julio dos Santos only need to drive a few kilome tres to be home with their families.

That was one of the secrets of our success at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Lothar Matthaeus, Andreas Brehme and Jurgen Klinsmann — all playing in Serie A — were almost at home outside Milan. We didn’t plan it that way, though — it was a stroke of good fortune that helped us on the way to the world title.

I can understand Spanish coach Luis Aragones’ logic in choosing the Kaiserau sports school near Dortmund as the team’s World Cup base. He is fanatical about discipline and, in any case, stars from sides like Barcelona and Real stay in luxury hotels all around the year.

Only USA are staying right in the middle of a big city, having chosen a hotel in central Hamburg. The German team is staying in Berlin but the Schlosshotel is on the outskirts of the city, in the leafy Grunewald area. It has a holiday feel to it, but in just 10 minutes you are in the hustle and bustle of the city.

The hotels which appear the most solitary are often the best, and there are some real castles on offer as well. The England team, possibly following royal tradition, is living in stately splendour at the Schlosshotel Buehlerhoehe in Baden Baden. The Argentineans went off the beaten track, selecting a five-star hotel next to the sports manufacturer Adidas in Herzogenaurach near Nuremberg.

The 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan was a sporting disaster because the leading players came to the tournament completely exhausted after the end of their league seasons.

Zinedine Zidane was, for example, only a shadow of himself in the French team. He was totally burned out. Only about a week to prepare for the tournament was farcical. I really have to think hard, in fact, to remember even one outstanding game at that tournament.

Much, of course, depends on how skilfully a coach gets his side ready for the tournament. In a negative sense, I immediately recall the 1986 World Cup in Mexico when, as coach of the West Germany team, I carried things too far and held team meetings which lasted for an hour and a half. In other words, I did exactly the things I never liked as a player, was narrow-minded and pedantic.

In 1990, I did things differently. I gave the players much more freedom but tightened the reins at the right moment; for instance, after a poor game in the quarter-finals, when we beat Czechoslovakia 1-0.

It does not really help much to have the players' wives living at the same hotel, for it only leads to unnecessary problems. But I have nothing against having the wives staying close by. In 1990, we used to have a 'family day'. We did not only meet up for dinner in the evenings but were together during the day at the swimming pool.

A certain amount of boredom in the team camp is, nevertheless, unavoidable when you have 23 young people together. But the team managers who make sure there is a varied programme for the team - and cultural activities are a part of this - have scored, and effectively, this time.

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