Exclusive Interview: Thorsten Fink

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ‘'Hi Thorsten, many thanks for talking to me today at TSF, it’s a real pleasure to speak with you.  Let’s start with Bayern Munich where you won all there is to win at club level including the Champions League in 2001.  Those were special times…

TF  ''Yes, My time at Bayern Munich was an amazing experience for me because I spent nine years at the club, two years for the under 23 team and seven years for the first team.  It was a great experience because I lost everything and I won everything.  My philosophy as a coach and also as a player is that it is important to work in a team and team work is the most important thing in football.  That is a big lesson that I learned in my career as a player. 

I felt that even more when I became a coach because not just football but every company has good workers and people with good business acumen behind the scenes, the most important thing is unity.  Bayern Munich is like a big family and if you play for Bayern Munich you have to feel it and you then you can identify with the club.  You feel that you are part of that family and it gives you a very special feeling because Bayern Munich are not a small club, they are a big club, so it really is a special feeling”.

JR  ‘'I take it you try to recreate that feeling at the clubs you manage, including FC Basel in Switzerland.

TF  ''Yes of course. I have many memories from my time managing FC Basel. I managed a good team that had a good character and I worked with some really good people behind the scenes.  I was brought in to give the club a strategy and get all the players working together. We created a good family atmosphere and we had a good president in Bernhard Heusler, and a good Sporting Director in George Heitz who is currently working for Chicago Fire FC in the United States.  We did fantastic work together and had a great relationship. 

FC Basel want to win everything and if you are number two at that club then you are not good as a coach.  I was under a lot of pressure because my predecessor was Christian Gross who was at the club for ten years and he was very successful.  He won a lot of titles.  In the beginning I had a problem with results but I worked hard to bring my philosophy to the players and apply people management skills inside the football club which is so important.  We also had a good scouting network and a great togetherness during my time at FC Basel.  I have experienced during my time at clubs in professional football that many people inside the club can work against you and not with you’’.

JR  ‘’Was it like that at Hamburger SV, after all, they’re a huge club with many more people working for them?”

TF  ''I had an amazing time at Hamburger SV.  At every club I have managed I learned a lot, and every year that you manage you continue to learn, and therefore you can improve in the future.  It’s very important to want to learn every year.  Hamburger SV are a bigger club than FC Basel.  They have 75,000 members and which is a lot for any club, each and every one of those fans is extremely passionate and they also have a lot of power within the club.  Also the local press in Hamburg are not always on your side.  Hamburger SV are such a massive club.

But I am very pleased with the job that we did because in my first season we fought relegation and in my second season with finished 7th in the Bundesliga which was a fantastic achievement.  I believe that the second year was a successful season but nobody in the club realized that.  Everybody in the club said “oh we must finish 4th or 5th in the Bundesliga”. For me it was a difficult time because of the expectation at the club’’.

JR  ‘'Expectation and reality are so often at odds in professional football.  However, I watched your FK Austria Wien team beat Wolfsberger AC when on holiday in Vienna back in 2015.  You seemed to have created a team with real unity and spirit there with no sign of those same problems at Hamburger SV?”

TF  ''I look back on a very successful time at FK Austria Wien where we finished third in my first season and we finished second in the second season, also reaching the group stage of the Europa League twice.  We even had to go through the qualifiers just to reach it so it wasn’t easy for an Austrian club, even though FK Austria Wien are a big club with a lot of tradition in the country.  We have many fans and they also have a rich history having won Austrian titles.  But you cannot beat FC Red Bull Salzburg due to the fact that the club has a lot of money and a philosophy of franchised companies.  They have a lot of clubs in many countries and they all have the same coaching philosophy as well as the best doctors and the best facilities, so we could not beat them. 

We also played with the second youngest team during our time in Europe in the Europa League, second only to Ajax Amsterdam.  I had a great time working with young players at FK Austria Wien.  I like to work with young players and bring them into the first team.  Sometimes at a big club, the club and the fans don't understand that sometimes you are not always successful if you only work with young players and that is the problem that we had in my last season at FK Austria Wien where were sold a lot of successful and experienced players and then we worked only with our young players.  Our league position was not good but I think if big clubs can wait longer to find balance then that success will come.  Nowadays in football nobody has the patience to work and wait for the next step and that is a big problem in football’’.

JR  ‘'Thorsten, I really appreciate your time today, it’s been so interesting listening to you talk about management in particular.  There’s also another fascinating management adventure that you’ve had with Vissel Kobe in Japan where you had great success winning the Emperor's Cup and Japanese Super Cup.  How was it for you to immerse yourself in a totally new culture and work with World Cup winners such as Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Lukas Podolski?”

TF  ''My time in Japan was really special because I became immersed in a completely new culture and we had big stars such as Andrés Iniesta, David Villa, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Vermaelen.  As you say these are all great players and they had won everything such as the World Cup in the case of Germany and Spain.  It is a special thing to experience football in another culture with five translators on the pitch.  Off the pitch too, for example the Japanese like to eat at 6pm and the Spanish guys want to eat at 10pm and you have to handle this situation.  It is not simple.  In football it is very difficult to do put everything together in another culture, with translators, with the top stars of the world.  But for me it was a great experience and a great challenge. 

I remember Andrés Iniesta saying to my boss that he was very happy to work at the club because winning so many trophies with FC Barcelona is normal.  But now he had won a title with Vissel Kobe which was very special to him because Vissel Kobe had never won anything in their history.  Iniesta told me, “we have all won the clubs first title with you, Thorsten”.  That was an amazing compliment to receive and it made me feel good.  He subsequently signed a contract extension because he and his family liked the life that they had created in Japan. 

I brought young players into the team and watched them grow, that is my big motivation to keep working in football. I met a lot of nice people during my time in Japan who were very honest and respectful while the fans of Vissel Kobe were also great.  The stadiums in Japan are beautiful and I really enjoyed my time living in the country, it was really nice.  We shall see what the future will hold.  I have worked in Austria, Switzerland, Japan and Germany and I know the market now having worked with top stars and young players too.  I believe that I am the right age to lead a big club now.  I am 53 years of age, I am not to old and not too young. I have accrued a lot of experience and I am still full of passion, now I am waiting for the right club’'. 

James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.