The feeling of pleasure and enjoyment in what we do is extremely important. It creates trust and respect when you walk into the changing rooms or on to the pitch and the lads see that the coach loves football and believes in what he says – a sense that “he’d really prefer to be playing with us”. That creates enthusiasm and trust in the coach. This enthusiasm and positivity is extremely important. Of course, there’s pressure too. It’s nerve-wracking, particularly in the Champions League with all the journalists and supporters. You feel you’re being watched and assessed by everyone so you need to be able to free yourself to a certain extent, but still have fun. If you can convey this fun and positivity, the players will also get this feeling.
If you respect the players, they’ll respect you. You gain respect by being respectful towards others, so respect other people’s opinions. Honesty is also important. You have to give a player your honest opinion and it has to benefit them. Unfortunately, the coach’s job sometimes also means having to convey bad news. The player has to recognise that you are being objective. If he recognises that he can improve if he listens to the coach, that can quickly build trust. But you can destroy this trust just as quickly through poor communication or a lack of honesty.
Good leadership also involves being able to acknowledge your mistakes and show your weaknesses. If parents say to a child: “Sorry, I made a mistake,” that breeds great trust in the child. It’s the same with the players. If the player believes the coach can’t make a mistake, then he can’t develop trust in the coach and starts to think the coach knows everything. If you admit to a mistake to the players, then that builds trust.
Jürgen Klopp is an example of leadership in a very special way. He leads with great emotion. He manages time and again to inspire the players emotionally so that they all push themselves to their limits. The human side of Jürgen is very impressive when you see how the players perform for him on the pitch and how they run for him. I’ve still got a long way to go when I think of Jürgen Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti; they’ve got much more experience at this level. I’m still fairly young at 32, but I have quite a lot of experience. You can’t buy experience, you can’t learn experience, you have to gain it yourself. It helps when you’ve been in a certain situation several times before and you know what solutions helped – what words you chose, which bits were good and which were less good. You can’t learn it from a book. You just have to wait and be patient.
It’s important as a leader to formulate goals, and to reach them with the team. Ideally, on the way to achieving our aims as a group, the players should have fun fulfilling the tasks assigned to them in reaching their own goals. A clear set of rules is also very important. Players have to know the framework within which they are free to act. They have guardrails and they know they can move freely within these and have opportunities to express themselves, but not beyond these borders.
The stronger your coaching team is, the stronger you are as a coach. That’s also related to leadership – not being afraid to have experts in your team who maybe know their specialised areas better than you do. What’s important is to listen and consider their opinions, and to have everyone working towards the same goal. A fitness coach has a certain goal – to make the players faster. But he has to remember that he’s ultimately making the players faster to win games, and not to win a 100m race.
As head coach there are so many people who want to communicate with you. From a player’s point of view, it’s just one little chat, but, as a coach, it’s one discussion of many you’re faced with during the week. Sometimes, you feel you’ve told a player the same thing three or four times, but it’s still important to call him in for a chat and to listen to him, to try to find out what’s worrying him, what’s on his mind. It’s important to be a good listener.
Finally, it’s very important to convey joy. That’s a central point. And then patience, and being patient at the right moment. That’s something I still have to work on. You need to give players time and space to make mistakes, because only then can you develop your game. You learn a lot from your own mistakes.