31.12.2017Bayer 04

Heiko Herrlich – the improver

Coach Heiko Herrlich has brought an unsettled team back on track within six months, providing new impetus and restoring belief in their own strengths. Read on for an appraisal of a successful start for the new boss.

When he took over the helm at the Black and Reds in July, he arrived as a newcomer and a returnee. 29 years after the 18 year-old arrived from Freiburg to start his career as a pro at Bayer 04, Heiko Herrlich was back in Leverkusen. Shortly before that, he sprang a surprise by taking Jahn Regensburg to the second division via the play-offs and now the man from Mannheim was charged with breathing new life into a struggling side. His comment on taking up the new post: "It is my duty along with the players to rediscover and improve the qualities evident here until recently. We want to get the fans back on our side."

Today, just six months later, you can only say: Well done that man. The Werkself, who were at the wrong end of the table for much of last season, are now back where they have been for the past decade or to put it precisely: Back in the leading group in the league. But Heiko Herrlich would not be Heiko Herrlich if he were just to be satisfied with an impressive fourth place at the end of the first half of the season and a berth in the DFB Cup quarter-finals. On and on, and ever, ever better: The hunger and desire for success he has tried to inculcate his players with over recent months is exemplified by the 46 year-old – albeit modestly of course. "There is enough room for criticism. If we were a top team then we would have won 2-0 or 3-0 and saved our energy," he said after the recent 1-0 victory against Werder Bremen when the journalists declared the Werkself to be the team of the day. 

a go-between

Cockiness has never been his thing, neither earlier on as a player nor today as a manager of a team. Heiko Herrlich is a go-between rather than an individual or splitter. One of his first actions at Leverkusen was to introduce himself to all of the couple of  hundred of employees of the  Bayer 04 Fußball GmbH – in that sense a coach of the old school. The clear message behind that represents his self-image: Everybody is responsible for the success of the whole and not just the eleven men who are in the spotlight on the pitch. That is Herrlich's belief that he has stuck to from the start with the maxim: A team can be much more than just the sum of its individual strengths and achieve great things and overcome huge hurdles.

And a lofty summit served him well at the pre-season training camp in expressing this thought. The Bayer 04 group spent four hours climbing 2,000 metres to the summit of the Schmittenhöhe in the Kitzbühl Alps – that included everybody from the kit man to the CEO. To establish team spirit, solidarity and a common mental desire – "It's not the last mountain we need to overcome together. We will face even bigger hurdles  that we want to master as a unit," he said to the tired group after the climb in the mountains. He also conveyed this assessment to his players: "What's on the front of your shirt is more important than what's on the back." The badge ahead of the name and we ahead of me.

I didn't expect to come here and everything to work out from the start. I'm not a magician

Even at the start of the season when the coach and players were criticised in the media for only taking four points after the first five Bundesliga games in spite of decent performances, the management of Bayer 04 maintained their commitment that Heiko Herrlich was the right man for the job. "I said in the first few weeks, when the results weren't going so well, that Heiko and his fellow coaches were doing a great job. I was always convinced that he'd get the team back on track," said sporting director Rudi Völler. And the coach stuck to his guns and relied on his tried and tested beliefs: Increased resistance, high tolerance of frustration. "I didn't expect to come here and everything to work out from the start.I'm not a magician. We have improved step-by-step and that's a process that requires constant motivation."

performance as a principle

Success has bedded in. "We stand for goals, aggressive and attractive football, an attacking line-up. That's the approach of Heiko Herrlich,"said Rudi Völler. 14 games unbeaten in succession up to the end of the year, at least one goal in the last 22 Bundesliga fixtures, 13 different goalscorers at the end of the first half of the season (the highest number in the league), time on the pitch for almost all the Bayer 04 squad, flexible use of players and tactics, including during games – always relating to the situation on the pitch. "Heiko personifies what he demands of his players. Above all, he counts on the performance principle," said Jonas Boldt the sporting manager. From day one, Herrlich has taken the whole group with him: Whoever plays for him deserves it. And the opposite also applies in the same way: Anyone who deserves it will also play. And as that's the case, he enjoys great popularity in the group.

A good coach is also measured by his ability to improve players. If you look at the development of Leon Bailey, Kevin Volland or Jonathan Tah, then that is clear to see. But Heiko Herrlich has achieved much more in his first six months at Bayer 04: He has improved the whole team.



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