Uwe Rösler loves English football dearly, but part of him wishes it had the modernity and speed of the German game.
There are not many men who have come here from abroad and succeeded twice, first as a player and then again as a manager. Rösler – popular as part of the Manchester City team of the mid-1990s and now doing well in charge of Brentford – is in a select group along with Gianluca Vialli, Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Martinez and Gus Poyet and is therefore in a good position to rate the merits of the two brands of football in the week when England and Germany meet twice in the Champions League.
“I am a big fan of English football,” Rösler tells The Independent, “and a fan of English life. I loved to play here, and to manage here. English football is special. You have the teams, the leagues, the stadiums, the fans, the atmospheres and the top players.”
It brings Rösler no pleasure, then, to make his judgement about what he sees on the pitch. This is a man desperate for the English game to succeed – he wants to continue working here, and at higher levels than League One – and to maintain its identity. But, for now at least, he sees the football of his homeland far outstrip the English version. When Arsenal and Chelsea face Borussia Dortmund and Schalke respectively in the Champions League tomorrow night, this will be tested again.
“When you ask in terms of pure football, in terms of the modern game, the German game is more modern than the English,” he says. “In terms of tempo, in terms of transition from defence to attack, in terms of speed, in terms of how many players each team is willing to commit, in terms of tempo of ball circulation.”
English football has always been known for its speed but Rösler – a Bundesliga pundit for BT Sport – perceives excessive patience in it now, a desire to pass for the sake of passing rather than to commit to attacking. The Bundesliga is the home of the counter-attack, the fast break, so much so that Pep Guardiola has started calling it “Konterland”.
“English football now is very much ‘pass, pass, pass, pass, pass,’ but you’ll go nowhere,” Rösler says. “In German football, a lot of teams win the ball and they have eight to 10 seconds – it is the 10-second rule – you have 10 seconds to finish the attack. Every ball has to go forward, forward, forward. So that means to have runners going forward all the time, so it is a very attacking style in German football. That’s the difference.
“When you really watch football – Freiburg v Bremen or Frankfurt v Mainz, how they attack, that is different for me than when I watch mid-table English clashes.”
English football is often criticised for being too insular but what if the opposite is true – that English clubs are too easily influenced by foreign ideas, rather than discovering what works best for them?
“For a long time everybody tried to orientate themselves on Barcelona,” Rösler says. “But there is only one Barcelona. Everyone who tried to copy them, could only be a copy. German football found its own way – very fast from defence to attack, with speed, runners, fitness, technique, tactics.”
This week Schalke and Dortmund – two of the three clubs Rösler identifies as Germany’s biggest – will face some of the best of England. The other giant – Bayern Munich, German and European champions, gave Arsenal a football lesson at the Emirates last season, one that Arsenal will hope to avoid tomorrow.
“Have you seen how good tactically Bayern Munich were?” Rösler asks. “They didn’t have only the best players, but tactically how good they were. How quick they attacked over the wings, how they demolished Arsenal’s left-hand side. So it is not only about the players, it is about the whole concept.”
When it comes to playing football like this, the German league has one structural advantage over the English: their clubs have a supply of proficient young players through their academies. “The average age of all teams went down and down and down – that gives you energy and willingness. Players not thinking, they just run, they just attack,” Rösler says.
This is not because of a talent-deficit in England, Rösler says, but the lack of proper development. “In English football, you produce a lot of good players until the age of 17, 18. And what happens then? That is the main issue. There is not a lack of talent in English football, it is just what happens at a certain age.
“In German football, then they kick on. They get in competitive football with their second teams, who play competitive league football. Or they go right into the first team and get competitive chances with there.
“In England, at 17, 18, they play development football, not competitive football, or they get loaned out to lower leagues where some of them struggle with the environment, with the type of football, and they lose motivation, they lose faith, and instead of kick on, they fall off.
“Now Premier League clubs are realising that the next generation is not there anymore, they are realising the development playing schedule is not good enough, in terms of the type of the football, the tempo, the competitiveness. Not good enough to use all your skills and things you have learned from top coaches, not in a non-contact development game, where a result doesn’t matter. Clubs are realising it is not in place now.”
In Germany, second teams play in the lower divisions, with Stuttgart II and Borussia Dortmund II in the third tier – the equivalent to Brentford’s League One. Rösler recognises that it is a “good arena” for testing players, but the romantic Anglophile side of him does not want to see it in England. “I would prefer to play Notts County or Coventry City. That is why I came over to England, because of the history of English football, the variation of teams that you will meet. Personally, I prefer that but in terms of player development, we have to give our players the arena.”
One option, recently floated, is to have top-flight clubs feeding players to chosen lower-league teams, an approach Rösler says exists anyway. “We have it here already with Swindon,” he says referring to the three loan signings and one permanent deal Swindon did with Tottenham Hotspur this summer. “I find it very dangerous. I think, for us to compete with feeder clubs is very difficult.”
Rösler’s responsibility at Brentford, where he is trying to lift a team who came so close to promotion last season, is to build something which brings the best out of his young English players. “We want to keep our identity and our history. We want the core of the team to be English. David Button, Harlee Dean, Tony Craig, Jack Bidwell, Shaleum Logan, George Saville, Will Grigg and Clayton Donaldson – all English.”
One day in the distant future Rösler would like to return to Germany to manage, and if he did so he would take English players with him. Not so many as to dilute the identity of his German club, of course, but to bring some of those attributes he admires so much back to his native land.
“You see now Germany players coming here, but you very seldom see the opposite way. And my aim is clear – one day, not now, not in the near future, in the long-term future, to be a manager in German football. And I will always try to get English players to go to German football because I see so much talent here.”
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