School comes first for the Germans

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The Independent Online
"Woodcock, pay attention at the back." Well, it was not quite like that in manager's college, but, Tony Woodcock said, it was a bit like going back to school.

Woodcock, once of Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and England, is a graduate of the German football association's coaching course. The course, widely regarded as one of the best in the world, is certain to be a big influence on the English equivalent.

"It is very intensive," Woodcock said. "It is six months, working Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm. You deal with everything to do with football. It's theory and practice, methods of teaching, psychology, normal medicine, orthopaedic medicine. At the end of it you have a week of exams, three to fours hours each one.

"Footballers are not used to exams. You leave school, spend 15-20 years in the game then suddenly you have to deal with all these questions. It is tough but you cannot do anything without one."

Even to get on the course Woodcock needed a B licence (awarded automatically to internationals, this entitles the holder to coach children), an A licence (a six-week course), and to have done a year's work experience.

The course is residential, based at Cologne University. Handy for Woodcock, who played for Cologne and still lives in the city, not so easy for most of his fellow students who had to move to the city for six months.

"You learn about every type of football," he said. "The direct style is one of those discussed. You see how it is done in other countries. You are not told their is a right way and a wrong way to play, just shown the various ways.

"You are also taught about diet and how the body works; and how professional sport works, how clubs are run, even how the how the DFB [German FA] is run. It is hard work." Indeed, one German international failed the course Woodcock was on.

Woodcock admits he is surprised how many British players go straight into management from playing. "I'm not saying they cannot do a good job, but it would not be possible here. You have to learn the trade first."

After work experience at Schalke 04 and a lower division club in Cologne - where he worked both as a general manager, then as coach, and who he guided to promotion - Woodcock took and passed the course.

He then went to coach VfB Leipzig, once known as Lokomotiv Leipzig. Before reunification they were the Stasi (secret police) club and were powerful, reaching the European Cup-Winners' Cup final in 1987.

Like most East German clubs, they have since struggled and had fallen into the Second Division when Woodcock took over this season. It was something of a culture shock on both sides.

"There were players who had been there 30 years, since they were small children, and it was very hard to motivate them. They did not know anything else and they lacked ambition. In the old East Germany everyone's life was mapped out.

"The mentality was 'I have a nice life, easy money, good job, I do not need someone coming in and wanting more from me'. There was not the desire to better themselves."

The culture clash did not work and, Woodcock, unable to reverse attitudes or results, was released mid-season. He remains under contract to Leipzig until the end of the campaign and cannot go elsewhere. In the meantime he is working for German television - his German, at times, seems more automatic than his English.

Offers have come in, and he is considering the possibility of moving back to England. One intriguing thought arises - if Arsenal really want a former Gunner in the chair, there is no one better qualified.