Interview of the Week – Thorsten Fink – “Dortmund are a good example for us”

In a matter of weeks Thorsten Fink seems to have reversed the fortunes of Hamburger SV. After an abysmal start to the season, winning just one of their first eight matches, the club found itself bottom of the table and a potential relegation candidate, something unthinkable for the only German club to have never been relegated from the Bundesliga since its inception in 1963. But since arriving in Hamburg in October, the former Basel coach has breathed new life into the Hanseatic club and remains unbeaten in his 7 matches in charge in all competitions. Hamburg have now moved up to 11th in the standings and are brimming with confidence.

In this interview from Welt Online, Fink discusses his plans for Hamburg, Burn-out-syndrome, his coaching style, his move from Basel and the speculation surrounding a potential return to Bayern München in the not so distant future.

Welt Online: Mr. Fink, to what extent have you planned out your coaching career?

Thorsten Fink: It is difficult to plan something like that. Coaching is such an up and down profession, the smallest mistake and you are out of the picture. But it was always a plan of mine to make the managerial leap into the Bundesliga and now my long-term goal is to work hard and achieve something great at Hamburg.

Welt Online: Both Franz Beckenbauer and Ottmar Hitzfeld are confident of a return from you to Bayern München as a coach.

Fink: It is a huge honor for two great footballing personalities like that to give me that kind of vote of confidence. But for now that is not in the plans. Hamburg is also a top club with all the necessary characteristics and prerequisites to be successful, the city, the stadium, the supporters. Hamburg is a club with a lot of history and tradition. Dortmund serve as a great example for us. There, Jürgen Klopp was given the opportunity and support to build and develop something over time. In his second season he lead his club to the Europa League and in his third year to the Bundesliga title.

Welt Online: Sports Director Frank Arnesen negotiated the move to Hamburg with you. Hamburg were last in the table and Basel were in the Champions League. What made his case to come to Hamburg so convincing?

Fink: I was impressed with how devoted the responsible parties were to me. Sympathy also played a big role here. There are some people who you think, “No I couldn’t go have a beer with him.” And there are those whom you connect with immediately and have a natural rapport and the latter was very much the case here. I also thought of how rare it is to get a chance to join a big club like Hamburg. When going over the squad I was confident and convinced of reaching their target, namely avoiding relegation….

Welt Online: …even though the team was in miserable form?

Fink: I followed the Bundesliga and took note of the results. It was clear to me that the problem was not the lack of quality in the players. There was an uncertainty about the team but I was confident of being able to find the solution to those problems.

Welt Online: So you are happy with your move to Hamburg?

Fink: Absolutely. Believe me, I had a great situation in Basel. I would not have given that up for many clubs. Many people in Basel could not understand why I made the decision to go to Hamburg. They would have signed me to a ten year contract, gone to their wives, sat on the couch and drank red wine, but I am in the early stage of my coaching career and want to move up.

Welt Online: Hamburg chairman Carl-Edgar Jarchow described you as a “Winner type” and as someone who has always been accustomed to winning. How does that mentality fit into the relegation fight?

Fink: A winning mentality fits Hamburg very well and I don’t really see us in the relegation battle. When I arrived we were last and now we have gone five matches in a row without a loss and regained stability. We want to improve step by step and I am sure we have the qualities needed to reach a midtable finish.

Welt Online: Are you satisfied with the progress so far?

Fink: I am not satisfied with the results because the team missed some opportunities to win matches they very well could have won. As far as our performances go though, it is looking pretty good so far. Especially notable is the team’s self confidence and belief, they are no longer uncertain and timid on the pitch.

Welt Online: How draining were those first few weeks for you?

Fink: It is true that I have an intense period behind me but it did not completely sap me of my energy. We are not participating in any international competition so I can focus on one game per week and there are also international breaks from time to time. I also have many people around me whom I trust and who also take a share of the burden off me. Sure, football can be hectic but I have the feeling that I was born to do this.

Welt Online: This feeling might also have been shared by Ralf Rangnick and now he is sitting out because of Burn-out-Syndrome. Do you take a case like that as a warning?

Fink: Burn-out-Syndrom – that means that one is burned out, that one has no more energy. I am not familiar with such a feeling and don’t spend time worrying that I may one day experience something like that. I am full of enthusiasm, full of energy, full of positive feelings and optimistic that we can build something great at Hamburg. It just so happens that I am having a lot of fun at this job. And those who enjoy their work also draw a lot of energy from it.

Welt Online: You have said that it irritates you that coaches are classified as either the “buddy type” or the “authoritative type”. Which style suits you?

Fink: Yes this classification is indeed annoying and it is obsolete. I am not a type like Felix Magath but that does not mean that I am too soft either. I conduct myself on an individual basis and according to each individual situation. Sometimes a player needs more pressure while another needs to be dealt with in a gentler manner. If the performance is lacking I try to find out what causes it. Is the player lacking in self-confidence? Is he having trouble at home with the family? Are there problems with the wife? Is the child not sleeping? As a coach it is my job to find out these things and address them if they are directly related to the performance.

Welt Online: Is there a danger then that you will wear out too quickly as a coach, especially in terms of motivational methods?

Fink: In any case, if you want to have short term success, especially in a situation where you are fighting relegation, then as a coach you can pull all the stops. It is difficult to go through with and maintain that if you want to work long term. The players can quickly think, “Here he comes again with his speeches.” Players can tell if there is substance to a speech or not.

Welt Online: You have inherited the squad from your predecessor Michael Oenning and despite the club’s precarious sporting situation, you rule out any moves in the winter transfer period. Is the financial situation at Hamburg so bad?

Fink: I am fully convinced that I can reach the goal of staying in the Bundesliga with the existing squad. If management sets the goal of qualifying for European competition then some moves might need to be made in the transfer market. To me it is not about getting four or five new players. That is the wrong approach and interrupts the development and progress of a team. It is the quality that counts, not the number of players. I would maintain the same even if we had a 20 million Euro budget to spend.

Source: Welt Online
Author: Matthias Linnenbrügger

You can find the original interview (in German) here.

Image courtesy of

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari


  1. As a life-long Hamburg fan I might be a tad too early to profess my undying love for Fink, as one can never be really sure how long our coaches stay. I can only hope though he stays for the long haul and Arnesen is aware of his genius! Fink’s take on player development and strategy are remarkable. I don’t think I’ve felt this confident about one of our managers in years (admittedly not saying very much, eh?).

    Hamburg doesn’t really have “financial problems” (just secured a new Emirates deal by the way) but I think what is more important is to find some stability and agree on a road map for the next years! Also developing our own players should be taken more seriously. Extending Beister’s contract for example should be a MUST!

    I’m fairly optmistic about the HSV’s future though, now that the age of the Fink has arrived. 😉 (Who knows, we might even upset all big clubs in Europe by getting some of that top-notch Basel talent…a girl can dream, right?)

  2. Yea agree, the imbalance/inconsistency between Bayern and the rest of the league has hurt the Bundesliga in Europe, at least inadvertently. Think Leverkusen and Dortmund are on the right path in providing that stability and with Fink I believe Hamburg can get there as well. Will be interesting to track their progress this and next season.

  3. A big club like Hamburg is immensely important for the Bundesliga.
    It has the fan-base, stadium and resides in a nice enough city to attract big name players.
    Once Hamburg has sorted out its financial situation, it has the potential to become an absolute top-club in the Bundesliga and regular participant in European competitions.

    At the moment Bayern Munchen is the only club that top Bundesliga players can transfer to when wanting to take the next step in their careers and at the same time remaining in the Bundesliga.
    As Bayern Munchen can’t fit all those players, the Bundesliga needs at least one more club where some of the likes of Reus, Götze, Marin, Cissé, Ba, etc can go whilst still remaining in the Bundesliga.
    I think Hamburg SV has the potential to become that club.

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