'A hard taskmaster' - What Hearts fans need to know about applicant Felix Magath, the three-time Bundesliga winner

German manager Felix Magath is one of the most high profile individuals to apply for the Hearts job

Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 5:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th November 2019, 5:57 pm

"But to call him Saddam Hussein is a bit strong."

There are unflattering comparisons and there are comparisons which are downright insulting. Then there are comparisons to someone who oversaw a brutal dictatorship.

Yet, that is the position Felix Magath finds himself in. A comparison from his homeland which he has had attached to himself for years, albeit one which is unfair according to ex-Celtic defender Stephane Henchoz who played under him at Hamburg.

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Felix Magath has won the Bundesliga three times. Picture: Getty
Felix Magath has won the Bundesliga three times. Picture: Getty

The 66-year-old is one of a number of managers to hand in an application to become the next Hearts boss. Of the names who have been linked with the job so far, he is by far the most successful and someone who, without a doubt, falls into the high profile category.

His CV is a who's who of German football: Bayern Munich, Schalke 04, Hamburg, Werder Bremen, Stuttgart, Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolsfburg (twice) and Nurnberg.

Magath is a three-time German manager of the year. He led Bayern to back-to-back league and cup doubles and masterminded unfashionable Wolfsburg's historic, and only, Bundesliga title.

As a player, his career was even more glittering. Three Bundesliga titles with Hamburg, a European Cup and a Cup Winners' Cup. A European Championship with West Germany and two World Cup runner-up medals.

He led Wolfsburg to their one and only Bundesliga title. Picture: Getty

The players he has managed reads like the all-time Bundesliga shopping spree on Championship Manager: Grafite, Edin Dzeko, Oliver Khan, Thomas Hinkel, Lucio, Philipp Lahm, Roy Makaay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Owen Hargreaves, Michael Ballack, Manuel Neuer, Joel Matip, Ivan Rakitic, Raul, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Mario Mandzukic.

Which, without scratching the surface, makes it even more baffling that the stench of loathing has clung onto him like a leech, particularly for the last decade.

Such is the enmity, that in his second spell at Wolsburg he came up against former charges emboldened to do their utmost to see him lose, such was their distaste for him.

One former player was Jefferson Farfan who noted that he would rather work down a Peruvian salt mine than play for Magath again. When he took over a struggling Fulham side - who he couldn't prevent from relegation - Lewis Holtby, who had previously played under him, told his team-mates they were done and wanted to return to Tottenham Hotspur immediately.

Magath was a successful player for West Germany and Hamburg. Picture: Getty

"He's a hard taskmaster," German journalist Rafa Honigstein told the Evening News. "He pushes players all the way, perhaps sometimes too much. His short-term methods can work but it is not a style of coaching for the long-term due to the demands on the players.

"A lot of it has to do with fitness. He is famous for challenging players, making them run a lot and he puts them under a lot of pressure to go the extra mile."

He has been known to install a hill at clubs, branded 'Mount Magath', in a bid to improve fitness, while at Wolfsburg players were perplexed when they had finished a running exercise only to return to their water bottles having been emptied by the manager.

Farafan labelled his methods "militaristic", and a Hearts squad which has been riddled with injuries would likely be in for a wake up call with Magath's authoritative, almost Sgt Major, approach.

Fulham were relegated under the German. Picture: Getty

Still, this is a manager who has got results most places he has been. The start of his career saw him improve Hamburg, Nurnberg, Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt in the short-term.

His big moment came at Stuttgart in 2001. He arrived at the club a few months after they had faced Hearts in the Uefa Cup. He transformed them from relegation battlers to title contenders. It was enough to propel him to become Bayern Munich boss in 2004.

"Magath's emphasis on physical fitness did enable Bayern to overrun their rivals. At their best, in the spring of 2005, they played a powerful, muscular attacking game," Honigstein wrote in 2007, not long after he had been sacked.

The German giants had the physicality, stamina and quality to succeed domestically but they were often found wanting in a tactical sense in Europe.

His crowning sense was at Wolfsburg where, Honigstein says, he had a "very attacking, exciting team with a wonderful partnership in Edin Dzeko and Grafite and a No.10 (Misimovic). It made a really powerful combination with a lot of hard work behind those three".

It was an unprecedented success with a team which had the backing of VW.

"Magath gave his artists a framework in which they could let loose – with an idea of fast attacking football, with hungry and able players, with a hard training regime," wrote Tagesspiegel.

However, that was over a decade ago, and there is a real sense that this may be a coach who has been left behind by the modern game.

He can be cold and distant, something Henchoz even referred to when praising his work at Hamburg in the mid-90s.

"He didn't speak a lot but he got results by working the team very hard and putting discipline in the squad," he said. "There was a lot of running through forests and over hills, probably the same methods he was used to as a player in the 1970s and 80s. It was quite basic and it was hard but it was needed at the time."

There is a suggestion, even from the man himself, that he would struggle to fit in to a model where he would be a head coach rather than a manager who oversees everything from coaching to being in full control of transfers.

"Clubs in Germany are reluctant to go for him," Honigstein, said. "He's not the best guy to work with young players, who are used to a more developmental model. He is quite old fashioned. Expects players to do a lot of for their own thinking on the pitch.

"He is a guy who manages in the old British sense of management which goes beyond just coaching. He was doing interviews in Germany recently and said that managers need to be trusted more. He was at his best when he had control of all matters of the team.

"I hoped he had learned from his mistakes at Fulham where he didn't connect with the players. He needs to communicate a lot more effectively. He has authority and can be charming when he wants to be."

Aside from a spell in China, overseeing the Cottagers relegation from the Premier League and then disastrous start to the Championship having signed Ross McCormack for £11million and Mark Fotheringham, was his last job in management, and one which is remembered infamously.

From advising Brede Hangeland to treat an injury with a block of cheese while the Norwegian had to simultaneously phone his mum, to making the players stand out in the training ground for an hour after getting back from an away defeat he left his mark.

It is hard to imagine the Magath the manager fitting into the structure at Tynecastle. But if he were to be appointed, it would be a blockbuster move, even if for a little while.