We had the opportunity to discuss with Kevin Hatchard, an English journalist and commentator who is mainly working on German football. We evoked his job, the Bundesliga, but also the English national team and many other topics across our conversation.
How was your passion for Bundesliga born ? As you are English and it is not the most obvious thing to be interested in for a football fan I think, especially with such an attractive championship like Premier League.
I was always interested in European football, I obviously love English football as a Liverpool fan, but I always payed attention to other teams in Europe. Notably the Borussia Dortmund team who won the European cup in 1997 with Lars Ricken, Andreas Möller, Karl-Heinz Reidle and other fantastic players that I really loved. I was also always impressed by the German sides at international level as well since they always had amazing squads. So, I can say that European football always interested me, above all Bundesliga and when the chance came out a few years ago to write about that I took it without hesitating.
As European football always attracted you, what do you think about the French league, its level, the rise of Monaco which was one of the best teams in Europe this season and the domination of PSG since 2010?
Ligue 1 has been excellent so far, this season. You look at the job Lucien Favre has made at Nice for example, it has been impressive, they really pushed PSG and Monaco all the way since August. Recently they started to drop few points but get that team in the top three and keep them there, especially after having lost Wylan Cyprien and Alassane Pléa half way through the season. I mean losing two key players like that and still get results is impressive.
Paris Saint-Germain had troubles with Unai Emery, but I think these problems appeared at the very start of the season when he tried to implement his ideas, the players did not expect that surely. So, I think he lost important points very early on. I think he lost a bit of credits after bending to the players will and going back to the formation the players wanted to play with. It has been problematic. In Champions league, the result against Barcelona was a total disaster. Emery was brought in to succeed in European ties as he did with Sevilla by winning Europa League three times in row, but this time it didn’t work, and it broke something among the team. It kind of wiped his authority. So, today the problems are still there.
Then Monaco have been amazing because Leonardo Jardim knows what he has to do with his team, he knows that Monaco wants to develop young players to a different stage. And you can see that the team has clicked, they are strong. Danijel Subasic is slightly weaker but the same so many qualities everywhere else. They lost players last summer but they are still doing well! Bakayoko has been doing a very good job in the midfield. Upfront they are one of the most exciting team in the world and even if Lemar or Bernardo Silva don’t play, Mbappé and Falcao will. Many other players stepped up too such as Valère Germain who played well too. If they win the league, it will be fully deserved, they will have done it in style. They beat very good opponents, with lots of pressure. So, it has been a wonderful season for them.
Have you always been attracted by commentating? Is it something that you have always wanted to do even as a child?
Indeed yes, I decided very early, when I was 14 that I wanted to do it. I used to get a big tape recorder so when there was a game on TV, I would practice by commenting it as if I was on the radio. Over the time, I started to do it professionally, I was watching a lot of games on TV to do reports and other sorts of things like that. I was writing at quite a young age as well. Then I started radio at 17 by doing small jobs and eventually when they needed reports or commentary I was doing it. And it began there really.
Is there a special game that you commented that can be considered as an achievement for you professionally?
I was very proud to do the game between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in April, that was an amazing moment. I have been lucky to report on one game at Wembley, as well as working on the Six Nations in Rugby. I honestly enjoy every game; no game is bad before it starts. But commenting big fixtures is always going to be funnier to cover. Though I always try to enjoy every party, you can always find stories that can be dragged out the game! I would say I am looking forward to the relegation games at the end of the season just as much as commenting Dortmund.
Earlier this season, you had the opportunity to comment Youth League, a trophy won by RB Salzburg where Marco Rose has been successful, what impressed you the most with them? Should Leipzig follow them in the future?
There are very cold blooded. Marco Rose (at RB Salzburg since 2013) has done an impressive job since he was brought in from German football while he was at Lokomotive Leipzig. He has worked hard on developing most players, they play a unique style which is very similar to RB Leizpig in many ways. But it is not surprising as the two clubs are affiliated. They play with a high pressing style, they can break lines with ability, they have star players like Hannes Wolf. They have real talents at every position in that team. I commentated the semi-finale against FC Barcelona and they had the ability to change the game slightly to adapt what Barcelona where doing. While Barcelona sticks to a system, a way of playing that did not work at all in that game, Salzburg adapted themselves to that. It is a proof that they are very well coached which is nice when it is added to talented players. Though Salzburg had been doing that for a long time now, they had a good youth system even before Red Bull arrived. Just like German teams, they were giving chance to very young players and it was very interesting. Otherwise, the success in Youth League showed that the youth system at Salzburg works well.
In Leipzig, the plan should be to develop their own academy. But for now, they are relying on picking up young talents from other German teams and developing them at the club. This is not helping them at being more popular I imagine even if they are offering good facilities, good salaries. I definitely think that at the long term, the plan will really be to develop their youth system, though it takes time and they don’t really have the time. Thus, in the next few years they will continue to buy young players.
When you comment a game, are you more following your instinct, your feelings to transmit emotions to people who are listening to you or are you more sticking to a plan that you created before?
It is mix! You do lots of preparation ahead of a game, we will have all the statistical information about every player, details on what happened during the week and so on. So, you need to have an idea of what you might say, some commentators are just following their notes but we all have different ways of doing it. There are certain moments where you just you stick to you instinct and try to say the right thing but you have also dozens of informations that you have been looking through the day to be sure to react to every situation. It is a combination between following your instinct to say the correct thing at the right time but you also have information to back you up if you need it.
Since you are watching a lot of Bundesliga games as you are commenting it, do you have the feeling that the level of the league increased during the past few years?
Yes, yes I think the level of the league is good. I think Dortmund rise has been really important to the league to give Bayern a rival. But I think also before 2010, you have seen Wolfsburg who won the league in 2009, Stuttgart who won it too a couple years before (in 2007). So I can say that it has been a competitive league. But since Pep Guardiola go to Bayern Munich and he had all success, people look at the league as if it’s just a “one team league”. Though now I think it was more because Guardiola was so successful more than dropping quality of the league. And now, because Leipzig are doing so well, Dortmund have so many exciting players it will be really good for Bundesliga to going forward.
Talking about Pep Guardiola, many people in Europe are saying that thanks to him the standards of Bundesliga increased. What is your opinion on that?
Certainly what he did with Bayern: giving them a new way of play, making his team more versatile, he improved those players that allowed Ancelotti from having more adaptable players, who can react to different situations now. But we have also seen, perhaps, more of a focus on tactics in the Bundesliga. You know there have always been tactical coaches but now you have Guardiola disciples like Thomas Tuchel, and I think now there is Julian Nagelsmann as well who is inspired by what the Catalan does. So yes, he made Bundesliga more interesting tactically speaking.
You talked about Julian Nagelsmann who permits to TSG Hoffenheim to reach a new level, what is your advice on the work made by the 29-year-old manager?
He is incredible. What he has done shows that he is tactically very clever, smart because he has been able to change system completely from what was used before. Last season when he arrived and Hoffenheim was in relegation troubles, his team played wisely. And then after he had a full preseason, he was able to develop completely new style, he has improved players such as Kevin Vogt who are way better than what they were before and it can be seen in their performances. He also managed to get some players who had a questionable mentality such as Sandro Wagner or Kerem Demirbay playing well and respecting his work. He obviously developed young players (Nadiem Amiri for instance). Nagelsmann also showed that he is willing to give up players like Steven Zuber who were playing regularly that they were able to convince him that they should play and he has been very loyal to them. So, he proved that he is very good as a tactician but he is also impressive a manager. Finally doing what he has done at his age is outstanding.
Considering that, could we say his future is at Bayern Munich as we can feel that there is something between him and the Bavarians?
I can understand why he has been linked to Bayern, though it is a bit early in his career, at this stage. But FCB will always attract best players, as well as the best coaches. I am sure they would love to have one of the most promising trainers in Europe this season at the club. He does have the qualities to be there though he might only do it when he will feel it is the right time as well as right move. He will remain at Hoffenheim for now, he would like to take them to Champions League to see what he can do. In the future, there is no doubt he will be moving to one of the biggest European clubs.
I understood that Hoffenheim really it impressed you this season, but is there another team – in Germany or not, that you really liked watching?
Leipzig without any doubt. I loved watching them this year. They play really fast and attacking football, they have a really good group of young guys, and I really enjoyed what they tried to do every weekend. There is also Hoffenheim obviously, they were always going forward, scoring many goals. Dortmund, when they were in the mood with players like Ousmane Dembélé, Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, when they click, they are amazing to watch. I would also say Werder Bremen especially in the second half of the season, they were really excited with Serge Gnabry and Max Kruse who did very well. I think there are a lot of exciting teams in Bundesliga. For instance, at the weekend I commented Freiburg against Schalke 04, and they produced very good football, attractive, precise and effective. So, in terms of exciting teams to watch, it has been an excellent season in Germany.
You just mentioned Freiburg who are coached by Christian Streich since 2011, what can you say about his work, his team and what they surprisingly achieved just after being promoted in Bundesliga as Zweitliga champions?
He has simply done an amazing job there. If you look at the resources that he has and then you look at what he has done in terms of improving players has been fantastic. For instance, Florian Niederlechner who was a good lower league striker at Heidenheim, who did not do really great at Mainz, progressed a lot until scoring at least 10 goals in Bundesliga. Some young guys such as
Çağlar Söyüncü, Maximilian Philipp really developed, it is also the case for Pascal Stenzel who was on loan from Dortmund before being bought by the club in January. They played a really defining style, winning most of their games at home, and it worked. They lost just eight games by more than three goals and there was only one or two back to back defeats, but it was very often, so it is impressive. They genuinely had a step back after being back in Bundesliga as quickly but Streich has realised an awesome job with the tactics and the other aspects of the game. He brought the most out of a group of players and this is what we are asking to a coach.
We talked about Bundesliga top teams, but what can you say on Hamburger SV which has been in troubles for years now and the fact that they might play again the playoffs to avoid relegation?
It is very tight, if Ingolstadt had beaten Leverkusen at the weekend (on matchday 32, 1-1 between the teams. Though after matchday 33 results, FC Ingolstadt have been officially relegated), that would have been huge because I think it would have put pressure on Mainz and Hamburg, but also Augsburg. It is very close and neither Mainz or Hamburg are playing very well, Augsburg have tough games against Dortmund (the finale result was 1-1) and then Hoffenheim away. But, I think it will be between Mainz and HSV.
Many people are saying that they should be relegated as it is good for teams to be relegated to bounce back but I don’t think it is the good solution. You always want to play at top level, and it is a real risk. If look at teams like Stuttgart who should come back up, they would have rather stay in the Bundesliga rather going to second division. For Hamburg, there has been one difference this season: they have been able to win a lot of home games, though they lost key games against Darmstadt for instance. They had the chance to do better. Though when you have a group of players who have been there for so long, season after season, that have never been far away from the worst. So, it is very difficult to not have back to back seasons where they are not in troubles. That’s why I thought it was surprising when they sacked Bruno Labbadia because he already went through similar situations before, but he probably had problems off the field rather than on the pitch with the performances.
You mentioned earlier that you are a Liverpool fan, a club that now have a German manager that you know well, how do you see that? What is your advice on his work since he arrived last season, during a bad period for the club?
Oh first, Klopp for Liverpool is perfect for me ! Then, generally I think he has done a brilliant job. You know Liverpool had weaker seasons before. In terms of mentality, they would win big games then lost against smaller oppositions. That still happens but it is happening less frequently. The fact that we have 70 points is really impressive. If you look at Liverpool back forward recently in terms of being back in Champions League and in the top four it was very poor. We have been in the mix a bit later this season but we already got to cup finals so I think LFC fans should be very pleased with what they have seen so far, as it has been done with a great style as well. When the team clicks, they are really fun to watch.
They don’t stand at the level of Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City, notably due to the budget and I don’t think they will reach their level under Klopp, but the team is still good. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Though if we could criticise the German manager for one thing it would be that there isn’t any plan B, and the Dortmund fans will agree as it has always been the case. There is one plan, that’s it and if it works then it’s great otherwise it is more difficult.
Since he arrived at Liverpool, we could see that Klopp often tried to cheer up Anfield to push them to help the team with their support. Do you think that due to that, German crowds are missing him, but also that particular enthusiasm around football?
Well, the Liverpool fans appreciate the passion he transmits to the club. It is interesting that at Dortmund they have gone from Klopp who is very warm and passionate to Thomas Tuchel who is also very passionate about football but in a totally different way. He is very intense, analytical, some people can see that he is colder, in other words at the opposite of his predecessor. I think that it has been a change though the passion remains here. But the most interesting thing about German managers it is that they are all extremely passionate by what they are doing. We see it after every game, sometimes on Sky Deutschland you can see them just before a game talking about the coming fixture or anything else. They are extremely accessible and outspoken but it has always been like that in Bundesliga. So to some extent, I think he is missing Germany.
Xabi Alonso has been an important player for Liverpool, what are your thoughts on him as he will retire at the end of the season, just like Philipp Lahm who marked Bayern history?
For Lahm, he is an outstanding player, a dream for every manager because you know what you will get from him at every single game. He is a leader, he has made the absolute most of his physical and tactical ability and he is a winner. I mean you look at guys like him, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Müller: they are winners. Then you look at what he achieved it is terrific, because fullback is a demanding position, you always have to play at high intensity during games. And he is just excellent there. He had done such a good job for Germany as well as Bayern for years now. I think he could have continue with the national team and his club, to win few more trophies but no, he just wants to spend more time with his family now.
Xabi Alonso is simply unbelievable. He won literally everything that was possible to win. He has done it in different countries: with Real Madrid, with Bayern Munich and Liverpool with who he won the Champions league, the FA Cup. He was so important to the Liverpool team, the one who won the Champions, especially during the finale, without him we would have never won that trophy. And he remained extremely solid, even when Rafa Benitez did not want him anymore at LFC, he kept his head up, he tried to do his best and he bounced back. The way he has adapted his game to play in different leagues is impressive. And also at an international level, he won the world cup, two Euros with Spain, so thanks to all of that he will rightly go down as one of the best players ever.
Do you think that Bayern Munich will suffer from these losses and it will help the other club to reduce the gap between them and the Rekordmeister?
I think it will be an opportunity for some young players to show what they can do. Joshua Kimmich might get some more minutes which will be great, Renato Sanches had a season to settle in, the pressure will be on him next season to perform. I think they have been really clever in bringing Sebastian Rudy on free because he is a very steady guy, he should prove that he is a very good signing. And anyway, Bayern still have a lot of experience within the club, they have Carlo Ancelotti, they have Arjen Robben, Frank Ribéry, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer. So, they have huge experience there. There are still be questions about that, though it will depend on what happened at Dortmund with the coaching situation, I hope BVB will be able to get closer to them, as well as Leipzig as they will be stronger. Some teams like Leverkusen, Gladbach and Schalke could also do something to be more consistent and try to challenge Bayern.
The current situation at Dortmund is very tense as you said, what do you think will happen in the next few weeks there?
The relationship between him and Hans-Joachim Watzke is not working. For whatever reason, there has been disagreements on transfer policy which is a very difficult situation. It is a shame because I think Thomas Tuchel has the potential to take this Dortmund team forward. I think he was extremely disappointed and upset after losing three key players last summer, it was a huge blow. It would have been one for any coach who have to deal with that. You can see that frustration is there, but they could work it out and decide to take the club forward, that would be very beneficial to Dortmund. But the way things are coming in the media suggest that it might not last.
You briefly evoked international teams earlier. So, England used to have an incredible team with players such as Scholes, Beckham and so on, would you say that you regret that this team never won anything?
Oh, yes definitely. The problem with England for years now has been the same, they have always been close to winning but they never did it. We don’t have enough way of playing, we play pretty much the same way, we are relying on physicality. But it seems like we have not been able to adapt to different situations, whereas the good teams such as Spain, Germany, or Italy, they have been tactically able to play different ways. And even though England had some very good gifted individuals, there’s never been a real plan for a whole tournament. With the talented players they got, they were not used correctly recently. There is also fear. We are putting a lot of pressure on them, they are constantly criticized, so they developed a kind of fear of big tournaments. You saw it in the game against Iceland at the Euros: players you know they are very good couldn’t pass the ball five yards to each other. So, that fear is there. Also, I doubt there are coached that well in terms of man management at a level where it is extremely important.
Let’s talk about another difference between German and English football. We can see that many young English players are slowly rising, a quite talented generation is coming and it is the same in Germany even if it became the norm since a few years. What are the differences between the two countries on that point?
The thing with young players in Germany is that they have an opportunity at a young age, they are given big roles in teams very early. If you look at Bayer Leverkusen for instance, Kai Havertz scored important goals already and he is only at 17, Julian Brandt has played regularly since he was 19, the same goes for Benjamin Henrichs who is only 20 and is a regular starter of the first team. At Dortmund, there is Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembélé and there are also many other young guys there. At Gladbach they have Mahmoud Dahoud and Andreas Christensen who are very important for them. So, they all playing all the time, and there in position where they can influence the game.
In England, there is more of a sensation that they are mainly used as substitutes, we don’t have the habit to just throw them in like in Germany where it is working very well. The development system has been there for a long time, we have academies in the country but I don’t think those young players are given a chance early enough to develop like Havertz or Weigl who is also a clear example. At Dortmund, he has such an important role in their midfield, it is crazy to see how precious he is. But would he play as much in an English club ? I am not sure. I doubt he would have been given this opportunity at such a young age (he has been playing every game since he arrived at Dortmund at 19 years old). So, if you want to develop young players, you should take the risk to make them play.
Photo credits : Jan Jruger – The FA via Getty Images