Giovanni Trapattoni's value to Bayern Munich was not all lost in translation
Many of you will have seen the footage. It's famous and hilarious even if you don't speak a word of German. It's enough to just watch the almost 59-year-old man in the red-and-white Bayern Munich sweater work himself into a temper tantrum.
Of course, if you do speak German it's priceless. Giovanni Trapattoni's news conference on the afternoon of March 10, 1998, lasted only three and a half minutes, but that was all he needed to become a staple on the country's late-night television shows and coin unintentionally funny turns of phrase that are still in use.
It was inevitable that those 210 seconds would be the most lasting legacy of Trapattoni's three seasons, in two stints, at Bayern Munich. It's the first thing that comes to everyone's mind when talk turns to the Italian's Bavarian travails.
But it's also unfair. Although he was one of the players Trapattoni singled out for criticism during his legendary news conference, Mehmet Scholl once said: "I guess he was the best coach I ever had. Under him I learned defence. But I also knew that if I played a stray pass, I had to come off."
When Germany met a Trapattoni-coached Italy in 2003, the most widely syndicated prematch wire report said that "there's hardly another foreign coach who was and is as popular in this country as Trapattoni" and added that a major reason for this was his "flawless character."
Finally, you can draw a line that starts with Trapattoni and ends with Pep Guardiola, taking in Louis van Gaal along the way. The Italian was the first truly famous foreign coach the Munich giants signed and, like his two successors, he was brought in not least because it was time to take Bayern to the next level.
Between 1977 and 1983, two Hungarian coaches -- Gyula Lorant and Pal Csernai -- greatly modernised Bayern's game, introducing and refining zonal marking. But during the more than 10 years that followed, the coaches were nearly all German: Reinhard Saftig, Udo Lattek, Jupp Heynckes, Erich Ribbeck, Franz Beckenbauer. The one (and brief) exception was a Dane, Soren Lerby, whose six forgettable months as Bayern's manager were his only foray into coaching.
Although some of those six men did quite well -- Lattek, for example, reached the European Cup final in 1987 -- none was even remotely as innovative and tactically astute as Lorant and Csernai had been. And so Bayern were looking for new input, for a man with some fresh ideas, when interim coach Beckenbauer said he would step down in the summer of 1994.
Bayern's business manager, Uli Hoeness, knew the perfect man for the job -- a young, smart French coach by the name of Arsene Wenger. However, when Hoeness enquired about his availability during the first week of April 1994, Wenger's club, AS Monaco, told him the coach would not be let out of his contract.
If Hoeness had been able to wait only five more months, he would have gotten his man -- and European football history would've probably taken a different course -- because Monaco sacked Wenger in mid-September 1994.
Of course he couldn't wait.
While Hoeness was headhunting, Bayern's sweeper Lothar Matthaus wondered whether to extend his contract. His former coach at Inter (see: "Podolski the latest chapter in Inter's long history of Germans," Jan. 13, 2015) had made it very plain that he would like to work together with Matthaus again. The man's name was Giovanni Trapattoni.
Trapattoni was leaving Juventus after three years and toying with a move to Roma. But it didn't work out, which is why Matthaus eventually signed a new contract with Bayern in the second week of April. "I was constantly in touch with my former coach, Trapattoni," he told the tabloid Bild. "He desperately wanted to sign me. But when his move to Roma foundered, he advised me to extend my contract in Munich."
You didn't need to be a genius to put one and one and one together. An out-of-contract Trapattoni, his favourite player Matthaus and a club in search of impetus from abroad -- they appeared to be made for each other. In the third week of April, Bayern's board traveled to Italy and reached a general agreement with "Trap."
However, it would be another week before he actually signed his contract. As the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported, Trapattoni had to talk things through with his family first. His wife, Paola, wasn't too keen on Munich, not least because their 17-year-old son Alberto was in his final year at school. This is why Trapattoni eventually signed for only one year, just to see what happened.
These starting conditions were far from ideal. In addition, there were the language problems. In mid-May, Trapattoni talked to a reporter from the sports television channel DSF and admitted that he would need an interpreter because his German was limited to the numbers from one to 11.
When he added he'd heard he would be able to communicate with some of the players, such as Klaus Augenthaler, because they spoke English, alarm bells should have gone off. Augenthaler's Bavarian accent was so strong many people couldn't understand him even when he spoke German.
However, there were also encouraging signs. Stefan Effenberg told Kicker magazine: "Trapattoni is a stroke of luck for Bayern, especially as regards tactics. The players will be surprised how intensely they are going to work on tactical things. I know this from my time in Florence, but as a German player you aren't used to it."
It turned out Effenberg was spot on. Trapattoni did revolutionise the club's training methods, and not just on the pitch. He decided to close many sessions to the public and, while that was something he was used to from Italy (and something Jurgen Klinsmann and, more recently, Guardiola would reintroduce), it was unusual and unpopular in Germany.
The problem, though, wasn't the training. It was the games. Between mid-September and mid-November, Bayern didn't win a single league match and were as good as out of the title race. One reason was an extraordinary string of injuries. Another was that the communication between coach and team left something to be desired. As early as August, Der Spiegel reported that the players complained: "When things become hectic, we don't understand a word he's saying."
There were other cultural differences, too. In April, Bayern won an away game at Frankfurt in great style, 5-2. But Trapattoni had ruined it all after 71 minutes by bringing on a young Dietmar Hamann. At the time, Hamann hadn't yet signed a professional contract, he was what the rules called an "amateur player." A professional team could field three such players. Hamann was the fourth.
"I'm the only one who is to blame," Trapattoni said after learning Bayern had forfeited the game. "I should have known the German rules." He added: "In Italy, they would have given me a bonus for winning an away game with four amateurs." But in Germany, Bayern lost the points.
The club finished the season in sixth place and Trapattoni didn't extend his contract. He told the Suddeutsche Zeitung: "My biggest problem was the language. I told the club: If I can't be 100 percent Trapattoni, we should stop it here." Bayern replaced him with another German coach nobody would ever call an innovator, Otto Rehhagel.
It tells you a lot about how highly regarded Trapattoni was at Bayern that, despite this disappointing season, he was asked to come back only one year after saying arrivederci. He told the Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag in May 1996: "I will take an intensive language course during the next two months. Four hours every day. I'll be able to work without an interpreter."
His second stint began in a fashion as unpromising as the first. Bayern were knocked out of the UEFA Cup in the first round and couldn't seem to shake off Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen in the league. But a strong run in March and April finally did the trick and the Munich giants won what was only their second Bundesliga title in seven years.
Things were looking rosy. Trapattoni was assembling a team that would one day win the Champions League. He promoted Samuel Kuffour from the reserves, he signed Michael Tarnat, Thorsten Fink, Carsten Jancker, Bixente Lizarazu and Giovane Elber. However, this was still the Bayern Munich that had been given the nickname "FC Hollywood" because volatile characters and strong egos abounded.
In March 1998, Bayern were a nervous club coached by a nervous man. Embarrassingly, the team trailed a newly promoted club, Kaiserslautern, coached by none other than Rehhagel. For a crucial game away at Schalke, Trapattoni took Scholl and Basler out of the team and started Thomas Strunz. When Bayern's team coach arrived at the ground on Sunday, March 8, everybody got off -- except Scholl and Basler. Pointedly, the two sat in an empty coach for 10 minutes before joining the rest of the squad.
Bayern lost 1-0. Trapattoni told the team the next training session would be on Tuesday. Then he drove to his house in Milan, where he took a pencil and eight small sheets of squared paper to draft a speech in German. On Tuesday morning, he drove to Munich. At the training ground, he changed into his coaching gear. While the players were sitting in the dressing room, getting ready for the training session, Trapattoni walked into the media room for the customary rundown of recent events.
"Are you ready?" he asked, staring at the journalists. Then he launched into German football's most famous speech. "It is at the moment in this team," he began, visibly trying to retain his composure, "some players forgetting them professional what they are."
It went on like this. Trapattoni's German was garbled to begin with and it became more incoherent as his rage increased. Yet everyone understood every word. "A coach not an idiot, a coach see what happen in pitch," he said. "In this game it was two, three or four players who were weak like a bottle empty," he said. "How dare Strunz!" he exclaimed. "I have ready," he said, and stormed off.
Of course he was widely lampooned. But he was also widely lauded for giving his pampered superstars a mouthful. Yet he must have known that he'd lost the dressing room for good on that afternoon. After this speech, his relationship with the team could never be the same again.
Three weeks later, he approached Hoeness and asked to be let out of his contract. "A coach has to know when the time has come," he said. "If I stay in Munich, I'll die."
He didn't. Today, Tuesday, is his 76th birthday. Buon compleanno, Trap!