Rene Maric interview (Borussia Mönchengladbach): "The players understand the challenges better than the manager"
Rene Maric from Borussia Mönchengladbach is the youngest assistant manager of the Bundesliga at 27 years of age. A few years ago, the founding member of tactics website spielverlagerung.de contacted Marco Rose. Maric and Rose have been working together since 2016 - and won four titles in three seasons.
In the interview with SPOX and Goal, Maric talks about his time as a community member at SPOX, the importance and the coaching of the principles of play, a coach who worked with children's rhymes and his simplified view of soccer-specific topics based on his accumulated experience in professional football.
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Mr Maric, you being the Bundesliga's youngest assistant manager at 27 is widely known, as is the fact that in 2011, you were one of the founders of spielverlagerung.de, a tactics website. What's less widely known is that the founders of that website met at SPOX.
Rene Maric: Yes, everything kind of started at SPOX. Of the current boys at Spielverlagerung, Tim Rieke, as well as MB, and HW - who would like to remain anonymous - began their writing at SPOX. That was around ten years ago. One would write articles about training sessions, another would do footballing history or tactical details and so on.
And you then became active in order to communicate with the writers on mySPOX?
Maric: Exactly. At that point, I was already a youth coach in Austria. I got the position at TSU Handenberg when I was 17, because I had suffered a serious cruciate ligament injury and sporting director Günter Russinger virtually demanded that I take it. I was watching a lot of YouTube videos of individual players, while I was also Googling training exercises and things relating to tactics. That's actually how I discovered SPOX in the first place and in order to be able to correspond with the writers I had to register with the site. Eventually, in conjunction with Tobias Escher of taktikguru.net, that gave rise to what spielverlagerung.de would become.
In 2016, you became assistant manager at RB Salzburg under Marco Rose. A year later, you won the UEFA Youth League with Salzburg's U19s, followed by the Austrian league title with the first team in 2018 and 2019. A boring question first: what is tactics to you?
Maric: For me, it's definitely not a specific match plan with pre-determined sequences, situations, or moves. In my mind, tactics describe the sum of a team's decisions about how they're going to solve a particular situation. Tactics is, for instance, a player recognising where and how he is being closed down but still managing to still see an available teammate. And also how that teammate has positioned himself in such a way to remain available, and then to receive a pass in the right place at the right moment. Ultimately, it's a very simple process: on the pitch, you're either protecting the ball, demanding the ball, or creating space. There is nothing else. Tactics is the mutual resolving of a situation through these actions by means of predefined playing philosophies, which correspond with the players' abilities and their understanding of the game.
Should a manager's objective be to develop the players in such a way that they're able to coach themselves on the pitch, as it were?
Maric: That shouldn't just be the manager's objective, but the players' too. Players being able to coach themselves and their teammates makes it more likely that they'll find the proper solutions on the pitch. Intervening from the touchline isn't always easy: you never see the problems quite as clearly as the players who are experiencing them on the pitch. Mike Tyson once said that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. And sometimes, figuratively, you get punched in the mouth during a game, too. Therefore, the more players are able to find good solutions, the better the situations are that they'll be able to put their teammates in. Too much coaching instruction can compromise that ability in players.
What role does a player's natural game intelligence have here?
Maric: It has to be applied correctly. Seeing a solution from the sideline is obviously different to finding that solution on the pitch and then being able to implement it. You have to make effective ideas available to players. You can't just provide them with solutions. Decision making has to come first, then implementation. The difference is that the manager has a more complete view of the bigger picture, but the players understand the challenges within their own positions better than the manager.
In what way?
Maric: When we talk about a game idea, we always talk about it in relation to the players, because they're the ones who have to implement it. There are lots of small details. For example: if a full-back is attacked diagonally, head-on, or perhaps even at different speeds, then those are all completely different playing situations. Although they look very similar, the solutions are different. Usually, managers employ solutions as a means of exploiting space. It's different for the player, though - if he is able to play with one touch and has a clear follow-up movement or if he has to take two touches without a clear follow-up movement. The player feels a difference because there are naturally two different responses - even if it looks from a wide angle like the spaces are similar. Of course the coach can also imagine himself in the situation and provide additional instruction based on that, particularly with common or re-occurring situations, but there will be times where there are infinite solutions to a problem and only very limited training time.
And in situations like these, the playing philosophies specified by the manager are meant to help the players find quick, or even automatic solutions?
Maric: Exactly. From the touchline, you're only virtually viewing the solution, which appears to be relatively clear. On the pitch, however, the player has to internalise all aspects of the problem and ask himself, 'Where can I play to? Can I play deep, diagonal, or across? Do I need to lay the ball off or is a quick switch available?' He has to review six, seven, eight solutions within seconds. Of course, a full-back is attacked differently in part than other players, but he is attacked nonetheless, and from a specific direction. If he is pressed head on, there is an instinct not take the ball into the direction of the opponent's movement - and that's the same for every position. The fundamental principles in football based on the initially mentioned actions are always the same, but you can derive patterns specifically for a position or the opposition.
How can coaching be used to improve this sense of pressure?
Maric: As a general rule, every player feels pressure in a different way. Lionel Messi, for example, may feel it less than other players. It's about training them in such a way that will allow them to feel as little pressure as possible and to not lose the ball. That's because - on the field - it is the player who decides: if he feels that by taking another touch he will lose the ball, then he'll pass - and, in itself, that wouldn't be the wrong decision. In the past, people always used to discuss the way the distances in a back four should look. If the opponent positions itself four metres deeper, however, the full-back might need to stand two metres higher. You could make this more scientific by incorporating angles, specific distances, or geometric shapes. But for me, that's the wrong approach. You should trust the players to find the right decision within the principles of play.