It's Day 2 of "Inside Tottenham" week at Bleacher Report UK, and Tuesday's feature is an exclusive interview with Spurs assistant head coach Steffen Freund (watch Day 1's exclusive look inside White Hart Lane here).
Freund played over 100 times for Spurs during his five years at the club from 1998-2003. The former German international, who was part of his country's triumphant Euro 1996 team, also represented Borussia Dortmund and Schalke. He returned to Spurs in July 2012 as assistant head coach to Andre Villas-Boas.
Bleacher Report: Can you define your responsibilities at Spurs and give us an idea of what a typical matchday might involve for you?
Steffen Freund: As assistant coach, it is my job to be a part of the training and, on a matchday, to be around the team at all times—no matter where we are in the world, ensuring the players are prepared for the game and the opponent. I also liaise with a number of other coaches around the club, including the development and academy coaches, on a daily basis.
B/R: What are the biggest changes you see in today’s game from the game you played in?
SF: It is even faster, more competitive, teams are more organised without the ball. It’s even more difficult to find the space to play football. It means you have to be even more technical. Even the defensive players are more skilful now, because attacks start from the back. You will always have traditional ball winners like me, but you need to be skilful, too, and handle the ball under pressure.
B/R: How heavily do you and Andre Villas-Boas rely on data analysis in assessing your players and the opponents you’re preparing to face?
SF: We always prepare the team with detailed information about the opponent, including who is the top scorer, who has made the most assists, home and away form, what they did last season and their coaching staff.
Our analysis team organises everything perfectly. We can use these statistics and know everything about the opponent—who is injured, who isn't, who is playing well. Then we can use statistics on our own team to prepare us and give us an idea as to how we can beat the opponent.
B/R: You've worked a lot with young players in your career. What are the essential building blocks a teenager must have to stand a chance of reaching the professional ranks?
SF: If an academy is well-organised and has a philosophy of developing players from the age of six or seven, all the way up, then a player has a path to follow as a youngster. They should use the coaches and facilities to grow and learn day by day. Then they will find out about their strengths and weaknesses, and where they can improve to one day be a professional.
It is also important that the structure is in place for a player to go all the way—like we have at Tottenham and like we do with the German national team. Then it comes down to the attitude of the player and a little bit of luck—being in the right place at the right time and using your chance.
It can take time, and you have to be patient and know you have what you need to be a professional. I can speak from experience, in that my first game for the first team at Stahl Brandenburg came one-and-a-half years after training with them. Becoming a professional does not happen overnight, but you must believe in yourself and fight for your dream.
B/R: Are you comfortable challenging Andre Villas-Boas? For example, if you disagree with a decision, would it be typical for you to argue your point? Or do you leave the big decisions to the manager?
SF: The ultimate decision will always be down to the head coach, but if we discuss something, I will always make my point and explain my point. We are all working towards the same goal.
B/R: Spurs have made some notable signings this year. How do you help acclimatise a player quickly and avoid too long a settling-in period at a new club—especially if they've moved from another country?
SF: I was a professional for 17 years and have the experience of signing for Spurs in 1999 and not being able to speak the language. It takes time, but in my role as an assistant coach, I can try to involve the new players, give them a lift and be there for them in difficult situations.
We've signed seven top international players, but it’s never easy to play for Tottenham in the Premier League, so you have to be patient.
B/R: Who was the best player you played against? And who is the best player you’ve seen Spurs come up against so far and why?
SF: I spent most of my career as a defensive central midfielder against the playmaker—usually the most skilful player on the opposing team. I’m proud to say that not a lot of playmakers got the better of me, including Zinedine Zidane.
But I would still say he was the best because when I played against him with Germany in 1996, his touch and his movement with and without the ball made it impossible for me to win the ball. I was quick, and he never got past me, but I could never win the ball off him.
In terms of playing against our team, I would say either Juan Mata or David Silva. They are similar players, really skilful and can always play the final pass or move into a position where they can score. Over 90 minutes, they can be unstoppable.
B/R: Do you have ambitions to eventually take a manager’s job yourself? Or do you prefer working as part of the team behind a coach?
SF: When you do your coaching badges, you always think about being a manager in the long-term. But now I have a contract as assistant head coach at Tottenham, and I am happy with my role. Anything that may happen in the future is not worth discussing at this moment.
B/R: We've seen a huge leap from Andros Townsend this season. How might you explain a player showing such noticeable improvement in such a short time period?
SF: First of all, he got his chance against Dinamo Tbilisi at the start of the season and took it. Secondly, he is a great example for any player struggling to make the step up to the first team from the development squad in the first year. He went on loan playing at the highest level for QPR, and that gave him more belief, more confidence and more experience.
You could already see Andros' quality last season—in that whenever he dribbled with the ball, he could easily pass two or three defenders. If you can do that, you can do something special. He started to find the balance of dribble and score or lay it off. We’re still working on his game, but he’s on a really good path.
B/R: In what areas do you think Spurs need to improve to be genuine title contenders and a real threat on the European stage?
SF: You can always improve by signing new players, but the key is that the players already here can improve in their own way. If you improve with the quality we already have, this team has a chance to be title contenders or to win silverware.
We already have two really good players for every position—signing seven top-class players in the summer and strengthening the squad a lot. If things go the right way, we will grow as a team, win more games and win trophies.
B/R: Finally, what is it like returning to a club nearly a decade after last playing there? What changes have you noticed? Do you sense the fans are in a different state of mind?
SF: Tottenham Hotspur, with Daniel Levy as Chairman, has grown as a club year on year. I left the club as a mid-table team in 2003, being able to beat any team on our day, but also being able to lose any game on the day. Now we are the favourites in most of the games we play and challenging the top four.
In my day, it was a dream to one day be back in the top six and playing in Europe, but now we are consistently there, which represents a massive step. We are now working on the next step—breaking into the top four.
We have done it before, but everyone realises how difficult it is against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, the Manchester clubs and Liverpool. But we continue to grow and challenge these teams, so we are closing in on our goal.