Roger Schmidt is simply handsome.
Let's start the text as abruptly as Roger Schmidt's teams fly under pressure, focusing on an unusual coaching path.
Schmidt started in the German football dungeon, together with Rangnick, came up with what would later become Red Bull's signature football, created the very memorable Bayer (perhaps the most Bundesliga team of the 2010s with fierce pressing, a high line of defense and a fun attack), burned out, made some money in China, returned to Europe and organized a pleasant PSV. Now he is responsible for one of the primary sensations of the Euro season - Benfica.
But these are all labels; you have to dive deeper. The Schmidt phenomenon is worth it.
Schmidt was an engineer, amateur footballer, and playing coach. Preussen promised to put him back at the plant in case of dismissal
Ludenscheid, Plettenberg, Werl, Paderborn, Lippstadt, Delbrück - have you heard these names? Paderborn can be distinguished somehow, which is the peak of Schmidt's playing career - the German third division. Now the professional league, but in the 2002/03 season, when Roger played, it was still an amateur level.
Schmidt gave him 19 years of his life: starting in 1987 and finishing in 2005. Roger combined sports first with studies and then with work. He received an engineering degree from the University of Paderborn. He took a job as a design engineer at the local factory of the Benteler company, which specializes in the production of automotive parts.
The 2004/05 season was supposed to be the last for Schmidt as a player, so it happened. But at the same time, it was Schmidt's first season as a coach. Playing coach - so they agreed with Delbrück for one year. After that - I spent two more seasons, only as a coach-coach. In 2007, Schmidt promised his wife and two children to quit amateur football when suddenly an offer came from Preussen. This is the 4th division of Germany, where Schmidt raised the Delbrück. But Preussen lived with other ambitions - this is one of the founding clubs of the Bundesliga. I had to move to an unfamiliar city, quit my job at the factory, and convince my wife that everything would be all right.
Roger agreed with a funny condition - Preussen undertook to find a job in a university specialty in case of dismissal.
Schmidt reflected on that time: "Perhaps, at the plant, I would have grown to a managerial position. Perhaps not. Everything was unpredictable; there were more experienced people than me, and they probably had more chances for promotion.
He worried about his family the most. I never dreamed of a severe coaching career, so the offer of Preussen was shocking. I was surprised that the club leaders were so interested in me. It just clicked that it was worth a try, that I should enjoy it."
Schmidt spent almost three seasons at Preussen: first, he moved up a division, then he was relegated and was fired. It was 2010, and 43-year-old Schmidt was left without work. And he refused to work in the specialty that Preussen found Roger - everything is clearly according to the contract. Schmidt realized that he wanted to develop in football.
He returned to training again - now on a UEFA Pro license. Germany has a very tough selection and high requirements, but Schmidt successfully passed the entrance exams and was one of the best students in the course, with an average grade of 1.7 (1 is the maximum). Among classmates: Markus Gizdol (Hoffenheim, Lokomotiv), Markus Weinzirl (Augsburg, Schalke), Typhoon Korkut (Bayer, Stuttgart). Coaches who did not become tops but got chances in the Bundesliga.
Schmidt always valued education: "I liked playing amateur football and studying at the university. It is more challenging to combine professionally, but you still need to find time to learn. I always insist that the young players on my teams continue their education. After training, you can spend time with benefits.
UEFA Pro in Germany is difficult to get, but it is appreciated. Familiar Paderborn, who had already risen to the second Bundesliga, hired Schmidt. In the 2011/12 season, the club finished 5th, just one point away from the playoffs for a place in the Bundesliga.
Perhaps the most beautiful detail: Paderborn played their home matches at the Benteler Arena. Schmidt worked at the company's factory and now ran a professional club in a stadium whose naming was bought by the same company.
When launching the Salzburg project, Rangnick chose Schmidt. He was an excellent candidate
The invitation of Roger Schmidt to the coaching post is the first serious decision of Ralf Rangnick as the sports director of Salzburg (in 2012, he was simultaneously hired in Austria and Leipzig). The summer of 2012 is the point of no return between the clumsy rich Salzburg, who spent crazy money on Giovanni Trappatoni and Lothar Matthäus, and the Salzburg, which all of Europe now knows: aggressive high pressure, fierce intensity, an inexhaustible source of young talent. Without the Salzburg system's success, the Leipzig system's win would certainly not have been so rapid.
The first breakthrough purchases are Sadio Mane (4m from Metz, now Bayern) and Kevin Kampl (3m from Aachen, now Leipzig). Kampl later said that Schmidt's gegenpressing is more gegenpressing than Klopp's gegenpressing.
"The style of the opponent is not very important to us. We play on our own and act actively and aggressively. Our main task is to make the opponent feel uncomfortable. If it works out, we will almost certainly achieve a good result," Schmidt's words at one of the press conferences can be considered the Salzburg Manifesto.
At the training camp, Schmidt's team even defeated Guardiola's Bayern 3-0. After the match, Pep gave a powerful compliment: "I have never met a club in my career that played as intensely as Salzburg.
Schmidt, of course, was also admired by Rangnick. He understood that Roger's style was ideal for the new RB model: young players dazzle in risky football, and richer clubs are willing to pay for creative wunderkinder.
It was mutual - Roger admired Rangnick's Hoffenheim, which shook Germany in the late 2000s. Schmidt was one of the first to cite Rangnick as an inspiration. Then two or three dozen German coaches will say the same during the 2010s.
But Schmidt made a reservation: "At Salzburg, we build football much more extreme than Hoffenheim.
Schmidt's discovery is a siren in training. She needed to practice counter-pressing, pressing immediately after losing the ball. When the team lost the ball, they had to return it within 5 seconds with compact, aggressive pressing. If this did not happen, a loud siren sounded. So Schmidt put pressure on the players.
Rui Mota, who worked with Schmidt, said that Roger considers counter-pressing the main phase of football: "He called the reaction to the loss of the ball the most critical aspect of the game. Roger felt that it was at the moment when the opponent had just taken the ball for himself that he was the least organized. And if you immediately return the ball, there is the most excellent chance of creating a threat.
Of course, Schmidt constantly adjusted the pressure to the opponent's structure. And here, there are no contradictions with the words that the opponent's style is unimportant to him. What Schmidt meant was that Salzburg didn't want to sag. He wants to avoid going into his half against a possession-loving side: "I like high, ball-oriented defense and intense football for 90 minutes. Thanks to this, we can always play dominantly, even against Bayern. We should not depend on the opponent who has the ball. We should own the ball."
Schmidt requires hellish physical training. He calls his football sprint
Intense football requires insane stamina. Sprint football is Schmidt's favorite epithet to characterize his game model.
"I am not interested in the total mileage of the team. I look at the intensity of the run. A physically fit team doesn't just run a lot - it leads in sprints and intense sprints. You can run 105 kilometers and be much more intense than 125 kilometers," Roger believed that running with the correct tactical settings guarantees the intensity of the pressing.
He tested it in practice at Bayer. The team has been at the top of the Bundesliga in terms of intensity of pressure all three seasons. It can be estimated in PPDA: the lower the indicator, the more intense the pressure.
According to the results, Bayer looked good at first (4th in the 2014/15 season and 3rd in the 2015/16 season), but then there was a sharp decline in the 2016/17 season: 10th after 23 hours and layoffs. But Schmidt made a significant contribution to the development of Son Heung Min, Julian Brandt, Kevin Volland, and Hakan Chalkanoglu, giving the first chance to Kai Havertz. After the transfer to Tottenham, Son thanked Schmidt for the high standards at Bayer - after moving to the Premier League, he did not have to get used to the speed.
In general, Schmidt took a philosophical approach to the requirements for physical training: "I always tell the players: you are in excellent physical shape, there is an infrastructure for quality training, a magnificent lawn has been prepared for you, there are just an infinite number of balls. Why not show up? You can work hard and get better. Or is it better to spend time in an office or a factory?" It seems like a bland approach, but Schmidt, who worked at the plant, can say so.
Not everyone agrees with Roger, and there are reasons for this.
Schmidt never recognized other people's opinions and hated other coaches. He uncompromisingly believes in his football
His main feature of Schmidt is an uncompromising belief in his principles. He will never betray style if he sees that the idea is at least theoretically feasible. It was only in China that Schmidt abandoned the concept of intense high pressing, ensuring the local players were physically unable to withstand the loads. But even there, he retrained players to proactive possession with short plays. No buses.
In more qualified teams, Schmidt's demands are undeniable.
"Occasionally, we heard complaints about Schmidt from the players, but that's normal. Roger clearly knows what kind of football the team should play. And for everything to work, each player needs to give everything to the fullest," said Paderborn sports director Mikael Born.
Bayer boss Rudy Feller admitted: "Schmidt is furious if his concept is questioned."
And Schmidt declared this: "The coach had to be completely confident in the idea that he proposes to the team. If the coach doubts, then the players will doubt too."
Challenging, but at least without tyranny. Schmidt was not seen in the humiliation of the dignity of the players, the transition to personalities, and public executions. This is not a toxic trainer ready to break the psyche. There is a beautiful story about how PSV players visited the VDL Nedcar factory, one of the club's sponsors, with Schmidt. The Nedcar CEO asked Schmidt if he wanted to lead the robots - precise, experienced, and error-free. Roger refused: "Football players have to be creative."
This is an important detail - even Schmidt's counter-pressing is aimed not at destruction (to take the ball) but at creation (the best phase of the game for attacking an unbalanced opponent).
Therefore, it is not surprising that throughout his career, Schmidt swears not with the players, of whom he makes creative athletes, but with other coaches, whom he cannot forgive for overly defensive models of the game.
When Bayer Leverkusen beat Cologne 5-1, Roger lashed out at opposition coach Peter Stoger: "I would never ask players to play the way Cologne played today. You don't have to become a coach for this kind of football." Leonardo Jardim said almost the same thing about Monaco.
Back in Austria, Schmidt refused to shake hands with the modest Grödig coach Adi Hütter (later coached Eintracht and Gladbach) and verbally fought with Rapid coach Carsten Jancker when he heard him urge the players to break the Salzburg players.
Schmidt consistently needs to recognize destructive football. In his interpretation, this is a game where protecting one's goal is prioritized over attempts to score a goal.
True, Schmidt is in conflict not only for ideological reasons. Just a very complex character. Once, in a match with Dortmund, referee Felix Zwayer showed a red to an enraged Schmidt, but he ... refused to leave. Then Zweier left along with the players. They returned only after 9 minutes when Schmidt still left the field.
Schmidt acknowledged the problems: "I can be out of control. I want to win too much and don't take defeat very well. Because of this, misplaced emotionality arises."
Excellent mix: Schmidt is addicted to winning but only willing to succeed with a romantic belief in attacking bold, aggressive, intense football.
Thought experiment: Consider how the text would have been perceived if you had read it a few years ago. For example, when Schmidt was fired from the Chinese club in 2019, his achievements were limited to winning the Austrian Championship, the Austrian Cup, and the Cup of China.
Another hulking fanatic with no achievements.
Now Schmidt has built a team in a non-top league, which will deserve to play in the 1/4 finals of the Champions League. To qualify from the group with PSG and Juve in the first place, Benfica had to score at least 5 goals per half against Maccabi in the last round. Would this have happened without Schmidt's stylistic stubbornness?
When Schmidt, in the first season with Salzburg, sensationally did not win the Austrian championship (it turned out only in the second season), the fans hung out the banner "Schmidt must stay." Shock: a quality game was valued more than a title.
When Schmidt left China, the Beijing fans escorted him to the airport in a large crowd and thanked him for the last time for attacking football.
Uncompromising stubbornness is not the best trait, but in the case of Schmidt, it guarantees a fun and eventful career, during which many neutral viewers unexpectedly and pleasantly discovered the flamboyant style of Roger's teams.
It will be nice if, with this stubbornness, Schmidt achieves a fantastic result like the victory of Benfica in the Champions League.