Oliver Bierhoff has now been alive for 50 years and a lot has happened in German football in that time. In his lifetime, Germany have been crowned world champions and European champions thrice. In two of those success in particular (1996 and 2014), the Germany National Team’s sporting director had a big part to play. On October 20th of last year, Bierhoff was named the sporting director of the national team and football development as he aims to continue to help shape the prospective future of German football.
Pivotal to this development is the construction of a new centre of excellence for German football. Bierhoff first had the idea back in 2009. Now, the man who was born in Karlsruhe and grew up in Essen can celebrate his 50th birthday.
We spoke to Bierhoff concerning how he intends to celebrate his birthday, the accommodation for this summer’s World Cup, Die Mannschaft’s expectations for the tournament and his start to life as sporting director of the national team.
DFB.de: Mr Bierhoff, you’re celebrating your 50th birthday. How are you faring?
Bierhoff: I’m not one whose life changes on the daily. Sure, 50 is a special number and for some people it’s a turning point where people start to look back more than forward. I don’t feel that way though. I like to keep moving forwards and look at what’s ahead. I’m grateful for the work still to be done.
DFB.de: How will you be celebrating your birthday?
Bierhoff: With my family at home. It’s important to take a minute to appreciate how fortunate life has been to me.
DFB.de: On June 12th, Die Mannschaft will set up their camp in Vatutinki in Moscow. How difficult was it to convince everyone internally that the team’s base should be there instead of sunny, lakeside Sotschi like for the Confed Cup?
Bierhoff: After the experience at the Confed Cup, there was of course an idea about returning to Sotschi this summer but, after taking time to reflect and looking at the hopeful tournament schedule, it became clear that it had to be Moscow. If we top our group, both the semi-final and final will be at the Luschniki Stadium which is less than 40km away from our base. In an ideal scenario, we’ll have three games in Moscow and, when considering the length of the tournament, it’s a massive bonus when you minimise your travelling time. We want to be successful once again and we have to do everything in our power to make that as achievable as possible. That includes minimising the travelling time.
DFB.de: How highly do you rate the national team?
Bierhoff: We have players with a lot of quality. I think we’re one of the favourites. We’ve all seen how strong Spain are as well as France. We lost against Brazil without Neymar too. In three of the last four World Cups, the reigning champions have been eliminated in the group stage. France in 2002 came bottom of their group with Uruguay, Denmark and Senegal, Italy got knocked out in 2010 with a group of Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. A tournament is very tough even for current champions. Our mentality will dictate how far we go in the tournament.
DFB.de: Have you already written down 23 names on a piece of paper?
Bierhoff: We’re constantly jotting down names but mostly we have more than 23. Sure, I’ve written down my own Germany World Cup squad. Injuries mean you make changes all the time though. On May 15th, the nomination of Germany’s World Cup squad will take place at the National Football Museum in Dortmund. That’s where the head coach will decide. Every player wishes to be a part of such a massive event but there are one or two players who are going through a tough time at the moment or are in great form which would give the group momentum. At the moment, we have our fingers crossed that Jerome’s injury heals fully and that Manu’s recovery continues to go as planned.
DFB.de: Since July 2004, you’ve been the sporting director of the national team. Jürgen Klinsmann was the coach then and you supported him with matters on the pitch. Do you remember those first few days?
Bierhoff: It was brand-new territory. We didn’t know what we were in for as there had never been a national team sporting director before. I had to define the role. Everything was very complex and everything happened at such a quick pace. After the exit from the 2004 European Championships to the Czech Republic in Lisbon, we only had two years to prepare the team and re-structure everything ahead of a World Cup in our own country. We made tough decisions, sometimes out of inexperience we faced new issues too. It was the most intensive and quickest form of “learning on the job” you can think of. Because of the experience, as well as the fact we have a strong team together now, I’m able to manage the national team at a more reasonable pace and under less pressure.
DFB.de: Internally, Die Mannschaft has its own aesthetic and a clear philosophy. Are you aware yourself how much has changed over the years?
Bierhoff: It’s crazy. I say that to my team sometimes too whether it’s the media team, marketing etc. What have we all achieved? There were two films that were bestsellers, books such as “One night in Rio” that flew off the shelves and more. The most important thing in my eyes though was that we have positioned ourselves now as Die Mannschaft now and can relate and educate the fans to a higher level of performance on the pitch. I’m proud of that.
DFB.de: A week ago, the DFB officially handed in their application to host EURO 2024. How confident are you?
Bierhoff: I’m completely convinced that we have the best offer. In Phillip Lahm, we have a great ambassador. Everything suggests Germany would be the perfect hosts.