Borussia Dortmund have acquired one of European football’s most innovative coaches in Lucien Favre, but how did the former Hertha Berlin, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Nice boss end up in the dugout? Who inspires him? And what makes him tick?

The 60-year-old Swiss tactician discussed all of the above and much more besides in a wide-ranging interview for German publication Socrates, translated and abridged below…

Favre on…

… his route into coaching

“It was 1991 – I was 34 and had already thought about what I was going to do once I stopped playing. First I coached youth teams – straightaway I knew it was for me. That was decisive to my next career step. After that, I took charge of a third-division team and so on. When you’re 32, 33, it’s very important to think about your future, otherwise it will be difficult. Nowadays a playing career lasts roughly 10 years and everything goes quicker, which is why it’s so important to prepare for the future to make sure you don’t miss the boat. As a player, if you’re only focused on your playing career and not thinking about your future, it makes it difficult. That’s a piece of advice I’d give to all players.”

… the Bundesliga’s youngest ever coach, Julian Nagelsmann

“I think it’s great that those responsible at Hoffenheim were so brave, but as a coach you have to deliver good results in the medium- and long term, not just over six months. Julian Nagelsmann has done a fantastic job at Hoffenheim. He’s been a breath of fresh air in the Bundesliga. It’s a pleasant surprise to see so many young coaches in the Bundesliga, it’s good for football.”

… the coach who inspired him most

“Johan Cruyff, as a player and then as coach at Barcelona. I also really rate coaches like Arsene Wenger and Christian Gourcuff. We get on well. When I was a youth coach, I used my free time to sit in on all manner of coaches: Wenger’s early years at Arsenal; Raymond Goethels in Belgium; Ottmar Hitzfeld at Bayern Munich and, most notably, Cruyff at Barcelona in 1993. I was there for two weeks, but I’d already observed his work, how he let Barca play, the mobility of his team – with and without the ball – the anticipation and so on. Tele Santana also impressed me when he was in charge of Brazil. He was fantastic.”

… Pep Guardiola

“Pep is the logical successor to Johan Cruyff. He was Barca’s midfield strategist in 1993. He was very intelligent. Players that are that intelligent have a good chance of becoming good coaches. I can remember the first hour of the Champions League last 16 first leg between Juventus and Bayern in 2016. Juve hardly saw the ball because Bayern pressed so hard. Guardiola also changed his system during the game. He’s one of the best coaches around.”

“Hey! Listen to what the boss has to say!” Favre witnessed the magic of Johan Cruyff (l.) and a young Guardiola (r.) first-hand in the 90s. © imago

… his love of football

“I’m kind of in love with the ball. As soon as I see the ball, I want to have it at my feet. The same is still true today – in training I play with the ball as soon as I see it. I do a bit of ball juggling – it’s fun. The ball’s like a magnet to me. It’s always pulling me towards it.”

… how football has changed in the last 10-15 years

“Not much. As far as systems go, they’re adapted during a game. For example, you can start with a 4-3-3 and then change to a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 ten minutes later. That wasn’t the case a few years ago because you tended to keep the same system for the full 90 minutes. Since then, all kinds of systems have been tried out. In that sense, it’s almost impossible to devise new systems.”

… why systems change so much these days

“There are lots of reasons: more and more players can play in different positions, full-backs play as wingers, wingers play more centrally and defensive midfielders operate between the two centre-backs. The movement is the biggest difference today. To surprise and overcome the opposition, you have to attack quickly and with purpose. The game is becoming more and more intense. In the 1960s, players ran an average of 2.5 miles per game. Now you’re talking between 7.5 and 8.7 miles.”

… the emergence of Gegenpressing

“All in all, football is like it was in the 1970s, the difference being that today’s game is more intense. If you lose the ball around the opponent’s penalty area, you press immediately to try and win it back as quickly as possible. A lot of teams are doing that. That wasn’t the case before.”

Watch: Guardiola’s Bayern undone by Favre’s free-flowing Gladbach

… players’ education

“To play at high tempo, you first have to have a certain degree of football intelligence. Then it’s about technique. In order to meet the demands, you also have to be in top condition. In my opinion there’s the most room for improvement in the teaching of the technical aspect. I find that not enough good work is being done in that area at a lot of clubs. For example, not every player can control the ball at maximum speed and then immediately play a long, pin-point pass up field. If you master that, the opponent will be overwhelmed. That’s how you can make the game better and faster. I really like it when you surprise the opposition with a quick forward pass. A modern player should be two-footed, too. Technique is definitely the area that needs the most work. There’s still a real need for improvement on that front.”

… dribbling

“Good dribbling can make the difference. Just look at Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery. They have it down to a tee, whether it’s a one-on-one or one-on-two situation. These kind of players are incredibly important because without them the game would be boring. I like possession, but not possession for possession’s sake. There’s nothing spectacular about just passing the ball. That’s why there needs to be more emphasis on dribbling at grassroots level. A player who can take two players out by dribbling and then play a killer pass – that’s the meaning of collective. For me, it’s important to have players in the ranks who can dribble because they can make the difference every time. To make the difference only by playing passes is almost impossible.”

Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery (l.r.) are football’s model wingers, according to Favre. © gettyimages / Sebastian Widmann

… football becoming scientific and technological

“It’s not my cup of tea. It’s important to me to keep the game simple. We shouldn’t complicate things because that will put off the spectators. Only technique will make the game quicker and more intense. If you’re limited technically you’ll have real problems cutting it at the highest level. You have to be able anticipate and act quickly. I still see many players who have difficulties dealing with quick balls. There are a lot of players who have a lot of shortcomings.”

… video analysis

“The most important thing about videos is to analyse our last game in detail. It’s about leaving nothing to chance. It enables you to improve many things. Then comes the analysis of your upcoming opponent: how they play, their strengths, weaknesses and so on. Even when we win 5-0, there’s always something to analyse in order to improve individually or as a team.”

… in-game coaching

“It’s important, but even more important is the work the coach does with his team during the week: which exercises have been done, also tailored towards the playing style of upcoming opponent. Matchday is important, too: the motivation, the half-time team-talk. And during the game, details should not be underestimated either, especially when it comes to tactics. That’s why in-game coaching should not be underestimated. You have to decide on the right changes at the right time, either to build on a lead, to defend or to overturn a deficit.”

Favre (r.) brought the very best of ‘enfant terrible’ Mario Balotelli (l.) in his two seasons in charge of Nice. © gettyimages / Valery Hache

… the one key for a coach

“That he always has everything in hand: the relationship with his players, his colleagues, those in charge, the referees, the medical department and the media. You have to feel that you’re always in control of your job and that you always know how to deal with your players. The human aspect comes before everything else.”

… the importance of improvisation 

“I prefer to say that intuition is very important. Improvisation is difficult, I think planning is more important.”

… maintaining players’ interest in training

“That’s part of a coach’s job. He has to make sure that there’s enough variation and he’s creative. That’s a very important part of the daily job. A coach also has to make sure he’s learning every day, be it dealing with players or concerning something game-related. As a coach, you have to keep asking yourself questions so you don’t stagnate. Otherwise you can’t have lasting success.”

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Borussia Dortmund have acquired one of European football's most innovative coaches in Lucien Favre, but how did the former Hertha Berlin, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Nice boss end up in the dugout? Who inspires him? And what makes him tick? The 60-year-old Swiss tactician discussed all of the above and...