Mathias Kowoll examines Berti Vogts' managerial history and questions the wisdom of putting him in charge of the Scottish national team
“We’re going to take off his kilt,” Hesse’s regional governor Roland Koch said on hearing that Berti Vogts’s Scotland would be in Germany’s Euro 2004 qualifying group. So while the Scottish FA picked “the terrier”, back in Germany a populist politician feels he can get a few cheap laughs from picturing the former national team coach mooning from the Hampden dugout. Such a difference in opinion needs explaining.
Berti Vogts was a member of the golden generation of German football, winning 96 caps, along with one European Championship and one World Cup. He had a hugely successful club career with Mönchengladbach. As a coach, he worked with Germany’s Under-16s, Under-18s and Under-20s, coaching players like Jürgen Klinsmann, Karlheinz Riedle and Andi Brehme. In 1986 he became national team assistant to Franz Beckenbauer, then took over after the glory of Italia 90. What he also inherited was the burden Beckenbauer left behind with his infamous “We will dominate world football” quote after the final.
In his eight years as national team coach, Vogts won a higher percentage of matches than Beckenbauer had. His team reached two European finals (winning one) and two World Cup quarter-finals. Yet never – not even at Wembley in 1996 – did he became the darling of the media or of the German football public.
Why was that? For a start, Vogts has always been “Berti”, the nice, not too bright workhorse, never respectable Hans-Hubert (his almost forgotten real name). He only played for one club, never leaving his beloved village of Korschenbroich. This endeared him to many, but it didn’t give him the glamour of a Beckenbauer or Netzer. The boy-next-door image made him the ideal youth coach, but it came back to haunt him when he was thrown into the media spotlight.
It wasn’t that his team played a worse style of football than under his predecessor, but unlike Beckenbauer he never had a joke for the hacks, didn’t understand their irony and sometimes used press conferences to criticise the level of players’ wages. If Vogts applied for a job in your company, you’d put him in R&D; he never grasped that as national team coach he had to be head of sales. In retrospect, it was a miracle he lasted as long as he did.
A spell with Leverkusen last year showed he couldn’t run a team with 20 cocky millionaires. Their oversized egos had nothing to do with football the way he knew it. He failed miserably. Players he left out didn’t show up for training, feigning injury. Others complained to the media about his alleged incompetence.
So is he the right man for Scotland? He will pick the best team, put players in the positions they are best suited to and focus them on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents. If that’s enough, great. If it’s more you want, Berti’s a big risk. Oh, and one more thing: Vogts is very bad at losing gracefully. After the 3-0 defeat by Croatia in 1998 he moaned: “Obviously, someone didn’t want Germany to be successful.” So please, Scotland, don’t put him in too many situations like this.
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month