“This comfort-zone, which occurred, did irritate and frustrate me” An interview with Jos Luhukay

Shortly before the match against Sandhausen, we traveled to the Kollaustraße. On arrival, we met Jos Luhukay for a quite entertaining interview. Within this interview, we mostly talked about the sportive development of the FCSP but did also focus on the individual development of certain players.
Note: We had absolutely no idea back then, that 10 days later the whole division would be put on hold with absolute uncertainty about if and when the season will proceed. Thus, one or the other reader might feel that this interview was conducted at a different time. However, we do not want to keep this interview for ourselves only as Jos Luhukay did say some interesting things.
(Cover picture by Peter Boehmer)

MillernTon: Jos Luhukay, almost a year ago, in April  2019, you started your job as manager of the FC St.Pauli . With which aims did you start back then?

In principle with the same, I still have now. However, due to the sportive situation, you always have to be realistic about your aims but nevertheless, keep on pursuing them. I believe, that without such aims you are not as eager to reach something and thus you have to force success a bit more. One of my personal aims, when I started this position, was to get promoted into the Bundesliga with the FC St. Pauli within two years. And nothing changed about that.

MT: And which of the set aims did you already reach?

Of course, you just have to take a look into the league’s table to find out that we will not get promoted this year. But this is something we already knew in advance. We did change the team completely with regards to their philosophy and in terms of our way to play. We changed our mode of play from a defensive, more controlling one into a more offensive and risk-taking one. And during these changes, the team took some very positive steps during this season already. Of course, up to now, we did reward ourselves much too less for doing this during this season. Let me remind you of our first two matches of this year against Stuttgart and Dresden. The VfB Stuttgart, which played here as a top team, did probably only have two real chances during the entire game while we did have plenty though to decide the match for us in the end, the result was a draw. Against Dresden, we also did have plenty of chances, already during the first half. Thus, with regard to our points and in the table, we could have been in a relaxing situation already. But unfortunately, football is a result-based sport and you need points which you don’t get just for the way you play football only. I hope that we can take and even enlarge the positive tendency resulting from the previous matches to get into a very good situation for the end of the season.

(c) Peter Boehmer

MT: How do you judge the state of the team as it is now compared to the time after the pre-season ended in summer?

I think a lot has changed since. In the meantime, the team developed an outstanding condition with regard to their fitness and physicality. We didn’t have a single player with a muscular injury within the last three months. However, we also did need to put much effort into building this fitness and physicality after we had to deal with a horrible scenario of injuries, something, I did not experience throughout my whole career as a coach until then. So, we did some changes during the middle of November of which you can say today after three months have passed, that these changes worked. Being capable to a get grip of and successfully fight the misery of injuries lately is definitely something to highlight.

“We didn’t have a single player with a muscular injury within the last three months.”

MT: After winning the derby of the first leg and some more good matches afterwards, the team had to go through a phase which was at least a crisis in terms of the match results during October and November. What exactly had been the issues in between after winning against Sandhausen in September and against Wiesbaden in December?

It’s not just simply a single aspect, but, of course, the injury issue did have a huge influence on the stability of the team. The many changes due to some injuries never contribute well to a team. No matter which team is affected, if 3-4 players are injured there’s always a drop in quality. We had to cope -sometimes- with ten injured players for weeks and nevertheless we had to deliver a top performance and score points. However, I also think that the performance of the team and the number of points scored didn’t always match during this phase. We also did play some very good matches during the first leg for which we didn’t reward us accordingly. This is a real pity because despite all the injured players we were still able to show some appealing football. Especially during our home matches, we could notice that the fans were quite attracted by our way of playing football and supported it accordingly to motivate and push us. I think that the close interaction between fans and team is also some sort of respect and appreciation of how we work at the FC St. Pauli to be successful.

MT: A frequent accusation against you from the outside was the lack of or the unlucky communication between the trainer team and the players. Can you understand this critique?

Well, I am quite sober and realistic in this regard. Whenever the sportive results are not as expected, the media start to criticize plenty of things. But I know how I work with my team daily and I know what I can influence on a daily basis. But I also do know what I cannot influence immediately. I do not have any influence on what is written or said about us. I rather focus on the work together with my entire team. But this work might get seen differently from an outside’s perspective. But frequently, your work is simply reduced to the results. This is sometimes very hard and partly unfair. But this is something you’ll have to live with and thus I am quite rational about it.

MT: But which media do you follow concerning the FC St. Pauli? Do you read the local press or are there any nationwide media which you read?

Honestly, I do not read very much at all. I am for quite some time working in the field of football so that it doesn’t really bother me any longer if something is written good or bad about us. I cannot really win a match because of an article. I have to focus on my own work. I don’t care what’s written about me, I rather care that whatever is written about the team, individual players or the club is written positively. Because then I can also see for myself that I did some really good work. For example, just have a look at the last two weeks. After the win in the derby and against Osnabrück, negative media coverage turned into a positive one. This goes rather quick in football. And that’s something you simply need to know. I think for me, personally, I can classify and qualify such things rather well.

(c) Peter Boehmer

MT: Let’s have a look at your way of play with more detail. You did say already that you took relatively many changes in terms of athletics and tactics. What’s remarkable since you took over is tactical flexibility. Not just in terms of changes from one match to the next but also even within a match you sometimes apply some very major changes. Have you simply not found your preferred formation of choice yet or is this flexibility a necessity in the second division?

It is always tempting for me when a team can play more than one formation or one system only. To me, it’s important that we have a system in place to which every single player can add his qualities up to the max and that he’s feeling well by doing that. And if this is the case with a specific backline of three or four doesn’t matter. But what is mattering is that we always have a look first into how we can succeed. And following up on that, we provide the team with a certain plan. We take a look at the last training impressions and the last match. And of course, we also take a look into the possible line-up of the opponent. So, this is why we have three different aspects we’re taking into account: the last match, the impressions of the training and the next opponent. And by analysing these three aspects, we develop a plan for the next match. The team does now cope really well with all these changes and is feeling well and this is the decisive aspect. It isn’t that I say we have to play with three or four players in the back. The team is tactically getting more and more flexible and got better already in applying tactical changes faster. You could see this capability during the last home match against Arminia Bielefeld where the team itself realised that it was offering too many spaces in the back with a backline of three only and this is why we decided to change into a backline of four after 20-25 minutes already. Actually, we played the whole of the season with great tactical flexibility and I was told by many of my colleagues already that they never got any clue how our line-up would look like. I think this is a very nice compliment to our work because we are unpredictable for our opponents.

„The work is seen differently from an outside’s perspective.”

MT: An example to show the opposite in terms of tactical flexibility would be the hsv, at which coach Dieter Hecking is playing a quite rigid 4-3-3. Thus, is it actually easier for you to play against such teams or is in general more difficult as these teams did find a good style of play with only a few changes?

For me personally, it’s, of course, easier whenever I know beforehand what to expect from the opponent. Insofar, I can actually adapt my training units if I know beforehand how I would like my team to play against these opponents.

MT: Do you simulate the way of play of the respective opponent in your training units?

Yes, we always play a match eleven against eleven two days before an actual match to which we can add our assumptions. Thereby, one team is simulating the system and the way of play of the opponent as we expect it. And if you can react to this way of play and discuss certain things already during the training session, we can take some benefits out of this approach. But of course, we also have to transfer it into the actual match later. Because there we actually have to create our advantage with final consequence and determination. And from time to time this already worked well but sometimes it didn’t, although we knew how the opponent would line up.

(c) Stefan Groenveld

MT: Compared to the previous season the FCSP regained a clear idea of play when in ball possession. Would you like to describe this idea a bit further?

I think I would actually reveal too much then (laughs). No, jokes aside, I do not have any secrets in this regard. Whenever we’re in ball possession we want to activate our offensive section as quickly as possible and aim to create chances then. In this season, we created several chances but did not score any goals out of these chances. If we could raise our effectivity in this regard, we could also benefit table-wise. When in ball possession, we would also like to act flexibly. It’s crucial then if we build up with a backline of three or four. But mostly our midfield is very important. We do not just want to rigidly play with two central defensive midfielders, we would like to have a lot of movement and rotation there to force the opponent into decisions which might create uncertainty for them.

MT: Despite your decent analyses of the opponents, did you actually get caught completely off guard tactically during the current season?

I think until now our opponents did not catch us off guard. I do have an assistant from the Netherlands in my team of coaches (note from the MillernTon.: Hans Schrivjer, analyses the opponents), who focuses for the entire week on the upcoming opponent. Every single day. I spend at least one hour, sometimes even two hours, with him and discuss what we expect but also about the strengths and weaknesses of the respective opponent. It’s great fun to work with him because he is a coach who is really into football and who really enjoys to prepare us for every single opponent.

MT: Did you actually get surprised about one of the players from our team during the current season?

Yes, when you look at the development of the team but also of some individual players, you can witness some great progress in terms of ball possession but also after a ball is lost. Up to the winter break, we allowed our opponents the smallest number of chances of the division but did also create the greatest number. This also came to me with a little surprise because we are not amongst the top 5 of the division. And nevertheless, we created the most chances after transition moments and allowed the smallest number of chances against us. And then you think that these are top values and that your team should be amongst the top 5. But then we realised that we were too inefficient. It’s a pity because the team did have to work for all of this.
If we look at players individually, of course, Mats Møller Dæhli left some impression. This is why he got transferred at all. A sportive loss which was however well taken and covered by the team. Furthermore, I think that Daniel Buballa did improve and develop a lot tactic-wise and also football-wise although he’s already 29 years old. He was always a left wingback but played the best and the most matches as a center-back this season. And he’s doing this impressively. 
When I further look to the centre back next to him, Leo Østigård, who’s only 20 years old, it’s incredible to see how he developed during this season. This was something you couldn’t expect before the season, but he’s for sure one of the best center-backs of the whole division. And he’s that already at this young age without any experience at this level. 
Ryō Miyaichi is also playing a fantastic season. The only thing that’s missing from him is a couple of goals. For me, he is also one of the best players in the division. And I think that Waldemar Sobota is currently developing in a way that was not expectable at all. He always played as a winger before and in my system, he’s playing on a central position and if you consider how he scored against Osnabrück it’s simply outstanding. 
Or look at Henk Veerman, who returned after 11 months and who scored eight goals within no time. I wouldn’t even like to think what would have been if Henk could have been available since the first match of the season. Henk doesn’t score the third or fifth goal of a match. Henk scores the important ones, such as against Bielefeld, the HSV or Osnabrück. Of course, I didn’t name the one or the other. But in general, these are all players of a certain age of whom you’d never expect such a development. Waldi is 32 years old and for me, he’s playing like a young player with such incredible fun during the training and the matches alike. This makes my work really beautiful, even if the current position in the table cannot be considered as safe. Throughout the whole team but also individually, there’s so much development recognizable. Finn Ole Becker must be also named here who played so many good matches for us during the first leg of the season.
Despite the defeats we conceded or despite our position in the table, I never got insecure when I worked with the team because I could witness this development every single day. For the last three days we also had three rookies training with us: Christian Viet, Moritz Frahm und Maximilian Franzke. They joined the training in a fantastic way. And we have to ride on this positive wave now. Because last year, I have been told that it was a horrible away match against Sandhausen…

MT: …nope, absolutely wrong!

And I really feel sorry for our fans. We have to go through these travel hardships but so do our fans. It’s incredible how much time they spend not just to support us in our home matches but also in away matches. You get the feeling that it doesn’t matter if we have to travel 100 or 600km, our fans are always there. And I would wish that we could at least add a little feeling of happiness to their luggage on their way back. But unfortunately, we have to admit that we are not that successful away. And I got angry during plenty of away matches because we could have gained much more.

„It’s incredible to see how Leo Østigård developed during this season although he’s only 20 years old.” 

MT: To give you an example we could name Heidenheim and Dresden here. How does this discrepancy between home and away matches actually happen?

Many times, we don’t need just one of these decisive moments to take the lead but three or four of them to actually take the lead. And during successful matches, it’s often happening that we take the lead already after one of the first chances of a match. 
Thinking of the away match against Regensburg: They only needed one attempt to occur in front of our goal and score but we already had three or four promising attempts earlier. During the second half, Mats was approaching the goalie completely alone with the ball on his feet. If you don’t make use of such chances, it gets really difficult to score away. In Heidenheim, it just needed them one corner ball to score, I still get angry and frustrated because we should have won these matches. And many of our away matches happened in the exact same way. You also named Dresden where we were actually 3-0 in front to leave the pitch with a 3-3 draw later and where even the players of Dresden had no idea how this happened.

MT: Within the almost legendary press conference before the season started you dropped the keyword “oasis of wellbeing” which was picked up by the media immensely. Did something change since then?

First and foremost it was never my approach that these words affect the public the way they did. It was rather my inner feeling that common aims were not strived for and nobody wondered how these aims could be reached in the best way. And this comfort-zone which occurred did irritate and frustrate me. I believe that we all made some progress on our way already. But we’re not where we want to be yet. I think, taken the whole season until now together, we should have been between the fifth and the tenth in the league’s table. But we are not and we still have to be careful. I actually don’t bother too much but I have to take notice of that situation. I will never mean to trouble the team with this issue because I want us to enter the pitch with conviction instead of fear because we do not travel to Sandhausen to score just one point there. We want to win the match.

(c) Peter Boehmer

MT: Before and after every match, there’s a press conference. Once a week there’s an internal press meeting. There are interview appointments like this one here. This is all part of your job. But if you could freely decide it, how often would you actually talk to the media?

The way it is happening here at FC St. Pauli is also my wish for the future. I worked at  Hertha BSC and in Mönchengladbach, where I had much more appointments with the media. The most extreme situation was at Hertha BSC where every single day, 10-15 journalists and cameras gathered. There was an incredible amount of media gathering at every press conference and after every match. The same was true for Mönchengladbach ahead of top matches where partly up to  60-70 journalists waited. At the press conferences, there were even more than 100 journalists. The amount at these two clubs was the highest. 
The fewest amount was at Augsburg. But from a sportive perspective, it was an unbelievable time as a coach as well as a human. At St. Pauli, there are of course journalists every single day at the training ground but they mostly aim to interview players. Thus, I can focus much more on my own work and I think that’s really pleasant. I think it was the most difficult to deal with at Hertha BSC Berlin because it took so much time. And I think it’s so much more pleasant here in Hamburg both from a coach’s as well as a human’s perspective.

MT: You gave out the aim that the FCSP should get promoted after the next season. What does the FCSP still lack until being a top team of the division?

I think we can make it fast: If a player like Henk Veerman would have been available when the season started, I am pretty sure that we would have been able to deliver a whole different quality to the pitch without talking bad about his teammates. Henk does simply have a finishing quality which isn’t shared by many of the league. I would like to compare him to Arminia Bielfeld’s Fabian Klos. If Henk would play in an offensive system such as ours, he would without any problems score more than 15 goals per season. Just imagine, Henk would be able to play 30 matches this season with his goal index and his finishing qualities. I am sure we would have collected a few more points then. Also, Ryō Miyaichi could have decided matches for us. So, the way we are playing is lacking some sort of effectivity. But I do not accuse anyone because of that. That’s simply something we have to work on because if we want to get into the top 5 we need to score 60 goals or more per season. But we don’t get close yet.

MT: The last question, you already highlighted the work of Hans Schrijver. Would you like to add some more coaches to your team or do you prefer to work with smaller teams?

It doesn’t matter if a team is big or small. What matters is that every member of the team has their task and no one is lost. I think we are not really a big team but neither a real small one but I do not know the team sizes of the other clubs. We do have two assistant coaches, the goalkeeper’s coach and two more fitness coaches and aside from Hans, there’s Jannik Niden who does a fantastic job as our video-analyst. Additionally, we have two team managers, the scouting-team, three physios, two kit managers and two physicians. I don’t think it’s valid to say that we’re a small team. And I am happy about that.

MT: Jos Luhukay, thanks a lot, it was very nice talking to you.

(The interview was conducted by Maik & Tim, translated by Arne)

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