Never Mind The Ballacks

Magath oversteps the mark

Never Mind The Ballacks

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Even when under pressure, coaches are loath to criticise their players in public.

Players are under enough scrutiny from media and fans, so the thinking goes, that added pressure from the boss is counterproductive or even harmful.

German football was made cruelly aware of the vulnerabilities of top footballers two years ago, when national goalkeeper Robert Enke of Hannover committed suicide after suffering from depression.

So alarm bells rang earlier this week when Hannover's current second choice keeper Markus Miller announced that he was mentally ''exhausted'' and would be checking himself into hospital for treatment.

"I have decided to tell my club, our fans and the media of my illness," he told the Hannover 96 website. "Because of my mental exhaustion, I will immediately allow myself to be treated in hospital."

With Enke's death still in the collective memory of German football, many in the game rushed to applaud Miller's decision.

"This step is a great demonstration of courage," said Hannover club president Martin Kind. ''His decision deserves the highest respect."
Psychologist Martin Braun has been treating Miller.

"Every person who sets himself out to perform on a daily basis with the highest honour, high motivation combined with high internal pressure, to achieve a result for his team, runs the risk of developing the symptoms of burnout as well and mental and physical exhaustion and further reactions."

Even national coach Joachim Loew applauded Miller's move before a friendly match in Poland.

For all their fame and fortune, players are still human. But it's still taboo for players to admit that they can't cope with their profession, though Germany has more examples than most: former international Sebastian Deisler quit football at 27 years old after suffering from depression.

All this makes Felix Magath's continued mental assault on his players all the more curious.

Magath's hardball tactics are stuff of legend.

Known as ''Qualix,'' a combination of his first name and the German word for torture, Magath is a renowned fitness freak. Experienced pros have been left in tears after the physical and mental pressures of his training sessions.

Magath, back at Wolfsburg after creating too many enemies to survive at Schalke, seems to be toughening his stance.

Despite funding from car giant Volkswagen, which controls the club, Wolfsburg have had a poor start to the season.

The latest recipient of Magath's fiery temper is Patrick Helmes.

True, Helmes has proved a half-baked replacement for Edin Dzeko, but a whopping €10000 fine for a poor display against Freiburg was designed to be provocative.

''The player is there to do what I tell him,'' a straight-faced Magath told a press conference when asked about the fine.

While those managerial tactics might have worked earlier in Magath's career, in the age of player power, they are a huge risk.

Here's Gerd vom Bruch, Helmes' agent: "What is taking place at Wolfsburg is nothing short of being purely arbitrary. Mr. Magath is destroying the funds of the club and I am pretty sure such a major company like Volkswagen does not treat employees that way. Felix Magath is just cynical."

It's no secret that Magath is not overly concerned with the mental health of his players. German national captain Phillip Lahm is the latest player to vouch for that in his recent autobiography.

Now, reports say that Magath is imposing new fines on players: those reporting late for training and meetings must pay €100 for every minute they are late, while anyone discovered wearing headphones on the team bus faces a €250 fine.

Unusually, he is threatening fines for on-pitch wrongdoings. For instance, the cardinal sin for a defender to let the ball bounce in front of him instead of clearing directly could mean a fine of €500.

Players are already up in arms.

"To impose a financial penalty because a player has performed poorly is strictly prohibited by law,'' warned Ulf Baranowsky of the VDV, the Players' Union.

''Anyone who resists legally has a good chance,"

Magath is one of the few coaches who not afraid to slam one of his players in public.

 But in an age of rolling news, internet rumours and tweets, the tactic should be used carefully. And after taking the advice of a good lawyer.

* On the subject of public slanging matches, regular Never Mind the Ballacks fans will recall that Jens Lehmann took Tim Wiese to court after being accused by the Werder Bremen keeper of being a ''Muppet.'' The now retired goalkeeper was looking for €20 000 compensation, but this week a Munich court cleared Wiese of defamatory criticism.

Andreas Evagora
Deputy Head
Eurosport 2

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