News From Germany: EXCLUSIVE | Massimo Mariotti: “David Wagner will make an outstanding manager for Norwich City.”

Born in Biel, Switzerland, in 1961, Massimo Mariotti is a specialist talent coach with 2. Bundesliga side Hamburger SV. 

In his active career, the former defender played for FC Biel, Bayer Leverkusen, Viktoria Köln, FC Rimini and MSV Duisburg between 1979 and 1995, making 300 appearances and scoring 9 goals. Mariotti won promotion from the 2. Bundesliga and played in the semi-final of the DFB Pokal in 90/91, making a total of 25 appearances for Duisburg in the Bundesliga. 

Following his active career, Mariotti became a youth coach at VfL Bochum in 2000, before moving to the DFB as a coach in 2002/03. From 2010-2012 Mariotti managed youth teams as head coach at the BVB academy Hohenbuschei.

In the 2011/12 season, the former Duisburg player took over as assistant manager with the Borussia Dortmund U23 team, then managed by new Norwich City coach David Wagner. 

The following year he became club interpreter with Borussia Dortmund’s senior side, first under Jürgen Klopp and then Thomas Tuchel. The highlight of his career at Dortmund was the 2017 DFB Pokal win. 

In the 2018/19 campaign, he took over the same function with VfB Stuttgart, then managed by Tayfun Korkut, the club finished 16th. In 2019/20, the former Swiss defender took on responsibility for integration and interpreting at Schalke 04. The Gelsenkirchen-based club finished 13th in his first season. At the start of 2022, Mariotti moved to 9-time Italian champions Genoa as interpreter. He is currently with the academy of HSV where he is a specialised talent coach.

Ben McFadyean (BM): Massimo you worked as assistant manager to new Norwich City coach David Wagner at Borussia Dortmund in the 2011/12 season, firstly what kind of a manager what kind of qualities does David bring? 

Massimo Mariotti (MM): David is a top manager, he is highly detail oriented and focussed on the numbers, and he has an almost scientific approach. David always has a good overview. I would say he is a good man-manager he knows what he wants and also how to get it from the players. Wagner is essentially the 12th player for the team, he drives the team, a great coach.

Would it be right to say David Wagner brings a lot of the Jürgen Klopp style of management? What was your experience working as his assistant in 2011/12 at BVB II?

David is passionate about football and has a similar kind of energy and enthusiasm for the game to Jürgen, but he is a bit more reserved as a character. He is very into getting the detail right. He works very meticulously in terms of training content, match preparation, during the match, and follow-up. In the beginning, I had to learn a lot, because it was a big step up from working with the youth as I had before to being David’s assistant at the U23s. There were great players in the U23s at the time, like Marcel Halstenberg, Jonas Hoffman, Mario Vrančić, and Terrence Boyd, it was a great experience. I have to say regarding David I wasn’t surprised that he was so successful in England, because I know how he works. I know how he leads a team. 

You also worked with David at Schalke 04, in 2019/20, what kind of play can be expected from a David Wagner-managed team, like Norwich? 

The style of play of Wagner teams tends to be high tempo, with fast transitions, harrying the opponent and focussing on counterattacks. The teams he manages also tend to have good defensive records and high amounts of possession. He will make an outstanding manager at Norwich.

Talking about the time working with Wagner at Schalke 04 where you were an interpreter and integration manager, it was a difficult season for the American-German coach but what lasting memories do you have of how David managed things? 

The 13th-place finish in the first season was a fair achievement for Schalke and it started very well into the second we are up to 4th place but when the Covid quarantine arose without the fans the club crashed. Of course, Schalke is a top Bundesliga club but at the time the club were in debt. There were also a lot of changes going on at the director level which affected the club at the time. There were incredible injuries at the time: Stambouli, Sané, and Mascarell all leading players at the time were missing. No one could have predicted circumstances like the Corona crisis.

In terms of your career as a player, you played as a defender at a high level in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, what was your progression? 

I joined the youth of FC Biel at 11 and progressed to the U13s. We won the Swiss championship in 1973 under coach Hans Widmer who was an outstanding coach. I then joined the U19s of Bayer Leverkusen, I was signed by Rainer Calmund, who is something of a club legend. I stayed for two years in the academy. Then I signed my first professional contract with Viktoria Köln, a really interesting club, where I played for eight years. I then went to Rimini in Italy. 

In 1992 I got the opportunity to move to MSV Duisburg where we got promoted to the Bundesliga. It was a special era, I played with some great players at MSV like Michael Tarnat, Jürgen Wegmann and Ewald Lienen. The promotion celebrations were incredible we played Blau-Weiss Berlin and a long drawn out game, finally, we went 1-0 up. The fans carried us into the locker room. I was only left wearing my underpants. The fans who invaded the pitch tore the clothes from us amidst the celebrations. 

We also reached the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal against Cologne, an amazing experience we drew 0-0 in the home match but then lost 3-0 away but playing against players like Pierre Littbarski, Thomas Häßler and Toni Schumacher, you know, some great players. We got relegated at the end of the season, but I had a great three years. I then went back to finish my career with Viktoria Köln and retired in 1995. I can’t complain I got to do something I love and earn money doing it. 

You have worked with the four teams from Germany’s Ruhr valley; MSV Duisburg, VfL Bochum, BVB and Schalke, what are the cultural differences? 

You can say Borussia Dortmund is much bigger in terms of everything; spectators, finances, the players and coaches.

There are many clubs in the Ruhr area in Germany; like Duisburg, Rot-Weiß Essen and they also have a lot of potential, but the difference is if they are doing well then they get 10-15,000 spectators, Bochum on a good day may get 20 or maximum 30,000 fans. You cannot compare that with Dortmund which gets 75-80,000 regularly, they are on another level. BVB. The Ruhr area and, I must say, especially MSV Duisburg are in my heart because as a player, that was perhaps my best time and it was the time I played in the Bundesliga as well. I still have contact with MSV fans today. I’m just very thankful to all the people who gave me this opportunity to make my passion my career.

A former player, you became a coach and then an interpreter and integration manager, how did that progression happen?

So it was quite funny. I had to go to Portugal for a week at a training camp where I had been with Benfica. On Sunday I got a call from Willi Droste, the groundsman at Borussia Dortmund at the time, and he told me to come and speak to the coach at BVB, Jürgen Klopp. ‘Kloppo’ said: “can you speak French and Italian?” Of course, I know Italian very well, I was brought up in Switzerland, but my parents are Italian. So, Jürgen said: “come down to the changing rooms”, there I was introduced to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jürgen asked me to start translating directly what he said to the striker. After that, the coach asked me: “How did it go? Do you want the job or not?” I was a part-time youth coach at the time so I didn’t hesitate and said straight away that I would take the job, after all, it was still just football, and I know football.

What is the role of interpreter and integration manager, that you did with Schalke, VfB and Dortmund, involve?  

I’m not a trained interpreter but I know Italian, French, German, Spanish and English. A typical day would be you would come down in the morning at 10:00 for training and translate the instructions to the players and work with them during the training which I can do as I am also a football coach so the role suited me very well. I would also translate for the physios, for the doctors essentially be a go-between the players and the staff. Also travelling with the team to the training camps. But also looking after players, picking them up at the airport and handling other needs is very varied and you have above all a strong relationship with the players and coaches. It is a nice and varied role in my view but there’s a lot more to it than translation.

Aubameyang is back with Chelsea, you worked with him at BVB, what do you think he can achieve and was it a good move coming back from Barcelona? 

So firstly what I can say is that ‘Auba’ is a genuinely great person. What fans see is that he loves cars, loves to be extravagant, dress to be noticed, but look beyond that, ‘Auba’ is a professional. He would always be saying: “I have to improve things” and was never satisfied with his performance. He would work hard just to increase, even the smallest flaw in his game. He always watched his games again and again with his father on video and worked out what he could improve. There is a reason why he scored so many goals, he is a perfectionist. I’m still friends with the whole family even now after six years. Chelsea is a good opportunity.

As a coach you are now with the academy of Hamburger SV, what is it that you look for in a player who is going to succeed? 

As a child, I used to walk 5km to training and back, but it never bothered me, even in winter, I just wanted to play. Playing football has to be in the young person’s heart, they have to have the right mentality, not just the talent because talent alone is not enough. You also have to be lucky though. All of that is part of being successful. What is essential is that players have the right coaches. When I coached at Borussia Dortmund, there were a lot of talented players, but there was no ‘fire’ in their eyes. That is the problem nowadays. The players often have it too easy at home and something is lacking. Unfortunately, that ‘hunger’ is not something you can teach them.

Another issue is the parents for coaches, they come up to you and they demand their son plays, there are too many expectations now. That is what you deal with but the players that make it, make it all worthwhile, it’s incredible to see the progression. Those that succeed have the right mentality like Thomas Müller or Joshua Kimmich. I have seen many come and go at Borussia Dortmund but also at VfB Stuttgart, many outstanding talents but the wrong mentality and that is often the issue with those who don’t succeed.

You worked for Schalke 04 for two years and saw them relegated, the woes are still going on, for ‘Die Knappen’, they are at the bottom of the Bundesliga, how does it make you feel to see the problems?

Schalke belongs in the Bundesliga that is what I can say. When we were playing in the second league against teams like Bochum or Duisburg it was not the same. In The 2. Bundesliga still has incredible fans, but it is not the same at all. Yes, I felt very sad about the relegation. However, that was foreseeable. The club has really capable people behind the scenes, unfortunately, things have not been kind to Schalke in the last few years and it is tough for such a big club, for such great fans. Schalke’s rivalry with Borussia Dortmund is truly one of the great football rivalries, I am not exaggerating when I say that the Bundesliga is not the same at all without it.

You worked with Mario Götze in his early years in the BVB academy, his career has had a real revival going to the Eredivisie and winning the cup with PSV Eindhoven. Then Eintracht Frankfurt the sensational winners of the Europa League and getting selected for the DFB team in Qatar, what is the special ‘Götze factor’? 

Mario, whom I worked closely with from the age of 13. His talent and commitment are almost indestructible. You just have to let him play. At 13 he could already do things that many professionals can’t, that’s Mario. He was so talented that you could see that if the boy stayed healthy, he would end up in the Bundesliga simple as that. He had the right discipline, mentality and character. There are things you cannot train. You can work on the details, and improve their game, but not everyone has the potential to be a national team player like Mario. Not every player makes it to the top, Mario is sensational.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is now with Inter, what was your experience of working with ‘Miki’? 

Henrikh’s progression was very impressive. All I can say is Henrikh is a top man, reliable, super intelligent, and he speaks several languages. He would be in the locker room before the others and be the last to leave. A great player with many good skills. A good left foot and a good right foot, great finisher. If anything, he puts himself under too much pressure, unfortunately. I am glad to see things are going well in Italy.

Ousmane Dembélé played in the World Cup final, you worked closely with Ousmane, did you expect his career to take off like that?  

Thomas Tuchel did something very special with Ousmane. He was of course very young when he joined at 18-years-old so he needed some support, but on the pitch, Dembélé ignited, he is a powerful player who has speed and agility. I visited him in Barcelona, it was hard for him in the beginning, the expectations were very high but now he has his place in the team. Amazing to see him in the Qatar final.

Raphaël Guerreiro is in demand in England with Leeds United at the front of the queue, what was your experience working with ‘Rapha’?

When Rapha was discovered he was the Portugal left-back already, many teams wanted him. He was one of the absolute cornerstones of the Portuguese national team. I can’t say it any other way, although he has had some injuries, he is an explosive player. When he arrived, he only spoke French, so I needed to help him with finding his way. He is a player who has such quality and technique I have seldom seen a left-back with such a solid command of the ball, outstanding. Rapha has the quality to play in England or anywhere.

You worked with Tayfun Korkut at VfB Stuttgart, but the Mercedes-Benz Arena-based club have suffered relegation and again will be challenged to stay up this season, what do you see as the issues? 

VfB Is a huge club, four-time German champions, they are very well positioned to do well, despite their position in the league. They have good sponsors, a great training centre, and great staff, I admire the club, and also the fans. Stuttgart should be among the top five or six teams in Germany, because they have incredible potential, but they haven’t had consistency in the club. Stuttgart is one of the richest cities in Germany but things in recent times have been much harder for them. 

The cup win under Thomas Tuchel is surely the highlight of your career, what made 2017 so special? Were you disappointed to see Tuchel leave BVB the way he did?  

Yes, of course especially as we had had the bomb attack that season and we lost top players like Mats Hummels that season, despite that Thomas Tuchel took the club to the Champions League. The Pokal win was the highlight. Things should have worked out in Dortmund. Thomas is a very tough competitor and a really good coach, he is the kind of coach who can change a club, and it was a special time, I enjoy working with top coaches like Thomas.

Thank you for the interview Massimo and best of luck to Hamburg for the Bundesliga Aufstieg!

GGFN | Ben McFadyean