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“Tiger, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you”

“Tiger, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you”

Thomas Müller, 2014 world champion

Thomas Müller, 2014 world champion

BIRKENSTORY #28 Hermann Gerland (67) – football manager with a unique eye for young talent BIRKENSTORY #28 Hermann Gerland (67) – football manager with a unique eye for young talent

For decades, the Ruhr region was the engine that drove Germany’s industrial growth. The tough lives that the miners and steelworkers led resulted in some unconventional characters – stern, but warm-hearted, hard-working, chummy, and direct. Just like Hermann “Tiger” Gerland, the dyed-in-the-wool Bochumer and legendary football coach at FC Bayern Munich. In his first phone call with the BIRKENSTOCK editorial team, he doesn’t beat about the bush: “I’m not a bootlicker, you know!”

For decades, the Ruhr region was the engine that drove Germany’s industrial growth. The tough lives that the miners and steelworkers led resulted in some unconventional characters – stern, but warm-hearted, hard-working, chummy, and direct. Just like Hermann “Tiger” Gerland, the dyed-in-the-wool Bochumer and legendary football coach at FC Bayern Munich. In his first phone call with the BIRKENSTOCK editorial team, he doesn’t beat about the bush: “I’m not a bootlicker, you know!”

A wonderful childhood in hard times A wonderful childhood in hard times

Gerland was born in the Weitmar district of Bochum in 1954 as the first of four children. He describes his childhood as being wonderful, even though his family was very poor. He once asked his mother for a dime for an ice cream. Her response? “Hermann, if I give you some money now, there will be no sausage meat to go with your bread by the 27th.” He never asked again. His father died when he was nine. His mother worked as a cleaner while he took care of his younger siblings. “If anyone ever hit them, that person knew all too well that their big brother was going to come and get them.”

Gerland was born in the Weitmar district of Bochum in 1954 as the first of four children. He describes his childhood as being wonderful, even though his family was very poor. He once asked his mother for a dime for an ice cream. Her response? “Hermann, if I give you some money now, there will be no sausage meat to go with your bread by the 27th.” He never asked again. His father died when he was nine. His mother worked as a cleaner while he took care of his younger siblings. “If anyone ever hit them, that person knew all too well that their big brother was going to come and get them.”

Learning on the streets Learning on the streets

Their apartment was only 52 square meters so the children mostly lived out on the streets. “We were wild and spent all our time playing around outside,” Gerland reminisces. He felt most at home on the small recreational football pitch, where, as a fearless street football player, he would do everything he could to win. And this was made possible by his buddy Martin, who passed his football boots on to Gerland every year.

Their apartment was only 52 square meters so the children mostly lived out on the streets. “We were wild and spent all our time playing around outside,” Gerland reminisces. He felt most at home on the small recreational football pitch, where, as a fearless street football player, he would do everything he could to win. And this was made possible by his buddy Martin, who passed his football boots on to Gerland every year.

The path to becoming a professional The path to becoming a professional

Gerland’s passion for football led him to the club Westfalia Weitmar and then on to VfL Bochum, where he was awarded his first professional contract at the age of 18. He made his Bundesliga debut in September 1972 in a match against Eintracht Braunschweig. Gerland’s trademark attributes were teetotalism, his huge ambition, and his tenacity when tackling his opponents. He made 204 appearances for VfL up to 1984, serving as a formidable but always fair defender in his last nine years.

Gerland’s passion for football led him to the club Westfalia Weitmar and then on to VfL Bochum, where he was awarded his first professional contract at the age of 18. He made his Bundesliga debut in September 1972 in a match against Eintracht Braunschweig. Gerland’s trademark attributes were teetotalism, his huge ambition, and his tenacity when tackling his opponents. He made 204 appearances for VfL up to 1984, serving as a formidable but always fair defender in his last nine years.

From player to coach From player to coach

In 1985, Gerland was appointed assistant coach in Bochum. He then became head coach in Nuremberg in 1988, and this was followed by stints with the FC Bayern amateurs, Tennis Borussia Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld, and SSV Ulm 1846. His great period at FC Bayern Munich began in 2001, and he served the club hugely successfully in a variety of positions until July 2021.

In 1985, Gerland was appointed assistant coach in Bochum. He then became head coach in Nuremberg in 1988, and this was followed by stints with the FC Bayern amateurs, Tennis Borussia Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld, and SSV Ulm 1846. His great period at FC Bayern Munich began in 2001, and he served the club hugely successfully in a variety of positions until July 2021.

FC Bayern Munich’s eyes FC Bayern Munich’s eyes

He was an assistant coach to Jupp Heynckes, Louis van Gaal, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, and Hansi Flick, and made a name for himself in particular with his work with up-and-coming football players. He helped develop numerous players who went on to become national players, including Dietmar Hamann, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Alaba and Thomas Müller. And he remained modest throughout: “I had a small part to play in training some of them ...” Louis van Gaal, Bayern’s head coach from 2009 to 2011, sees things slightly differently: “Hermann, you said three sentences to me about every one of our players on our first day. And now, a year later, I can say that this is something I have never seen before – everything you told me was true. The club needs to make a lot more use of you. You have an incredible eye for these things.”

He was an assistant coach to Jupp Heynckes, Louis van Gaal, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, and Hansi Flick, and made a name for himself in particular with his work with up-and-coming football players. He helped develop numerous players who went on to become national players, including Dietmar Hamann, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Alaba and Thomas Müller. And he remained modest throughout: “I had a small part to play in training some of them ...” Louis van Gaal, Bayern’s head coach from 2009 to 2011, sees things slightly differently: “Hermann, you said three sentences to me about every one of our players on our first day. And now, a year later, I can say that this is something I have never seen before – everything you told me was true. The club needs to make a lot more use of you. You have an incredible eye for these things.”

Stern, but warm-hearted – Tiger’s work with up-and-coming players Stern, but warm-hearted – Tiger’s work with up-and-coming players

Gerland always demanded a great deal from his youngsters. In particular, he set great store by discipline, commitment, rigor, fairness, and punctuality. “If one of them ever said ‘I got stuck in traffic,’ I would say to them ‘So get stuck in traffic earlier next time, like I always do.’”

The players could rely on him 100 percent. “The guys have to be allowed to mess up from time to time. When, if not now?” Gerland understood them and defended them – including in front of the club’s top management. There was Bastian Schweinsteiger, for example, who was supposed to leave the club following a transgression. “No, he stays. I made mistakes when I was younger, too.” And the rest is history. Gerland was responsible for training five of the 2014 world champions, Schweinsteiger included.

Many describe Gerland as the heart and soul of FC Bayern Munich. For Thomas Müller, who is a bit of a rascal, Gerland was a father figure and a friend: “Tiger, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. But without me, you would never have become a nine-times German champion.” Gerland’s response: “A win-win situation!”

Gerland always demanded a great deal from his youngsters. In particular, he set great store by discipline, commitment, rigor, fairness, and punctuality. “If one of them ever said ‘I got stuck in traffic,’ I would say to them ‘So get stuck in traffic earlier next time, like I always do.’”

The players could rely on him 100 percent. “The guys have to be allowed to mess up from time to time. When, if not now?” Gerland understood them and defended them – including in front of the club’s top management. There was Bastian Schweinsteiger, for example, who was supposed to leave the club following a transgression. “No, he stays. I made mistakes when I was younger, too.” And the rest is history. Gerland was responsible for training five of the 2014 world champions, Schweinsteiger included.

Many describe Gerland as the heart and soul of FC Bayern Munich. For Thomas Müller, who is a bit of a rascal, Gerland was a father figure and a friend: “Tiger, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you. But without me, you would never have become a nine-times German champion.” Gerland’s response: “A win-win situation!”

Bochum, Bayern, Birkenstock Bochum, Bayern, Birkenstock

He was already wearing BIRKENSTOCKS back when he played for VfL “simply because they were comfortable and well made. I was able to walk in them easily,” relates Gerland. “I even bribed my kids so that they would buy some. And now everyone wears BIRKENSTOCKS.” The fact that he made appearances as head coach wearing BIRKENSTOCKS did rather bother the Bochum team’s board, however. “I didn’t care in the slightest. You can have beautiful feet but still wear ugly shoes,” says Gerland, grinning.

When he first went to FC Bayern Munich, he turned up in shorts and BIRKENSTOCKS. The President, Prof. Dr. Fritz Scherer, looked over to coach Heynckes disbelievingly: “What on earth is he wearing?” Heynckes’ answer: “Believe me, Professor, you’ve got a good one here.” Gerland was promptly offered the job. One day, he was supposed to travel to Colombia to do some talent scouting. “And Uli Hoeneß said: ‘Please, not in BIRKENSTOCKS!’” Gerland relates. When we got there, it was 40 degrees and they were all wearing gym shorts. I was the only one stood there in a suit, tie, and patent leather shoes. I would have been a lot better off wearing BIRKENSTOCKS ...

He was already wearing BIRKENSTOCKS back when he played for VfL “simply because they were comfortable and well made. I was able to walk in them easily,” relates Gerland. “I even bribed my kids so that they would buy some. And now everyone wears BIRKENSTOCKS.” The fact that he made appearances as head coach wearing BIRKENSTOCKS did rather bother the Bochum team’s board, however. “I didn’t care in the slightest. You can have beautiful feet but still wear ugly shoes,” says Gerland, grinning.

When he first went to FC Bayern Munich, he turned up in shorts and BIRKENSTOCKS. The President, Prof. Dr. Fritz Scherer, looked over to coach Heynckes disbelievingly: “What on earth is he wearing?” Heynckes’ answer: “Believe me, Professor, you’ve got a good one here.” Gerland was promptly offered the job. One day, he was supposed to travel to Colombia to do some talent scouting. “And Uli Hoeneß said: ‘Please, not in BIRKENSTOCKS!’” Gerland relates. When we got there, it was 40 degrees and they were all wearing gym shorts. I was the only one stood there in a suit, tie, and patent leather shoes. I would have been a lot better off wearing BIRKENSTOCKS ...

Bring on the future Bring on the future

Hermann Gerland has no intention of retiring just yet. Since September 2021, he has been working for the German Football Association (DFB) as an assistant coach for the under-21 national team. “Getting out on the pitch, having fun, and seeing the guys playing well makes me very happy. I will retire when I am 92 at the earliest – and even then it will only be a part-time retirement!”

Hermann Gerland has no intention of retiring just yet. Since September 2021, he has been working for the German Football Association (DFB) as an assistant coach for the under-21 national team. “Getting out on the pitch, having fun, and seeing the guys playing well makes me very happy. I will retire when I am 92 at the earliest – and even then it will only be a part-time retirement!”

Tiger from head to toe –
Gerland’s doormat outside the front door

Tiger from head to toe –
Gerland’s doormat outside the front door

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