Christoph Freund: Why Bayern Munich analyse players’ soft skills
Written by Training Ground Guru — December 4, 2023
NEW Bayern Munich Sporting Director Christoph Freund says “soft skills are absolutely crucial in our assessment of players” and that the club “gather a lot of insight into the players off the pitch.”
The Austrian was speaking on the club’s official channels after his first 100 days in the job. He joined Bayern on September 1st after 17 very successful years at Red Bull Salzburg.
When asked to explain what makes a successful Bayern player he said: “We're talking about the very highest level here, so of course you need the footballing prerequisites such as technique and tactical understanding. But mentality is crucial.
"You have to trust yourself to deliver at the highest level time and time again. It's important to work with young players on what it means to deal with pressure. These soft skills are absolutely crucial in our assessment of players.
"We gather a lot of insight into the players off the pitch: how they deal with other players, how they behave in certain situations. We talk to a lot of people who are around them.
“You have to be made to give your all to get to the top and stay there. There are plenty of examples of players who were huge talents, but who nevertheless took a different path. That's perfectly fine, but you have to admit it to yourself before you become unhappy."
The 46-year-old has had a very interesting path to Bayern. He was a youth and reserve-team player at Austria Salzburg before the sudden death of his father meant he had to take over the family joinery firm at the age of just 24.
Suddenly, he had to give up his professional football career and take responsibility for a firm of 20 employees. This experience strongly influenced the way he operates as a Sporting Director.
“It was a total career change, and I only managed it because my father had formed a really good, well-drilled team in the company,” Freund explained. “Back then, I learnt what’s possible when you stand together in a difficult situation and support each other.
“Monocultures are not as stable as mixed forests. There must also be different types of players in a team." Christoph Freund, Bayern Munich
"For me personally, it was the greatest success of my life that I managed to keep things going together with the employees. The joinery still exists today, it’s one of the largest joineries in the Salzburg region, and I go there every time I’m at home in Leogang.
"It was a very difficult time emotionally, because I always had a close relationship with my father, but in hindsight I also learnt a lot from this phase for my life. Regardless of whether it's in business or football, it's always about people.
"If you engage with your counterparts and take an interest in them, you build a completely different basis and get much more in return. Everyone has their own issues that are important to them at the moment. The more you know about each other, the better you can respond to each other.
“If you've only ever been in this business (football), it's easier to lose sight of normal life outside the football bubble than someone who can judge from their own experience how hard a tradesman has to work to feed their family. I always remind myself what a great privilege it is to be able to work in football."
Freund then expanded on some of the specific lessons he had taken from his six years leading joinery business. The first was about the need for diversity of workforce - in terms of both personalities and skills.
“Monocultures are not as stable as mixed forests,” he said. "There must also be different types of players in a team, and in management everyone has individual strengths.
“The more different the types, the broader the performance spectrum that can be mapped. The important thing is to always find a common foundation."
Another was about the importance of development.
“I really enjoy working with young people and supporting them over three, four or five years,” Freund said. “When you then see how talented people develop into established personalities, it gives you an incredible sense of satisfaction.
“It's similar to a joiner who has a few planks of wood in front of him and creates something from them thanks to his imagination and craftsmanship. In both cases, you need a very concrete plan - and neither are created overnight."
Freund succeeded Hasan Salihamidzic as Bayern Sporting Director. He said stability and belief in youth were two of the foundational beliefs at Bayern and ones he wanted to continue.
"I'm not someone who’s in favour of rapid change in life," he said. "I want to build something and create connections, put down roots. That's my nature and that's why it wasn't so easy for me to leave Salzburg. My plan is definitely to work for Bayern for a long period of time.
"Bayern are focussed on achieving maximum goals in European football. What's more, the club has not only been outstanding in sporting terms for decades, but also financially. That also creates security. You know what you're getting at Bayern."
"Of course, the Campus (Academy) will continue to develop young players for our senior side in the future, but it will never be as extreme as in Salzburg because we have different goals here.
"It has to work for Bayern - and the youngsters also need to know that they will receive such a good education with us that there is a high probability that they will make the transition to professional football. The link between the Campus and Säbener Strasse is a very important factor.
"That applies not only to the youngsters, but also to the coaches, fitness trainers and physios. We want to manage the balancing act of being successful internationally and at the same time doing good youth work."
Bayern's Director of Youth Development is Jochen Sauer, who has been in place since the opening of the FC Bayern Campus (home to their 11s to 19s) in August 2017. Last month they also appointed former Leeds United assistant Rene Maric as Lead of Coaching Development and Playing Philosophy.
Freund worked closely with Sauer when he was Head of Youth at RB Salzburg.
"We hold each other in high regard and have the same views, which is a great advantage," he said.
Salzburg's record of developing young players was outstanding. Freund rose to become their Sporting Director and during his tenure talents like Sadio Mane, Baby Keita, Erling Haaland and Karim Adeyemi rose to prominence. At the same time, the club won the Austrian league title in each of Freund's eight seasons as Sporting Director, while also qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time in 2019/20.
Last year, Freund revealed that Chelsea had approach him to become their Sporting Director, but he turned down the opportunity.