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Enrico Maaßen: opting for the element of surprise

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Enrico Maaßen is a lot of things. Qualified football coach. Certified sports therapist. Trained sports and fitness salesman. All of that is on his business card. But above all, Maaßen is the new head coach of the BVB U23s - at just 36 years of age. In his own words: "I'm very grateful for the job at this huge club."

Your career progression over the past few years has been very impressive. Drochtersen, Rödinghausen, BVB. How far along in your development do you think you are?
 I can't really give an exact answer - it's not something I think about too much. This job is so much fun for me, I love being out there on the training ground and working with the players. I always try to do the best I can. Everything else stems from that. 

Why does the coach of the Regionalliga West champions move to the U23 side of a Bundesliga club?
Because Borussia Dortmund are an absolutely massive and very interesting club. Working here will give me the chance to develop in a way I've never done before. At my first job in Drochtersen, it was all about being successful, about getting results. Then in Rödinghausen I was able to place more focus on playing good football - which proved a success. Now I have the opportunity to work with young players, helping them develop, while also getting results on the pitch. There is also so much footballing expertise here, both among the coaching staff as well as the decision makers at the club. 

How do you define your duties at this important crossroads between youth and senior football? A lot of people are involved at this level of the club.

The most important thing is to not always take yourself too seriously. When all is said and done, I'm sure I'm the one who is in charge and who holds responsibility for what goes on. But we have a big staff, a great team and many people who have been involved in the development of the young players so far. Now, for me and everyone involved, it's all about helping these players develop while playing attractive, successful football. That's what I want to achieve here and I'm going to give it everything I've got.

At U23 level, there is often a blurred line between team success and individual development. How do you make sure the two can co-exist in harmony? 

I think that neither of these objectives work without the other. While it's true that failure can be an important part of an individual's development, I think that players - young players in particular - develop better when they play in a successful team. I think it's especially important for young players to pick up a winning mentality and make it part of their footballing personality. That's why it's important for me that we make each player better individually, but also that everyone on the team has the hunger to achieve their collective best. That's what I will try to do.

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Enrico Maaßen certainly achieved as much at his former employers, SV Rödinghausen. The 36-year-old left the club after winning the Regionalliga West title and causing a few upsets in the cup. However, when he joined in 2018, the picture was very different. In succeeding Alfred Nijhuis, the young coach took over the team with the fourth-worst defensive record in the league. His approach? He analysed what was going wrong, helped the team find stability and encouraged possession-based football. The pay off was immediate, as Rödinghausen won the Westphalian Cup. By the end of his first year in charge, the team had been rejuvenated and found a distinctive playing identity. And they were successful too: a 3-2 extra-time win over second-tier club Dynamo Dresden in the DFB Cup led to a lucrative match-up with Bayern Munich in the next round. Maaßen's side did themselves proud, going down 2-1 in a close-fought match with the German record champions and eventual cup winners. 

In his second season in charge, the young coach also made headlines in the DFB Cup. Rödinghausen pushed Bundesliga side SC Paderborn all the way before being knocked out in a penalty shootout. Meanwhile, Maaßen's side were the team to beat in the Regionalliga West. After a third consecutive record-breaking half-season, the team already had 38 points on the board by the winter break. By the time the season was halted due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Rödinghausen had notched up an average of 2.4 points per game, scored 66 goals in 27 matches and only conceded 19 in the process. The statistics are a reflection of an exceptionally good team performance.

Maaßen is now hoping to create a similar basis for development and success in Dortmund. Before the start of pre-season preparations, the young coach took the time to meet with and get to know all players and members of staff. After all, there isn't just a new coach in charge of the U23s; large parts of the squad and the coaching staff are new too. Now they need to come together as a unit and play as a team out on the pitch. 

The pitch. The coach's eyes light up when he looks towards it. For Enrico Maaßen, the playing field is a playground. 

Enrico, without giving away too much, how does a team coached by you play? 
Very variable, very offensive. That's how the players enjoy it and that's how everyone watching enjoys it too. We're not going to play the same way every week. On occasion I like to use the element of surprise. The opposition shouldn't know exactly what it is they're facing. There's also the fact that the way I want to set my team up depends on the form of the players I have at my disposal. So I have both the opposition as well as my own players in mind. We'll have an individualised game plan for each match. Basically, what I and everyone here wants to do is create lots of chances and score lots of goals. 

You've mentioned the offensive side of things. But it's also true that your teams in the last few years have been very stable defensively. How do you manage to get it right at both ends of the park? 
When you're new to a team, it's important that you analyse what the problems were the year before. That's the first thing you have to sort out. Then, as time goes by, you're able to find the balance. When I first arrived at Rödinghausen, the team had conceded 64 goals in a season - one year later we had the best defensive record in the league. It's a very different situation here. We'll be able to work on both sides right from the start. In essence, I like to give the defence a clear structure that everyone has to abide by. In return, I give the players flexibility up front. This is what makes us unpredictable.

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Enrico, answer honestly: do you have an eye on what your predecessors in the job  - David Wagner, Daniel Farke and Jan Siewert - have gone on to do?
I've been asked this in every interview so far. We haven't even started the job here. I'm not wasting any time thinking about that just now. That isn't how I function anyway. I think I have an unbelievably interesting task ahead of me. Borussia Dortmund are an absolutely massive club. It's something new, something different; I'll have some adjusting to do at first. I'm approaching the job with the utmost respect and heaps of excitement. During pre-season, I've been able to see all the individual quality we have, and now I can't wait to turn us into a good team. That's very important for me. I want us to be fully prepared for the first day of the season - technically, tactically and physically. 

I read that your two coaching role models are Lucien Favre and Jürgen Klopp. Is this true? 
That comes from a very early interview. Lucien Favre was the head coach in Mönchengladbach back then, and I always thought his team defended with unbelievable intelligence. The clear structure and organisation in their game was impressive. As for Jürgen Klopp, his power football was and remains a spectacle. 

Speaking of Jürgen Klopp: back when the new first-team facility was being built, he sat in today's U23 building, looked over and said: "This is good. In future, the youngsters will sit here. They'll have their sights set on their goal, but they'll know they're not there yet. Every day they'll have a little reminder that they need to do more to get where they want to be." Do you share his point of view?

If Jürgen Klopp said it, it must be true. I think it's always good to hear stories like that. We have brilliant training facilities for the youngsters here - but of course everyone should be aiming to make it over to the first-team building. I've not been there yet. 

Enrico Maaßen is at the start of his journey as head coach of the Borussia Dortmund U23s. "This was a carefully thought-out decision, just as it was when I took the Rödinghausen job. In both cases, there were other options I could have chosen,"  says Maaßen. The 36-year-old was determined to choose exactly when and where he would take on a head coaching role and make a decision that worked both for him and his family.

His wife and his three-year-old son have moved to join him in Dortmund. "That's what we did in Rödinghausen, and it worked well. I have a lot of support from my family. That's important for me," says Maaßen, going on to stress the importance of living close to his place of work: "That creates a sense of identification." Maaßen didn't want to spend two to three hours on the motorway every day - especially since the work of a coach doesn't stop when he leaves the training ground.

"It's certainly healthy to switch off at some point. A healthy work-life balance is important, and that includes quality time with the family. I'm a very family-oriented person," says Enrico Maaßen, adding: "As a coach, it's obviously difficult to put work completely to one side. I'm the kind of person who lives and breathes football."

Author: Nils Hotze
Photos: Alexandre Simoes

Personal profile: league winner and giant killer

Enrico Maaßen, 36, known as "Enno". Born and raised in Wismar. Football coach, certified sports therapist and qualified sports and fitness salesman.  

Former player at Hansa Rostock II, SC Verl and SV Drochtersen/Assel. Forced to call time on his playing career in 2014 after suffering two inner and cruciate ligament tears in the same knee. 

Coach at SV Drochtersen/Assel (2014-18), leading them to promotion from the Oberliga Nord into the Regionalliga Nord. Caught the attention in August 2016 with a narrow 1-0 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB Cup. Moved to SV Rödinghausen (2018-20), winning the Regionalliga West title in the Coronavirus-interrupted 2019/20 season. Made headlines with impressive DFB Cup performances against Dynamo Dresden, Bayern Munich and SC Paderborn.

BVB-TV by 1&1: U23: profile of new head coach Enrico Maaßen