He is probably the only Bayern Munich player to have been cheered by the South Stand: Alexander Zickler paved the way for Borussia Dortmund to lift the Bundesliga in June 1995. Now he's an assistant coach in Marco Rose's coaching team. His colleague René Maric took a completely different path. Perhaps not the "American dream" – but more of an "Austrian dream". His path to becoming assistant coach started as a tactics blogger.

Five key words, five short answers please. Borsigplatz ... 
Maric: A worthy destination in May. 

Yellow Wall...
Zickler: Not so pleasant when you come as an opponent. Dortmund's 12th man. The South Stand has a crazy energy. 

Strobelallee ...
Maric: The last part of the journey into the stadium. 

Adi Preißler ... 
Zickler: Legend. 

Minister Stein ... 

Both look at each other puzzled, shrug their shoulders and laugh out loud: Have we failed? 

No. Passed! Except for the final key word – the last coal mine in Dortmund – the duo are already well informed about the club and the city. Four out of a possible five points for Zickler/Maric in our little quiz game...  


How do you bridge the distance to your family?
Zickler: I have a big family. The last two years have not been so easy. My son came with me to Dortmund and he plays here at the youth academy at U16 level. That means I do have some family here, which is very important to me. We try to travel to Salzburg as often as possible. And the family tries to come here on a frequent basis, but that is obviously not so easy. My son and I have settled in well here and feel very comfortable in Dortmund.
Maric: It's slightly simpler in my case, as I don't have my own family. But I did become an uncle a few months ago and want to see the little one and the others as often as possible. The week over the international break will give me the opportunity to travel to Austria and Croatia. I already feel almost like a local in Dortmund; after all, I have my pals with me. Dortmund is an underrated city. 

Football coaches can lead "vagabond" lifestyles. Is that the price you have to pay for your dream job in the Bundesliga?
Zickler: That already started as a player, although fortunately I was largely spared this constant moving around. I started playing football in Dresden, then spent a long time in Munich and many years in Salzburg. You can't plan over five, six, seven years – either as a player or as a coach – and that doesn't make it easy with a family. Of course, it would be great if we could stay here for a very, very long time. 

Assistant coaches in the Bundesliga have often had a moderately successful professional career. It's completely different in your case: we have a former top player, and next to him is someone whose career was over before it even got going. 
Maric: So between us, we've also had a mediocre career: him in the Bundesliga, me not at all.
Zickler (laughs loudly)René, they didn't see your talent, didn't want to see it...
Maric: Firstly, that; secondly, I wasn't at the right level physically; and thirdly, I didn't have the mentality as a player. I always played with the older players, but then the injuries came along quickly. 

Dresden-born Alexander Zickler has won just about everything you can win in club football: the Champions League, the Club World Cup, the UEFA Cup... Seven titles in Germany and three in Austria, four DFB-Pokals. He played 308 games for Bayern Munich between 1993 and 2005; two of his 79 goals during this period – in a game against Werder Bremen – paved the way for Borussia Dortmund to win the German championship on 17 June 1995. For Salzburg, the former Germany international scored 65 times in 165 appearances. 


And René Maric? If a professional career was ever on the cards at all, it ended before it even began. He grew up in Upper Austria, 40 kilometres from the German border. He tore his cruciate ligament as a 13-year-old, then later broke his pelvis, suffered a broken collarbone, became ill with a bone tumour and later tore his cruciate ligament again. At an early age, he became coach of the D-youth team of his club TSU Handenberg. He was driven to find out why players do what they do on the pitch. To this end, he watched all the videos he can find. The inquisitive youngster joined forces with like-minded people on the Internet and became one of the co-founders of the "spielverlagerung.de" platform, which he ran alongside his studies. Maric came to the attention of Thomas Tuchel, then coach at Mainz, who wrote to him by e-mail. 

That's how he made his first contact with professional football. The second was sought more actively. He was fascinated by the FC Salzburg youth team, which was racking up one victory after another at the time. The coach of this team was ... Marco Rose. 

How did the contact with Rose come about?
Maric: I studied in Salzburg, wrote something about the team there, and my inquiries met with very open and interested people in the academy. After a few months Marco gave me the chance to join his coaching staff. 

And what about you, Alex?
Zickler: At that time, the set-up was such that as head coach of a youth team at junior level, you were simultaneously the assistant of an academy team. That's how I came to know and appreciate Marco. We realised right from the start that we were a good fit for each other. 

Is the coaching staff stronger for having two assistants with such different resumes – and therefore completely different perspectives?
Zickler: I think so. I admire the work René does, his analytical approach, his attention to detail and his expertise.
Maric: Our view of the game is hardly different. But Zicko has a very different experience of what it's like in a top-level locker room. He can put himself in the shoes of these players. Marco can do the same as a former Bundesliga player. I come from an amateur background and am trying to learn a lot in this respect.  

How does the coaching staff work together? Is Rose an authoritarian boss?
Zickler: Ultimately, he makes the decisions. What sets him apart is that he is an absolute team player; he doesn't look down at you, but discusses things eye-to-eye. This way of interacting is extremely respectful. Everyone knows they can speak their mind. And that's what Marco wants. 

Zickler and Maric have had some successful times alongside head coach Marco Rose – first in Salzburg, where they won the UEFA Youth League in their year together at the academy and knocked out the youth teams of Manchester City, Paris St. Germain, Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona along the way. Later, with the senior squad, they made it to the semi-finals of the Europa League and won two Austrian Bundesliga titles. With Borussia Mönchengladbach, they reached the Champions League and made it to the round of 16. 


They can all play football. What do you teach the players? What do you try to convey?
Zickler: We have a certain football philosophy: aggression, willingness to run. We want to combine that with the footballing quality that everyone in the squad possesses. And yet there are minor deviations in relation to each opponent. We try to work on these with the team so that they remain flexible. There is a ball, but football is not always the same.
Maric: We want to convince the boys that if they pursue a philosophy together, they have an advantage.  

How does one train aggression?
Maric: Unequal group sizes – but it's not really possible to go into detail here.

Short and sweet please...
Maric: We create incentives for players by rewarding them in training when they defend forwards aggressively, cover big distances at a high tempo or get stuck into challenges early on. 

The big problem this year was the fact the EURO participants returned late to training. In addition there are injured players who have not yet been on the pitch with the team. How are the latecomers integrated? 
Zickler: We do lots via video and show what our principles of play are so that the players also have a visual experience of what awaits them. We may also follow up with one-on-one sessions on top of training where we show what they could have possibly done better.  

As a coach, are you able to switch off from football? Because after the game is always before the next one...
Maric: It's not possible in English weeks. But once the follow-up work is done, you have to turn your attention to other things. Otherwise you won't see the wood for the trees later on. You learn when you can take these breaks.
Zickler: It's not simple. If you don't have a game yourself, your son has one. And of course I enjoying watching him. We speak a lot about football at home too. And when I'm back at home in Salzburg – like this weekend over the international break – one of them has a tournament on Saturday, the other on Sunday. For us, football determines our lives to a certain extent. But I still try to switch off when I'm with my family – and be there for them.    


The Champions League has started. Where did you watch the draw?
Maric: I didn't at all. We were still on the pitch having a training session. When we came into the changing rooms, we knew the group.

Salzburg would've been a possible, indeed not an improbable opponent. There was a 33% chance...
Zickler: (laughs): I would have been delighted – just for the fact I'd have been able to spend the night in my own bed...
Maric: From Pot 3, Ajax were one of the two candidates that I wanted to face. Besiktas is a really interesting match both away and at home. There are three tradition-steeped clubs in our group. They're very exciting challenges. Even though the clubs might not be the very, very big names, they're still teams with a real high quality.

How does it feel to be in the dugout for the Champions League?
Zickler: It is yet another highlight. You're testing yourselves against the best teams in Europe. Our group might not have so many big names as one or two of the others, but it is very interesting. They'll be exciting games." 

The two assistant coaches leave the meeting room laughing. But even then football is at the forefront of their minds. "We need to become more consistent," René Maric says. Alex Zickler pats him on the shoulder. They're working together on an idea. In a team. 
Interview: Boris Rupert 
Photos: Alexandre Simoes