Union Berlin’s head coach Urs Fischer masterminded the club’s sensational run, from the Bundesliga 2 to Europe in only two years. The 56-year-old Swiss shares his recipe for success and his ambitious goals for this season.
You finally played at a full house last matchday and won against Köln. How was that like?
A win really brought it all together. The team didn’t really play their best game, but when it comes to mentality and fight, the team really gave everything. I also think the fans and a full house really helped us in some periods of the game. You noticed that the fans really supported the team and that gave us a lot of energy. A successful evening. Nice to have fans back in the stadiums!
How do you see that game? You improved your performance in the second half and scored the winning goal.
I don’t think we played badly in the first half. I think we were just not accurate enough in possession, had some simple losses of possession. But from the organisation, compactness and positional play, the boys were good. I think we always tried to put pressure on Köln and forced them into mistakes. The second half was really good. I don’t think Köln was able to take a single shot. I think you need to be well organised for that. So, the team did well.
There is a special family feeling at Union. How would you describe that?
It’s tough to give a concrete example to describe it. I just think you feel that feeling of everyone being there for each other. Everyone tries to give their best. At the end of the day, it’s about the team. That’s the same for us coaches. We also give our best to prepare the boys during the week. At the end of the day, they have to show it on the pitch. But I also think it helps the boys when you feel like everyone is helping. An example is when new players join us. They feel at home very quickly. They get a lot of help with their apartment, settling in, their insurance and all these kinds of things. I believe you can really feel that everyone is there for each other. I think that’s important.
How did you feel about the fan culture at Union when you first arrived in 2018?
Of course, I had watched matches in Bundesliga 2. You get a feeling for things. I had also read about all the special things and traditions, but I don’t think you experience the real culture or real atmosphere until you’re there in the stadium for the first time. For example: For the first friendly we played, there were 14,000 spectators. You’re playing a friendly and the stadium has an amazing atmosphere. That was my first contact with the fans. I think shared a lot of great moments since that. I especially remember the play-off games against Stuttgart and the home game. The power that this stadium can create, the way people celebrated afterwards, the way people pushed us during the 90 minutes. You hear things, see things on TV, read things – that can’t really describe it and you just have to experience it for yourself.
How do you see the development of Grischa Prömel?
Grischa has developed a lot during his time here. He has become a leader. He has also become vice-captain this season. I think he has taken steps. When you compare him today to when he first started, you see his development. But I still think he needs to keep taking steps. He has decided on a new course, taking the next step with the move to Hoffenheim. Of course, it’s a shame for us because we’re losing our vice-captain and a real box-to-box player. He has always been important for us. It is a shame, but that’s football.
Is it tough to see players leaving the club?
That’s just how it is. I think you must be able to deal with it and live with it. Accepting it is ultimately the consequence. Yes, we don’t have the same possibilities as other clubs, but we still try to act to our limit and get the most out of it.
What is your approach when you have several options for a position, for example Niko Gießelmann and Bastian Oczipka as left-back?
At the end of the day, the players have to want to come to terms with their role. Niko Gießelmann has done very well, played very well. There was no reason for me to change something there. Of course, we’ve also tried to give Bastian minutes. I think that’s really something the player is responsible for. Of course, I talk to them and show them that they have to stay at it, but it’s up to the player to come to terms with the situation.
What are the qualities that a Union Berlin player should have?
I think that also depends on the position. But I think he must have desire and has to enjoy playing. He has to want to invest. Those are requirements that should be there. And he also has to bring individual quality, aligned to the position. For me, enjoyment and fun are key. If you don’t enjoy what you do, it’ll be tough.
You will face Hertha Berlin in the Berlin derby this weekend. They are struggling this season. What do you think is the issue?
Of course, you notice things. I think it’s tough to assess from the outside. If you’re not in there, I think it’s wrong to talk about it. But of course, you notice things. I have already said it would be a shame if they are relegated. I like derbies. But I have also said that they are the ones responsible for the situation. They made the first step with the Hoffenheim game. I think they also showed improvements in the Leverkusen game, especially in the second half. They’ll be ready next Saturday. Derbies are always special. Really great games. So, I’m looking forward to it.
You played your games in the UEFA Europa Conference League at the Olympiastadion. Do games there even feel like away games anymore?
No, the Alte Försterei is our home. Full stop. Not the Olympiastadion. But I’ve got to say those were great games in the Conference League. Everyone who helped to create the best possible conditions for us, they really managed it. I think we felt good there. But nothing comes close to our real home.
What are your remaining your goals for this season?
I won’t say anything about goals yet because we just spoke about that for the first time with the team. We will give it some time and then we’ll make a statement. Of course, this season has been an extraordinary season. It’s the first time we’ve competed in three competitions. I think we were close in the Conference League. We’re still in the DFB Pokal, in the semi-finals. And we reached 41 points after 28 matchdays. So, the team has done a great job. I think we also accepted the changes in the past months, especially players leaving. Those were departures of important players. The team didn’t let that shock them. They kept trying to work and give their best. They have managed that really well.
How do you prepare for the Berlin derby?
We won’t train differently because it’s a derby. I think all the things around the game do enough, so the boys feel that it’s a special game. I think the media and papers will also write a lot this week. I think a lot comes into the team from the outside. At the end of the day, I think it’s important that we try to prepare as always. But a derby is a special game and will remain a special game. Above all, it’s about emotion. We are looking forward to it. Obviously, we want to win.
How does it feel like to play at a full Olympiastadion?
I think both teams deserve to finally play football in front of a full house again. I’m excited that this game can be played with a lot of spectators.
What was the hardest part to adapt to in Berlin?
The size, of course. When you come from Switzerland, you’re used to different things. It’s a big, huge city for a Swiss person. I also think this city really offers everything: culture, history, entertainment. You can get everything in this city. I also think when it comes to food, regardless of what you fancy, you can get it in this city. A city that’s alive seven days a week. There’s no silence. It really offers a lot. There’s also a lot of nature and water around Köpenick. There are things there as well if you want to take a break. Berlin really offers everything.
Berliners are known to be straight-talking. How do you feel about that?
Of course, that’s a difference compared to Switzerland. But I have to say that I’m also straight-talking. I say what I think. Of course, it was a bit unusual at the start, but I think I quickly came to terms with that because I’m similar. I didn’t need too long to get used to that.
Can you take a break from work and relax during the season? What do you do to relax?
I think things are still intense. There are six league games left, plus the DFB Pokal semi-final in Leipzig, a big opportunity. When time allows, I also try to relax and have a break. I am a passionate fisher, I love flyfishing. Unfortunately, the season hasn’t started yet, but it will in the middle of April here in Berlin and Brandenburg. If I find time, I’ll try to get down to the water. You need to get in a car here to get to the mountains. Berlin is very flat. Brandenburg is flat. I’ve got mountains back home. I’ll go hiking with my wife a few times during the holidays and enjoy lovely Switzerland.