Nuri Sahin interview: Borussia Dortmund assistant on Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and his own coaching dream

Former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin tells Sky Sports about being back at BVB as assistant manager, coaching in Germany’s ninth tier, going to Harvard, and the man-management of Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho…

Image: Nuri Sahin is now the assistant manager of Borussia Dortmund

Six years after leaving the club as a player, Nuri Sahin answered the call from Borussia Dortmund in December. He is back as the club’s assistant manager. He had been the head coach of Antalyaspor in Turkey but felt that he had no choice but to return.

“I had the feeling that the club I had supported since my childhood needed me,” Sahin tells Sky Sports. “They were in a difficult situation. It was a hard decision but I listened to heart and my heart said that the club needs you so you go back and help the club.”

Dortmund is a different club to the one he made over 200 Bundesliga appearances for across two spells as a player. “A lot has changed. But the road to the training ground is the same. I am in my old apartment. It feels good to be back where I grew up. Back home.”

He insists that it was not easy to leave Turkey. “We were creating something special there.” But one suspects there are special things ahead for Sahin too, this ambitious 35-year-old coach who has been studying the best in the business for over a decade now.

He did pursue alternative career options. “I did many things outside of football, invested in many things to see if maybe I had a passion for it. I wanted to find out about everything.” That included a prestigious sports management course at Harvard Business School.

Sahin was on the course alongside around 80 others, a group that included chief executives, sporting directors, basketball stars and more. “There was a tennis player next to me.” That would be former US Open champion and three-time Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick.

“Lindsey Vonn was there. A youth director from FC Barcelona. I had the CEO of Sony Music from Latin America, someone from Coca-Cola, it was all very interesting. I talked to Anita Elberse, who ran the course, about it. She changed my life in a way.

“I would say, without being arrogant, that I am quite an intelligent guy. But there are many, many people out there who are extremely intelligent. Bringing 80 smart people together and brainstorming about a topic, that experience did kind of change my life.”

His life, perhaps, but not his choice of career. In fact, it clarified a few things for him. “When I was back sitting at home and thinking about what I wanted to do next, it was clearly coaching. I wanted to be in football and I wanted to be working on the pitch.”

Image: Nuri Sahin up against Tottenham's Harry Kane when playing for Borussia Dortmund

Unlike many former players, whose thoughts turn to coaching only towards the end of a distinguished career, Sahin was taking notes even in his mid-twenties. “I started those notes in 2013. It has been 11 years of notes and training sessions on paper now.”

He began coaching in earnest in 2015, at the age of just 26, when a series of long-term injuries hampered his progress during his second spell at Dortmund. “I was out for a year,” he recalls. “I spent a lot of time thinking a lot about what I should do.”

That period straddled the end of Jurgen Klopp’s time at the club and the start of Thomas Tuchel’s reign. “The mix was unbelievable from these two coaches, the two most influential ones in my career. I started thinking about systems and training sessions,” he says.

“I fell in love with the tactics board.”

It inspired him to start coaching RSV Meinerzhagen, a ninth-division team from the childhood village, not far from Dortmund, where he had grown up. Even when he returned to fitness, he continued with this project. “From then on, I was playing and coaching.”

It was at Meinerzhagen, away from the spotlight, that Sahin began to experiment with different tactical ideas. “I tested many things. I tested the build-up with three, the three and the two, the 4-3-3, I tested a low-block defence, high pressing, everything.”

It was the ideal place for him to make decision and make mistakes. But there was always a logic to his plan. “If it works in the ninth division with the players I had – who were amazing with me – I always thought that it has to work in professional football,” he explains.

“That was the only question for me. Would this thing that I did in the ninth division work in professional football? Yes, it did. I was very curious about it and it made me very happy when I saw that these principles I had in my village club also worked in Antalya.”

Initially, he was a player at the Turkish club. But with the team struggling, a managerial change forced him into the dugout. “I went home from training as a player and I came back as a coach.” Results picked up. “We changed the momentum there in Antalya.”

Sahin believes his positioning as a player has helped him.

“I was a midfielder who always saw it both ways on the pitch. I was a No 6 and before that I was a No 8. I was always connected with every part of the pitch so I could see what the game needed, I think. From there, I tried to implement an idea for my style of team.”

He wants his team to have the ball and he wants his team to press. And he wants to see it every single time. “You could always see that we had a plan. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not, but there was a plan and that is important for me.”

It is what draws him to the work of Gian Piero Gasperini at Atalanta. “I watch a lot of their matches.” And to Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton. “I am watching them very carefully.” He has been an admirer from the outset, still recalling De Zerbi’s first game in charge.

“I watched that match of his when Brighton played Liverpool and you could already see then that he had implemented his philosophy within a few days. This is so important to me, that when you watch a match you can see an idea. If not, I turn it off.”

Image: Jurgen Klopp celebrates with Nuri Sahin against Bayern Munich in 2011

It is an eclectic mix of influences. There is always Klopp, of course. “One of the best coaches in terms of gegenpressing.” And Tuchel. “Dominating the ball with positional-play principles.” But the former Real Madrid player looks to a Barcelona legend for inspiration too.

“For me, the benchmark will always be Pep Guardiola because in almost every season of his coaching career he has implemented something new into world football,” he says.

“For example, the most trending thing in football right now is the build up with a three and a two. This is trending amazingly right now, many clubs are playing in this style, which I also like a lot. I always thought it would be something that is hard to defend against.”

Beyond the tactics board, Klopp’s man-management stands out.

“Jurgen was unbelievable at it. He never spoke to you as a football player. He always spoke to you as a human being. I had that message on the wall of my office to remind me that I am not a coach of a football player, I am the coach of a human being.

“To be honest, I also had coaches where the man-management was not the best. I never want the players to feel how I felt sometimes.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Nuri Sahin tells Sky Sports what he learned from working with Jurgen Klopp

Given that Sahin had a difficult experience at Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho, missing much of his first season through injury before being loaned to Liverpool and then back to Dortmund, could it be that he is in his thoughts here? Absolutely not, he insists.

“I am still in contact with Jose. That might surprise people,” he says, smiling. “You cannot say Jose’s man-management is not good. I think he is outstanding at man-management but he is just different. He is not a bad person. He is a good person. When we had the earthquake in Turkey, he was one of the first people who called me.

“Whenever there were issues, he has called me and asked how I am. He is a fantastic person but he can be very hard, very direct. You can either handle that or you cannot. He is never doing it behind your back. With Jose, it was good. But very demanding.”

Image: Nuri Sahin getting his ideas across at the training ground for Borussia Dortmund

Now it is Sahin’s turn to be the one making demands of his players. As in Antalya, he is coaching former team-mates. Jadon Sancho started when Sahin made his final appearance in a Dortmund shirt. He played alongside Marco Reus and Mats Hummels for years.

“I played with Marco and Mats for a long time. Outside the pitch, they are my friends. On the pitch, it is very clear who is in which role. They respect me and I respect them. It has not been an issue. I can tread that line between being close but not too close.”

He is an active presence among Edin Terzic’s staff. “I would never be an assistant who just stays there and watches. That was very clear when I started. I have a lot of fire.” And that passion for tactics continues, ever a student of the latest innovations.

Each week, he will sit down with his colleagues for a study session. “We pick out one match from around Europe and watch it together.” Not the full 90 minutes, an abbreviated version highlighting the setup. “Our analyst prepares the clips from the match for us.”

A recent selection was the Lisbon derby, chosen not because of the high-profile nature of the fixture but its tactical significance. “Benfica play 4-4-2. Sporting play 3-2-4-1. Maybe we can learn something. We always have to stay up to date,” he explains.

“It does not have to be Manchester United against Liverpool. For example, if we are going to play a team that is playing 3-5-2 and we play 4-3-3, we try to find matches that will suit and we can take something out of it. This is the way we choose the matches.”

  • Stream Sky Sports with NOW | Get Sky Sports
  • Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp | Download the Sky Sports app

Maybe they have discovered a nugget of information that will help Dortmund find a way past Atletico Madrid in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Sahin is hopeful. The competition is more than special for him, it is a driving force in his career.

“I missed winning the Champions League by three minutes back in the day,” he volunteers, a reference to Dortmund’s defeat to Bayern Munich at Wembley over a decade ago. “It is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a coach. That day in 2013, I felt very bad.”

He adds: “It will be hard against Atletico but I think it is an open draw. I know what our stadium is capable of. Our stadium will be ready. We have a chance. Maybe not the biggest chance but winning the Champions League with Dortmund is still a dream.”

Sahin’s deal as Dortmund’s assistant manager takes him to the end of next season but do not expect him to stay away from head-coach duties for too long. “One day I will be back and it will not be in four or five years. I am very ambitious. I want to lead a team.”

The former Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder has achieved plenty already – in football and beyond. But it is clear that he has big plans for the future too. “If my coaching career goes the same as my playing career, I will be very happy.”

Watch Borussia Dortmund vs Bayer Leverkusen live on Sky Sports Football this Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm


No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *