The 42-year-old, who spent five years with the north London club, was appointed assistant by the club's Portuguese boss and is living the dream in his new role at White Hart Lane
By Victor Vago and Jay Jaffa
Eyebrows were raised when Steffen Freund returned to Tottenham this summer after he accepted Andre Villas-Boas' offer to join him on the bench at White Hart Lane as his assistant manager but a comprehensive CV demonstrates that his presence in the dugout owes far more to his proficiency as a coach than the cult status which he enjoyed during his first spell at the club.
Freund returned to north London with stellar credentials, having enjoyed spells as an assistant manager for the German Under-20s team and to Berti Vogts for Nigeria's Africa Cup of Nations campaign in 2008 before taking control of the Germany Under-16 and Under-17 sides.
The 42-year-old is best remembered in England for the five years he spent in north London and was a part of the 1999 League Cup victory that represented the undoubted highlight of an otherwise uninspiring decade for the club.
Between 1998 and 2003, Freund became something of a cult figure amongst the Spurs faithful mainly thanks to a tireless work ethic and determination and an amiable nature off the pitch.
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In an era that has increasingly moved away from the days of former players taking management positions, many supporters could be forgiven for thinking the picture of Freund hanging in the Tottenham Hall of Fame would be the closest the German came to a return.
But the man who unexpectedly joined the Spurs faithful in the stands wearing his very own autographed shirt from the 1999 final has returned in an official capacity at an exciting time for the club.
“The new training centre can’t be compared. It’s a world-class facility,” he explained. “I have my office here and look over the pitches. The conditions are unbelievably good. The previous training ground Spurs Lodge at Chigwell wasn’t bad, but there’s no comparison with what we have here. It’s a dream. It’s an absolutely world-class facility that not many teams have.
“We have a wonderful stadium at White Hart Lane. Now the possibility exists to build a bigger and even more beautiful stadium. The club is progressing and moving to another level.”
After years of mid-table mediocrity with the occasional relegation battle thrown in, ENIC, the current majority shareholder of the club embarked on a long-term mission to bring the club more in line with local rivals Arsenal, as well as establish a team capable of challenging for trophies.
Though one League Cup triumph in 2008 is the sum of their achievements, regular top-half finishes have shown that progress has been steady and a far cry from the darker days of Freund's first spell at the club.
He says: “On the pitch, in the last few years the team has come fourth or fifth, it’s always up there. When I was a player, we were on average in ninth to 12th place. We were relatively strong in cup games with two FA Cup semi-finals and a League Cup final. Individually, we were well stocked with players, but now it’s an established top-six team, and that makes me happy.”
Villas-Boas' arrival heralded a new era at Tottenham following the successful period under Harry Redknapp and the three-hour meeting with Freund was enough to convince the German to relinquish his duties as Under-17 manager.
“We didn’t know each other. But he said directly to me at the first meeting that he wanted a former player. I know at Chelsea he worked with a former player in Di Matteo. He saw a past player as having a positive input,” he said. “It’s a dream for me to experience all this on the bench. There’s an unbelievable atmosphere.”
So what of Villas-Boas? The Portuguese had an unhappy spell at London rivals Chelsea that badly damaged his reputation as one of football’s up-and-coming. Freund sees it differently though, lavishing praise on the man in charge of the side now fifth in the Premier League following a slow start.
“He has absolute professionalism and organisation,” Freund explains. “He expects that we coaches should all be ready, that we arrive earlier at training and leave later, a bit like the situation in Germany. We must work for him, help him where we can, organise everything, the training sessions, note everything down.
“We have meetings, discuss line-ups. We have an open relationship. He asks us in certain situations. I have to say we’ve worked together very well in the last few months. We regularly exchange ideas and discuss situations.
“He has a clear, open relationship with the players. They go to him. He makes many decisions. All the players are important for the team and there’s a situation of respect. He has a lot of humour. He has a relationship on a professional basis, but jokes are sometimes made. I think it’s a very pleasant working atmosphere.”
That atmosphere has contributed to Spurs’ rapid improvement in recent weeks. The team are unbeaten in nine games with four consecutive league victories, including the memorable 3-2 triumph at Old Trafford. However, Freund is quick to temper title aspirations, pointing to the unpredictable nature of the Premier League.
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“We want to be in the top four. If we win a trophy, that’s great. But there’s no pressure on our ambition at the start.”
The former midfield general has won coveted trophies throughout his time in football: two Bundesliga titles preceded a Champions League win with Borussia Dortmund and sandwiched international success with Germany at the European Championship in 1996. He is accustomed to success.
Despite that, Freund is acutely aware of the need to convince not just his employers, but the fans of his and Villas-Boas' methods. The team received a frosty reception after draws with West Brom and Norwich but there has been a noticeable improvement since then.
He says: “The atmosphere was more positive against Aston Villa. That wasn’t always so when I was a player when the atmosphere would very, very quickly turn negative. Against Aston Villa it was more positive. That pleases me. The team deserves that.
“The team lost a top defender in Ledley King, they were missing the midfield who were injured or sold. I enjoyed the last 20 minutes against Villa. It plays a role that we won at Man United. But we were neither in a state of euphoria or pessimism.”
After an impressive start to life back at the Lane, try has he might, the sense of euphoria will only intensify should Spurs beat Chelsea on Saturday a result that would further cement the cult of Freund.