Evening Standard

Long journey: Uwe Rösler in the stands at Brentford's Griffin Park. Image courtesy of Evening Standard.

Uwe Rösler grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain but his football beliefs are very much made in ­ England.

He played five times for East Germany and his formative years in the game were in the communist state but it was the lessons learned at Manchester City that he’s now putting into practice at Brentford.

The west London club’s new manager recalls how he was forced to change after arriving at City from Nuremburg in 1994.

“In Germany, sometimes you went down and tried to get a free-kick. It was natural. We felt it was part of the tactics and called it clever play. When I came to City, I did it once or twice. The manager, Brian Horton, and the players came to me and said very clearly, ‘You do that not one more time.’

“There was a sense of justice in the group. I took that on board and that helped me a lot. In my four-and-a-half years, I learned that English football is honest. There’s no spitting, or dirty tricks. When I went back to Germany, too many people were just diving around. I wanted to bring in the English system. Like me, a lot of foreigners coming here now will adapt to the English culture. And that will influence world football culture.”

The Brentford manager took a pay cut to move to City. “I was always attracted to English football and felt it would benefit me as a player. This was a life changing experience.” Rösler had always followed football in this country.

He says: “In East Germany, English football was not shown much but we were reading about it in a magazine and the European games were shown. Liverpool were often on television and Kevin Keegan was my hero, especially as he also went to Hamburg.”

Rösler admits “the Premier League has totally changed” since his days with City. “When I started, only three foreigners were allowed in each team and now some teams have only one or two English players. Maybe England’s suffering with too many foreign players in the game.”

Perhaps foreigners have also affected the honest English football culture? I’ve hardly finished before Rösler cuts in: “I know what you want me to say. No, I am not here to judge other players.”

The sharpness of his interjection shows that although he is a rookie as a manager in the English league, he already knows soundbites can come back to haunt you.

But then Rösler has had to be a quick learner, given how much he has crammed into his 42 years.

Rösler was only 11 when he was taken away from his parents to an elite football school, which set him on the road to a lifestyle other East Germans could only dream about.

“We footballers and top athletes had a very privileged life in terms of money, status, getting a car and an apartment. When you don’t know anything better, you have a good life.”

This involved Rösler finding ways round the restrictions. “We were not allowed to watch West German television but everybody had their special arrangements.”

He watched Borussia Moenchen­gladbach, then in their heyday, and just shrugged his shoulders when in 1988 he was transferred from Lokomotive Leipzig to Magdeburg. “I was not asked. If I had said no, I would have had big problems.”

Yet, almost three years after the Berlin Wall came down and he left Dynamo Dresden for Nuremberg, it was the west that he found uncomfortable.

Uwe Rösler : in his heyday with Manchester City. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

“In the east there were no stars, we shared all our problems, we went out with each other after games, everything was a collective. In the west, it was about each individual and there were politics.”

He was a long way from home when he faced the gravest crisis of his life. In Norway in 2003, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and given a week to live.

“I was playing for Lillestrom and, two weeks before the season started, I had chest pain. I couldn’t breathe and, when I was eating, the food didn’t go down. I was very well trained and couldn’t understand why.

“They found a big tumour. I wanted to go back to Germany and get a second opinion. They said ‘You don’t have any time to have second opinions, you will probably not make it over the weekend.’ They had to start straightaway with chemotherapy and, God bless them, they got the right diagnosis.

“The tumour responded. My treatment finished that October. After five years, the statistics say you are completely cured, so I am officially declared 100 per cent.”

Following his recovery, Norway opened the door to football management. Rösler had gone to the country thinking it would help him get into the role and also keep his Norwegian wife Ciciele happy.

“Norwegian football gave me a start in their Premier League at a very young age.”

In five years in Norway, he managed three clubs: Lillestrom, Viking Stavanger and Molde. The short-term contract with Molde finished last November but, insists Rösler:”I could have stayed at the club, or got another job. I was a proven manager but there was not much more to do in that country.

“I felt staying on for another three to five years would make it extremely difficult to move to England or to Germany. So it was now or never. Ciciele was willing to have a go in another country and, with my kids Tony and Colin, 11 and 13, this was the last chance to move them out of school.”

The family moved back to England last August and Rösler followed in November. Although he came without a job, his connections with City helped.

Fans from the 1990s recall with great affection the forward who scored 65 goals in 180 games and, while City are one of 11 clubs he played for, this is the one he retains a special spot for.

“I loved Maine Road. I came here only saying, two

phrases: ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’. I did pick up bad words quickly on Moss Side. But I also learned playing with Niall Quinn, Peter Beagrie and Paul Walsh.”

Last year, on his return to England, it seemed no one wanted to give Rösler a job. He had set his sights low, League One or Two but he did not get a single interview. Then, in June, Brentford called. It helped Rösler that owner Matthew Benham “was looking a little bit outside the box”.

Help also came from Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who succeeded Rösler at Molde. Acknowledges Rösler: “Ole Gunnar put in a good word.”

The result was a two-year contract and a start which has made Bees fans acknowledge the German’s worth with the club seventh in the table despite Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Tranmere.

Rösler admits that Brentford cannot compete with the big boys in League One: the two Sheffield clubs, Preston, Huddersfield and Charlton. But he is confident he has enough money to fulfil his first aim: close last season’s gap of 11 points between Brentford and the play-off places.

“Priority No2 is that I want to play for much of the season in the top 10 and the third priority is to sneak into the play-offs,” he says.

His long-term aim is for Brentford to play like the club he loved as a boy. “Borussia Dortmund are playing with a lot of very energetic, young, technical, quick players who work very hard to win the ball high up in the field,” he says.

“I believe in a high pressing game. That is a very demanding playing style and this is why I talk a lot about rotation. We are looking now to bring in two or three loan players.”

Whether that happens, Rösler is sure of one thing: “We are on the right way.”


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