Since 1 September, Patrick Fabian has been the new managing director of sport at VfL Bochum 1848. For the 35-year-old, this is the next step in his long career at the club, which began over 22 years ago. For him, the start came with maximum acceleration, barely two months after he began his work as head of the licensed team. In the interview, he talks about the past intensive weeks with the change of coach, the race to catch up and the general meeting. He also gives an outlook on the long winter break and possible changes.
Patrick Fabian, Managing Director Sport - have you been able to get used to this job role yet?
Basically, there was no time to get used to it. There have been intensive months behind us, with a lot of topics and weighty decisions. The change of coach from Thomas Reis to Thomas Letsch was certainly the dominant topic in the first weeks, combined with the weak start to the season. But the parallel decision-making process regarding the restructuring of our talent management was also very important from a strategic point of view.
In the early days were anything but fun?
That's just part of it. The six defeats at the start still prove to be a heavy burden in the fight to stay in the league. After the defeat at Schalke, we conducted a thorough analysis and, despite the precarious situation, we still saw a real chance of staying in the league. We therefore considered a change in the head coach position necessary and initially entrusted Heiko Butscher with the team on an interim basis. Under his direction, we were able to earn our first point of the season, and we have to honour that.
How did the search for a coach go?
We are talking about one of the key positions of a club. In this respect, the selection of a head coach must be carried out with the utmost care. Even if you have to make the change during the current competition and the time pressure is therefore significantly increased. One must not let oneself be driven by this. Taking all the defined criteria into account, the choice very quickly fell on Thomas Letsch. He is experienced, clearly structured, communicative and follows a playful plan that fits well with the club's philosophy. Due to the difficult starting position, we had to manage the balancing act of finding someone who can achieve short-term success effects and still shape and develop something in the medium to long term. I am glad that we were able to win him and co-trainer Jan Fießer for VfL.
The short-term effects of success have materialised.
At the time of the takeover, the team had one point and was bottom of the table. Schalke was five points away from us, Augsburg eight, Cologne nine points ahead. From nine competitive games, the team under the leadership of Thomas Letsch has now recorded five wins, four of them in the Bundesliga. The lonely relegation battle has now turned into a competition in which we are within striking distance. But we haven't achieved anything yet, I keep emphasising that. The senses must remain sharpened.
The team accepts that?
It has definitely stabilised. The entire structure on the field has become more stable, and the individual performances have stabilised as well. Our stadium has become a fortress again. We are the underdog in every game, but still manage to defeat teams from the upper regions of the table. The two recent victories are a boost.
Didn't the World Cup break come at the wrong time?
You might think so, but I don't think so. Of course we want to keep riding the wave of success. But we now have the chance to work with the new coaching team on the things that are important to Thomas Letsch. The group stays together, we don't have any players apart from Takuma Asano, who had a very successful start, that we have to send off for the World Cup. I am very sorry for Erhan Mašović and Christopher Antwi-Adjei in particular, but on the other hand we can now work on the procedures.
Also, some previously injured players are coming back.
Right. Jacek Góralski, who would certainly have liked to go to the World Cup, was very unlucky. Eye surgery, muscular problems - we all expected something different. Dominique Heintz also had to miss too many games recently, he will be able to use the break to build up his structure. Mašović was already back in the squad in Augsburg and also played. Asano will hopefully return fit from the World Cup. Paul Grave is making progress, but it will still take time.
What about winter transfers?
The transfer window is always special in winter. The World Cup will certainly make it a bit more complex. We have the possibilities to become active. But it has to make sense in terms of content and not just be actionism. A team lives on automatisms and trust. It is decisive when something is added to the group. Transferring players just to demonstrate that something is being done is not effective and could even be counterproductive for the group. Basically, we are present in the market. We look where we can improve. At the same time, there will also be players who cannot be satisfied with their situation with us. Here, too, we have to evaluate individual cases accordingly and discuss possible changes.
Which brings us to scouting. Another area you want to pay special attention to.
It's not just about scouting, it's about all sporting and content-related issues. In the turbulent early days, the day-to-day operational business overshadowed everything else. Now it's more and more about pushing forward strategic issues. This includes contract extensions, as we did with the long-term extension of Patrick Osterhage. The competition for players who are interesting for VfL Bochum has grown. Many clubs, some with greater financial resources, are targeting the same markets. It's all about speed and efficiency in scouting. It is important to clearly define one's own game idea and individual position profiles in advance. To filter the pool of players, we can make use of technical tools in the form of data and video scouting. Subjective perceptions can thus be made objectively measurable. Livescouting then represents the most important stage alongside the personal interview. Neither of these can be replaced by anything. In addition, the market is always an information business: it is important to have an ear for where which player is perhaps not satisfied or would like to see a change. All of this involves a corresponding amount of work and is clearly a team effort. There should be discussions with each other and the topics should be discussed in order to come to a joint decision.
Scouting was a topic at the general meeting. You also presented the new structure of our youth development centre, the Talentwerk.
Our goal must be to advance the content of the Talentwerk and to find solutions for weaknesses in the structure or processes. This requires an appropriate personnel foundation. I presented this at the general meeting. The respective staff members are aware of the task and will approach it accordingly.
How did you experience the General Assembly, your first as Executive Director?
On the one hand, it was nice to be able to hold a meeting in the presence of the members again. The main topic was the election of the Executive Board. The candidacy of Doc Bauer and his team came as a surprise. It moved the environment. There hasn't been such an election at VfL for decades. We saw how important it is for the members to participate in the club. They decided, that's democracy in action.
Your outlook for the coming year?
We have stabilised and proven our competitiveness. The connection has been restored. We are now confronted with a completely new situation with a long break in the middle of a season, which we have to manage in the best possible way. At the beginning of the rest of the first half of the season, Hertha will come to us at the Vonovia Ruhrstadion. I am very confident that together with our fans in our stadium, we will once again have the opportunity to make the game a success. The atmosphere has inspired and carried us in recent weeks. In the short term, the team now has the opportunity to recover a little. Then there will be training in December until just before Christmas, at the beginning of the year we will continue, followed by the training camp. We have the opportunity to work on physical performance and to further consolidate procedures. In the second half of the season, we will get down to the nitty-gritty, this is where the decisions are made. We have to reach the optimum in every game in order to achieve our big goal.
And we're also still in the DFB-Pokal..
The victory in Elversberg will be enhanced a little more by that. The game against Borussia Dortmund will be a highlight, the anticipation of our fans for this duel is already palpable. An all-or-nothing game in our own stadium under floodlights - what more could you want?