After a tumultuous campaign, Leeds United turned to a man in Uwe Rosler who knows all about English football despite his upbringing in East Germany. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
AS A youngster brought up in East Germany under a repressive regime that forbade contact with the west, Uwe Rosler shouldn’t have had any interest in English football.
The reality, though, couldn’t have been more different with Rosler’s fascination with the game in this country starting soon after he was whisked away to join a government-sponsored elite sports school in Leipzig at the tender age of just 11.
And it was all down to an audio cassette smuggled behind the Iron Curtain several years earlier finding its way into Rosler’s hands.
“I had this tape of the English football crowds singing the songs,” explains the new Leeds United head coach when telling The Yorkshire Post why his career has so indelibly been linked with England.
“I can’t remember where I got it from or who gave it to me but the tape had a lot of songs from a lot of clubs.
“In East Germany during the Eighties, the television programmes were very limited. We only had two channels so that meant we had to rely on what was on the radio and tapes.
“I would get very excited listening to those songs and dreamed, one day, that I might be in England.”
At the time Rosler was day-dreaming about playing in front of either the Kop or North Bank, the chances seemed remote.
Even allowing for the budding striker from Altenburg, a town not far from the Czechoslovakia border, being talented enough to be hand-picked for East Germany’s renowned sports development programme, the ideology of the time meant making a life outside the Soviet Union was forbidden.
It took the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – when Rosler was 21 and already an international – to change all that.
“Re-unification opened up that possibility of making my dream (of playing in England) come true,” adds Rosler, who unlike several of his sporting compatriots had never previously been tempted to defect. “I took that chance and never looked back. I was very lucky with the timing. I was at the start of my career when the Wall came down.
“I played with some very, very good players who had been a massive success in the Bundesliga and other top European leagues.
“But, unfortunately for some, they were already on the wrong side of their career. The timing was good for me but not them.
“I had been the top scorer in the league and I had the chance to go play football outside East Germany.”
Rosler’s move to England did not come until March, 1994. A trial was offered by Manchester City that turned into a three-month loan from FC Nuremberg after he netted twice on debut for the reserves against Burnley.
He signed permanently that summer and went on to become a hugely popular figure at Maine Road thanks to a return of 65 goals in 167 appearances during what was a difficult few years that culminated in the Blues being relegated to the third tier.
The success he’d hoped to enjoy when dreaming of playing in England may not have materialised. But Rosler, who went on to play for Southampton and West Bromwich Albion before starting his managerial career with Brentford and Wigan Athletic, is in no doubt as to how significant that transfer 21 years ago proved to be in his life.
“It is always important to be happy, no matter what you do in life,” he said. “You can only be successful in life when you enjoy what you do. And I enjoy what I am doing.
“I enjoyed my time as soon as I arrived in England as a player and now I enjoy being a head coach here, too. I enjoy English football and I enjoy the English mentality.
“It was not, though, simple to adapt to English football at first. But I was very fortunate to have good help.
“In football, it is not always how good you are but sometimes how good you fit in with a group of players and a manager and a club, in general.
“I had a good experience at Manchester City. When I went in, they had experience with a very famous German footballer (Bert Trautmann). There was a friendliness and it was what I needed to start my career in England.
“Wherever I went afterwards to other clubs in England, the supporters always took to me. I hope to build that relationship here with the Leeds supporters.”
Rosler may pay tribute to then Blues manager Brian Horton and his team-mates at Maine Road for helping him adapt to a new life. But a factor in how well he did settle must also have been his previous experience of adapting to life after the Wall.
“After reunification, the football was not the problem,” he admits. “The problem was in having to adapt to a totally different culture and a completely different lifestyle to what I was used to.
“I had to learn very, very quickly how to handle the media. How to handle, basically, tax, bank accounts, investment. We had nothing like this in the East.
“It was a completely new challenge in my life. A lot of players had problems with that and some didn’t manage it at all.
“I was lucky in that I had good people around me. It gave me a chance to manage those hurdles very quickly.”
Taking Leeds up the Championship is Rosler’s new challenge. With two of his predecessors lasting just six games last term and another being shown the door despite being hugely popular with players and supporters alike, the post is clearly not an easy one.
Rosler, though, is excited about the role. “I felt when I got offered the opportunity to come here that it would be a very exciting place to be,” says the German.
“I remember when I was a player in England how big Leeds United were. So to have an opportunity to coach this football club, that was a no-brainer.
“Before coming here, I saw an exciting team and exciting young players that I can mould. That was my thinking on taking the job. That was a big reason why I came here and I can’t wait for the first game at Elland Road.
“I am very much a team player. That maybe comes from my time at the elite sports school. It is not about one person. It is about finding a way to work with different people, to find the way to get the best out of different people – be that management structure or the players and staff. That is what we try to do here.”
Manchester City, of course, are the most spectacular example of how a club can bounce back from a spell in the doldrums. Relegated to the third tier at the end of Rosler’s final season at Maine Road, the Blues won promotion at the first attempt and now, thanks to the deep pockets of Sheikh Mansour, are back at the top of the English game.Asking for a repeat at Leeds, who had three years as a League One club, in the days of Financial Fair Play is asking a lot. But, when asked if he feels there are similarities between the two clubs in terms of supporters remaining loyal, Rosler replies: “We are Leeds United and we are marching together. We can achieve a lot if we do that. No-one will be able to hold us back.
“It is just a matter of time until we get back. But we have to create, from the bottom to the top of the club, that feeling we are all in the boat together.
“But it is my job to make us march on.”