He is remembered as one of the defensive stalwarts in the famous Liverpool FC side that won five trophies including the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in 2001. Now Markus Babbel is setting out on a coaching career he hopes will eventually take him back to Anfield. Still only 35, the former FC Bayern München and Germany defender looks as though he could still be playing. After helping VfB Stuttgart to their first Bundesliga title in fifteen years last season, though, Babbel felt the time was right to take his career in a new direction.
"Last season was always going to be my last as a player because I wasn't hungry to play any more," Babbel told uefa.com during Stuttgart's recent trip to Glasgow when the German champions lost 2-1 to Rangers FC. "Then I got a great offer from Stuttgart to become assistant manager for the next two years. To be honest, I was very surprised to get the chance so quickly but I want to be a manager in the future and if I can start here it's perfect for me."
According to Babbel, Stuttgart, with its emphasis on rearing their own players, is the ideal club to learn his trade as coach. Over the past couple of seasons young players such as Mario Goméz – last season's German Player of the Year – Serdar Tasci and Sami Khedira have all broken into the first team at the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadion. "The youth coaches are doing a good job at Stuttgart because they're bringing through one or two players for the first team every year," said Babbel, a EURO '96™ winner who was capped 51 times for his country. "That is the philosophy of the club and it's good for Stuttgart and the supporters who have more connection with players who have come through the ranks.
"In the past the club has bought in players who weren't focussed 100 per cent for the club, but when you rear your own players you don't have that problem and of course, it's also good for the national side. We have the quality and hopefully the young players are not too intimidated by the big stage [of the UEFA Champions League]. European football is a bit different from the Bundesliga but I think Stuttgart can play at the highest level and if the players perform to their best we can beat any team on our day. At the very least we should be aiming to qualify from this group."
It was the best time in my life
A happy coincidence of Babbel's visit to Glasgow was a chance meeting with his former Liverpool team-mate and captain, Gary McAllister. Although Babbel's time at Anfield was curtailed by the debilitating Guillain-Barré syndrome, nothing will ever take away the memories of 2001 when Gérard Houllier's side won five cups including the UEFA Cup with Babbel scoring the first goal in an epic 5-4 extra-time victory over Deportivo Alavés. "It was the best time in my life," Babbel said. "I played for one of the biggest clubs in Europe alongside players like Gary, who's a legend for me because he's such a great character and leader. We won five trophies together. That was a fantastic time, the only sadness for me was that I became ill after that and never came back as before. I was a little unlucky but this one season will always be in my head."
A self-confessed "massive Liverpool fan for life", Babbel keeps a close eye on developments at his former club and is convinced Rafael Benítez finally has a squad that is capable of lifting both the English Premiership and the UFA Champions League trophies this season. "This is the first season when they have had the quality to win the league and also win the Champions League," said Babbel. "They have a really good squad; not just eleven good players but 25 really good players and if they have a bit of luck with injuries, Liverpool can beat any side because they are so strong in defence, midfield and attack especially having brought in Fernando Torres, the kind of striker they've been lacking in recent years."
It is clear that for Babbel all roads lead back to Anfield and should Stuttgart progress to the knockout stages there are no prizes for guessing who his preferred opponent might be. Indeed, he is already looking to the day when he might return to the club in a managerial capacity. "I would like to manage a club in Britain one day," admitted Babbel. "I love the British style of football and especially the passion of the fans at big clubs like Liverpool. Of course, it would be a dream to go back to Anfield as manager, but there's a lot of hard work to be done before that can happen."
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