Head coach Pál Dárdai discussed the first half of the season, the sporting situation of the team, developing talent and the aim of the rest of the season in an exclusive interview with herthabsc.de.
On Christmas day 2018, Pál Dárdai will have been head coach of Hertha BSC for 1418 days. Having been an integral player at the club, he became coach in February 2015. Only Helmut ‘Fiffi’ Kronsbein and Jürgen Röber have been in charge longer. The 42-year-old has live in Berlin since 1997 and unsurprisingly, feels completely at home in the German capital. “Hertha BSC is like my family and this city is like my hometown,” said Dárdai, who spoke about his connection with the club. He has experienced much in the four years he has been coach – two relegation battles and the Europa League. In the first half of the 2018/2019 season, he has experienced many highs and some lows. Pál Dárdai talked about the first half of the season, the sporting situation of the team, developing talent and the aim of the rest of the season in an exclusive interview with herthabsc.de.
herthabsc.de: Pál, it’s been an eventful year. How will you celebrate over the winter break and relax?
Dárdai: On Christmas Eve, I will be with my family at Plattensee. Some friends will be joining us as well. In the morning I will go for a run and we won’t finish until it’s done (laughs)! At lunch, there will be a small meal, followed by another small meal later on and we finish the day off with fish soup – it’s a Hungarian tradition. Before distributing the presents, we listen to a poem which reminds us to appreciate everything we have in life. It will be emotional. Then, we will open our presents and play card games. The next day, we will continue relaxing and eating good food. On Christmas day, we will celebrate with my cousin and her family.
herthabsc.de: You are often asked this, but can the Dárdai football family take their minds off sport when having days off?
Dárdai: Not completely (grins). On the 27th December, we will go to a Hungarian village, where my Grandma still lives and my father grew up and we have a small football tournament takes in the school. We have ‘Team Dárdai’ where my sons and other family members play with me. We always have a lot of fun and the people from the village come to watch before we all eat and drink together. However, we do also switch off from football. On the 30th December we will go to the theatre as a family in Budapest, which is an annual event for us and on New Year’s Eve, we celebrate at Lake Balaton and have a little party with friends (laughs). We recover on New Year’s Day and then on the 2nd, we go back to Berlin.
herthabsc.de: After 17 games, Hertha BSC have 24 points and are in 8th place. How has the season gone so far?
Dárdai: I am not a coach who complains about injuries, but in the first half of the season, it’s been extremely hard. We’ve had to tinker a lot and we’ve only been able to use the same starting line-up twice in a row. We have even had to change our formation a lot because we didn’t have enough players to go with the system. Putting all of this into consideration, I think that 24 points is good. The boys have compensated well and are coming along decently. It could have been ten points less so respect to the players!
herthabsc.de: After Helmut ‘Fiffi’ Kronsbein and Jürgen Röber you have the chance to become the third Hertha coach to win 50 games. How do you feel about this?
Dárdai: 50 Bundesliga wins would be a great achievement. However, as coach, you are always thinking about the next game. I thank my players because they are the ones who win the games! Nevertheless I am still proud. But what makes me even happier is that as a player I played most games for Hertha BSC and got the most points for this club.
herthabsc.de: At the start of the season, you were able to celebrate some superb victories. What are your top highlights from the season so far?
Dárdai: The win in Schalke, especially because the fans were so important when we won 2-0. The 2-0 victory over Bayern was also a highlight, especially after the game back in February 2017 where they equalised very late in extra-time (smiles). The home win against Mönchengladbach was also nice as we played very good football and scored four goals (4-2 victory).
herthabsc.de: The team have put in some good performances – sometimes at the cost of a good balance between attack and defence. What has worked well and what hasn’t worked so well so far?
Dárdai: In pre-season, the expectations for the team were not very high. However, the team has improved and developed a lot in the last few months. We played very good football at the start of the season and we were tactically more variable. We have also improved our pressing game and counterattacking, but we have worked a lot on the transition between defence and attack. Nevertheless, there have been a few games where we played badly and we cannot repeat these performances in the second half of the season. We need to stay ambitious, alert and come to a conclusion that we are never satisfied. If you’re satisfied as a footballer, you won’t improve.
herthabsc.de: Maximilian Mittelstädt, Jordan Torunarigha and Arne Maier are taking the next steps and establishing themselves in the Bundesliga. To what extent does their development encourage you to use more young players?
Dárdai: I would also like Mané, Henderson and Salah from Liverpool here, but who would pay for the transfer fees (laughs)?! That’s why we have to focus more on young and developable players, but we like to that. In recent years, we have done so very successfully, especially if you look at the developments of Marvin Plattenhardt, Niklas Stark and Valentino Lazaro. We sold John Brooks for a lot of money and brought in new talent. We can be proud of the development made by Maxi, Jordan and Arne. They also represent the good work that the Academy is doing. We are happy that we have so many players coming up through the ranks. We give young players a chance!
herthabsc.de: Dennis Jastrzembski and your son Palko played their first minutes of Bundesliga football this season. Does your paternal pride overtake your role as a coach?
Dárdai: Palko and I separate our professions and family life very strictly. It's kind of normal at home, just like it was with me and my dad. I always have to smile because journalists are more and more interested in the situation rather than us. This is not an issue for us though. I believe that Palko and Dennis will have big parts to play at Hertha BSC in the future. They are both young, but already dangerous and can create goals.
herthabsc.de: In recent years, Hertha BSC have done better in the first half of the season rather than the second half. How will you make it different this year?
Dárdai: We don’t read too much into these stats. The more we talk about it and the players have it in mind, the harder it is to change it. If all the players are fit, I am convinced that we can get some very good results and possibly make it the best second half of a season since I have arrived here. We saw our potential when everyone was fit. We are confident that the injured will be fit and available for next year. Our goal is to finish in the top eight and to maybe have a chance in the Europa League.
herthabsc.de: In January 2019, you will prepare for the second half of the season in Berlin. Why have you decided not to travel to a training camp abroad?
Dárdai: The time we have for preparation during the winter break is short. If we were to go away for five days, we would come back to Berlin and complain about how cold and dark it is here (laughs). We don’t need that. If we had more time, we would go abroad for a training camp but we have good facilities here and we also have the Telekom Cup. We will be well prepared for the game against Nürnberg.
herthabsc.de: What are you going to focus on in your preparation? What are you going to try and improve?
Dárdai: I will explain with Ondrej Duda as an example. He has scored seven goals, which is a good return. However, he has zero assists, although there is potential there. But it’s not just Ondrej who can improve their final ball and give assists. Our football has improved this season because we have been playing better balls in the final third. But, we have to push ourselves to become better and play better balls out to the flanks and into the box. At the beginning of the season, we were doing well in terms of possession but also pressing high up the pitch. We want to continue this. We have alert and intelligent footballers. If we put these together properly, then things work.