Skibbe’s ten changes leading to improvement
by George Tsitsonis
George Tsitsonis looks into Michael Skibbe's 10 key changes that have brought the National Team back on the right track.
Michael Skibbe’s time with the National Team has been marked by a real improvement by the team in comparison to their form during the EURO 2016 qualifying campaign. The Ethniki have become a team again under the German manager. While it is much too early to compare his reign to that of predecessors Otto Rehhagel and Fernando Santos, Skibbe has made changes to the team on and off the pitch that have produced an a marked improvement in form and confidence. Ultimately, the 51-year-old will be judged by results, but he has made a positive impression since becoming the head coach of Greece 18 months ago.
AGONAsport examines some of the changes to the team and the ideas Skibbe has brought to the table since he was appointed in October 2015.
1. TEAM UNITY
Arguably the biggest impact made by Skibbe since his appointment is with regard to team unity. The in-fighting and total loss of team ethic seen clearly in the post-2014 World Cup period is gone. Skibbe has played a big role in bringing the players together once again. This has been facilitated by good communication between the staff and the players. In addition to the German manager’s openness is his desire to bring the team closer. Skibbe is a big proponent of team bonding and has been an organizer of dinners, which he will pay for himself out of pocket. It may seem like a small thing, however gestures like this can have a very positive influence on the group.
2. COMMUNICATION WITH PLAYERS
Skibbe has kept an open line of communication with all players. He is a very accessible coach who has personally dealt with various issues including problems a particular player may be having at his club. Whether it’s lack of playing time or clarification of a player’s role, Skibbe is quite eager to discuss team issues with players. While it may not have worked with all players, the most glaring example being Jose Holebas, overall his ability to be approachable and give players a voice has been cited by many team members since his appointment.
Skibbe has earned plaudits for his honesty with players. This is not a man who hides behind his actions. He is someone who treats players with respect and allows them their freedom off the pitch. For instance, he does not believe in players being confined to their rooms the day before a match. However, there are rules that the German has set out and he expects them to be followed on and off the field.
One example of this was in the qualifier against Estonia last fall. Kostas Mitroglou went to take a free-kick, a decision that incensed Skibbe, as before the match there were discussions about who would take the set-pieces from various positions. Skibbe’s gesturing from the sideline ensured that Kostas Stafylidis would take the kick as decided beforehand. Stafylidis scored, however more importantly, the coach’s intervention showcased that no one player, even one as important as Mitroglou for the Ethniki, would be above the team.
4. TRUST IN YOUTH
Through Skibbe’s selections he has shown a willingness to include younger talent in the squad, so far as they are playing and impressing at their clubs. Olympiacos duo Thanasis Androutsos and Giorgos Manthatis were brought in for the qualifier against Belgium, while for the Bosnia match the likes of Tasos Donis and Panagiotis Retsos have been drafted in. Other players in their early 20’s who have not been given a previous opportunity with the senior side are also now in the mix such as Dimitris Kourbelis, Babis Lykogiannis. Clearly, Skibbe has shown a trust in younger Greek players, something that could bode well in the years to come.
5. VETERAN RESPONSIBILITY
While Skibbe has shown a penchant for bringing in talented youngsters, he knows full well the value of veteran leadership. After becoming Greek boss, Skibbe spoke with long-time Ethniki members such as Vasilis Torosidis, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and Orestis Karnezis amongst others. His message was clear. He wanted these key players to be vocal in their support of the other players, but also feel the freedom to speak up when something wasn’t right. In doing so, Skibbe has given these veterans the chance to emerge as even more influential leaders within the team.
6. BACKROOM STAFF
Initially, Skibbe selected Iraklis Metaxas as his assistant coach. The move to bring in the Bayer Leverkusen U-19 manager was widely praised. Though Metaxas eventually decided to commit his energies to his full-time job in Germany, Skibbe then went for another coach with experience in Germany, current assistant coach Thomas Stratos. Stratos brings a knowledge of the Greek game to the table as well. The importance of this cannot be overlooked as Skibbe has been flexible enough to bring is coaches who can help him and the team.
7. CLUB COMMUNICATION
Perhaps more so than any other national team coach in recent memory, Skibbe has made a massive effort to communicate with Greek SuperLeague club coaches and other coaches abroad. Skibbe has organized gatherings and forums for he and other managers to discuss issues relating to the national team and Greek football.
That has been combined with a real effort to see as many SuperLeague matches as possible, as well as those around Europe involving Greek players.
8. SQUAD DEPTH
Skibbe’s willingness to call up in-form players has helped increase the Ethniki’s squad depth. Simply put, there seems to be a bigger pool of players from which to select now. That is not only down to Skibbe of course, however he is willing to give players an opportunity if he deems them good enough. This leads to situations like the one ahead of the Bosnia match. Greece are missing five regular squad members to suspension or injury, however there is no real anxiety as the squad stills feels balanced and strong enough to cope.
Overall, Skibbe’s team selections seem to tip toward fairness when discussed by players, coaches, media, and supporters alike. Certainly, there is no 100% agreement here. Take the Bosnia squad for instance. Some bemoaned the continued presence of veterans such as Alexandros Tziolis and Giannis Maniatis in the squad. Others were upset that Andreas Gianniotis was the third goalkeeper instead of someone such as Dimitris Kyriakidis say. Many pundits and fans alike openly brought up Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and his good form and questioned why he hadn’t made the cut. So, as one can see, there is not total agreement with who Skibbe picks. That said, there does seem to be prevailing feeling that the manager weighs his options and right or wrong makes his choices based on logic, reasoning, and fairness.
10. RENEWED BELIEF
Besides the improved team unity shown by Greece, perhaps Skibbe’s most important contribution has been his part in restoring belief to a side that had its confidence shattered in the last few years. Losses to the Faroe Islands and Luxembourg would cause any team to question its worth, both on a collective and individual level. Skibbe has proven to be a big champion of Greek players and his belief in the ability of his players. His consistent message about their strengths and potential could not have gone unnoticed by the group. And with every battling display and positive result, confidence is being restored.