Embattled Bayern Munich faces the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current coach on Sunday in Christian Streich, the unorthodox trainer who has made buoyant Freiburg a force to be reckoned with, especially in recent weeks.
Freiburg has climbed the German table from 14th to eighth on the back of a club-record five straight league wins.
Last Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing of Cologne was Freiburg’s biggest league victory for more than 20 years.
Not that Streich gets excited about such things.
“It’s not about records – the important thing is that we keep developing,” he insisted.
In contrast, Bayern is reeling from Wednesday’s shock German Cup exit at second division Holstein Kiel and a 3-2 league defeat at Moenchengladbach.
“Bayern led 2-0, then lost 2-3, so you can imagine what’s going on in Munich….” said Streich, who fully expects to feel Bayern’s wrath on Sunday.
In football’s luxury world of five-star hotels and private jets, Streich has both feet planted on the ground.
He has a philosophical approach to the enormous transfer fees paid for football players.
“The god of money is getting bigger and bigger,” he said after Paris Saint Germain paid Barcelona the world-record fee of 222 million euros ($268 million) for Brazil star Neymar in 2017.
“Eventually it will devour everything. But most people will only notice when everything has been devoured.”
The 55-year-old encourages his players to talk about politics and current affairs.
His press conferences often address issues far beyond football’s cloistered world.
When chancellor Angela Merkel controversially allowed an influx of refugees to come to Germany during the 2015 crisis, Streich did not hold back in his support of her decision.
“Right now is the time to open up to people, to receive them, to reduce fears,” Streich said.
“It is often about the fear of others and the fear of strangers.
“It’s about getting to know other ways of thinking.”
‘No tattoos, no piercings’
Streich has just passed the milestone of a rare nine years in charge of Freiburg, three times longer than any of his current Bundesliga peers.
The father of two lives in Freiburg and has been known to cycle to home games and, like many Germans, he is a self-confessed fan of naturism, known as ‘Freikoerperkultur’.
“I’m not exactly your ideal marketing product,” he said after being appointed Freiburg coach.
“I’m just a normal guy – no tattoos, no piercings.”
Since Streich took charge in January 2012, Freiburg’s picturesque Schwarzwald Stadion is a notoriously hard place for away teams to win.
He has stuck with the club through thick and thin, ensuring Freiburg’s return to the Bundesliga in 2016 just a year after relegation.
Streich was born in Weil am Rhein, where the French, German and Swiss borders meet.
The son of a butcher, he moved to neighbouring Freiburg as an 18-year-old, playing for amateur outfit Freiburger FC, Stuttgart Kickers, the city’s main club Freiburg and Homburg.
After a broken metatarsal cut short his playing career in 1995, he started coaching Freiburg’s junior teams.
He won three junior German Cup titles and one national title in charge of Freiburg Under-19s.
In the process, Streich developed the talents of would-be future Germany internationals Dennis Aogo, Sascha Riether and Turkey defender Omer Toprak.
He insists his home is Freiburg and rejects the idea of moving clubs to enhance his coaching CV.
“I get to go home to my family and friends every day – it’s a privilege,” he said.
Streich has never tasted victory over current league leaders Bayern at the Allianz Arena, losing seven times in Munich.
His only victory in 15 games against the Bavarian giants is a 2-1 home upset in 2014/15.
“I’m really looking forward to the game, insanely so,” he said earlier this week.
“Matches against Bayern are always great experiences.
“And if they take us apart because they’re so good – then that’s the way it is,” he added.