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Mark Fotheringham: Ex-Hertha Berlin coach on Cowdenbeath to Bundesliga

Mark Fotheringham barks orders at Hertha Berlin players
Scottish coach Mark Fotheringham (left) helped Hertha Berlin secure Bundesliga survival under the management of Felix Magath (right)

In 2018, Mark Fotheringham was plying his trade in Scotland’s fourth tier at Cowdenbeath as part of a coaching team attempting to save the club’s Scottish Professional Football League status.

Although just a stop-gap as he waited for a return to Germany – his “second home” – the 38-year-old’s most recent job wasn’t any easier, but it was certainly more high profile after assisting Hertha Berlin to Bundesliga survival.

Fotheringham watched Hertha avoid the drop in a nerve-shredding play-off, just as Cowdenbeath did four years prior. The symmetry is evident, but life in the Germany’s top flight is a far cry from nights of part-time coaching.

“I worked with guys that were on £50 a week,” he tells BBC Scotland. “I could’ve sat at home and waited to go back to Germany, but I chose to go to Cowdenbeath and put my heart and soul into it. Sometimes you’ve got to go right and left and find your way.”

Here, the Scot talks Berlin bike rides, a challenging time in the German capital under the tutelage of “world class” Felix Magath and what an uncertain future holds.

Berlin bike rides & beeping horns

While “football provides a good distraction” for Fotheringham, who has spent a large part of his career working away from home, no challenge is greater than dealing with missing his wife and three young boys.

For some, the idea of living in one of Europe’s biggest cities would help alleviate the pain of being without your family, but the relentless nature of his job prevented the Celtic youth product seeing much of the German capital.

His unconventional route to work, however, provided the opportunity to take in his surroundings with “the boss” Magath, who won the 1980 Euros with West Germany as a player and was twice a World Cup runner-up.

“Felix, the fitness coach and I cycled to work every day,” Fotheringham says. “At my age, it’s been great for my fitness – but at least I got to see the sights as well.

“Every time you’d hear cars beeping at the gaffer, he’s a legend here. If you stepped outside the hotel, he was getting stopped constantly.”

The influence of ‘special’ Magath

Mark Fotheringham playing for Freiburg
Fotheringham’s passion for German football started when he made the move to Freiburg as a teenager in 2005

Fotheringham’s love affair with German football started as a 19-year-old when Freiburg prized the teenager, who also had spells playing in Switzerland and Cyprus, away from Dundee.

His relationship with former Bayern Munich manager Magath, though, began six years later after an unsuccessful trial with Wolfsburg, a club Magath remarkably led to the Bundesliga title in 2008-09.

With Magath’s talented squad already high on numbers, a potential deal fell through, but the pair kept in close contact as Fotheringham returned home to finish his playing career – and it wasn’t until Magath was appointed Fulham boss in 2014 that they would work together again.

Despite Magath enduring an ill-fated spell at Craven Cottage, Fotheringham’s work on the training pitch, along with current Bournemouth boss Scott Parker, highlighted his worth to the manager.

Then-Fulham assistant Thomas Oral also took notice, resulting in Fotheringham joining Oral’s staff at lower-league German sides Karlsruher and Ingolstadt before making the move to work under Magath at Hertha in March this year.

“He’s got brilliant presence,” Fotheringham says of Magath. “It’s very difficult to have that. I don’t think that’s something that comes easy. You’re born with it or you’re not – and he’s got it in abundance.

“The guy was an elite footballer. You get top players that really struggle to coach, but he’s a brilliant manager. I don’t think there’s anything he hasn’t won as a player or manager.

“You can’t gift the trophies to someone. It’s something special he’s got. He’s got a winning mentality. It’s a real privilege to work with him.

“What he did with Wolfsburg is unheard of – that won’t happen again in 100 years – but it just didn’t work out at Fulham. It was a very transitional period, but when you’re not winning games, you don’t get the time – that’s football.”

‘I’m born to be a manager’

Following relegation play-off survival over his former side Hamburg, Magath confessed it was the toughest task of his stellar 50-year career.

Fotheringham points to a frequent turnover of coaching staff as a major issue at the club and another change in management has taken place with Hertha opting to not extend Magath’s interim deal.

So what does the future hold for Fotheringham? The former Livingston and Ross County midfielder doesn’t hide his ambition be a manager – in fact, it’s a given in his eyes.

Where that would be, however, depends on the club having the correct structure in place, something he has learned to value immensely in Germany.

One thing for certain, though, is Fotheringham wants to eventually showcase back in his homeland what he’s learned throughout his “apprenticeship”.

“I’m born to be a manager,” he says. “I’m learning from one of the best in the world. I would love to bring this style back home. I think you could be really successful with it if you got backing and had a good group willing to buy into it.

“But financially and professionally, it would be very hard for me to go back to a Scottish club. My target is to keep improving, but if the chance arose at the right club at the right time then I’ll look at all my options.”

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