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Interview with Michael Gspurning. The Importance of Education after a Professional Football Career.

Presentation of the Interviewed Guest:

Michael Gspurning is a retired Austrian footballer who played as a goalkeeper. During his career, he played for the Austrian national team and clubs such as Austria Vienna, Seatle Sounders, PAOK Saloniki, FC Schalke 04 and 1. FC Union Berlin. He is currently the main goalkeeper coach at 1. FC Union Berlin.

Michael is also a graduate of the University College of Northern Denmark and the University of St. Gallen. He is also a co-founder of Fox Soccer Academy LLC.


Roger Hampel: Not every former professional footballer is a college graduate, and you are a graduate of the University of St. Gallen. I would like to ask, how important were the studies for you as an ex-footballer, to find yourself in the world of football after finishing your professional career?

Michael Gspurning: First of all, just to clarify, in St. Gallen I made a program that FC Schalke 04 and the University of St. Gallen made together. It was a one year business program, we met from time to time and there were also many famous people from the sports world like Christoph Spycher, who is now Sporting Director at BSC Young Boys Bern, there was also Gerald Asamoah. So, it was more an extra study than long-term study. The long-term study I made at the UCN (University College of Northern Denmark) in Aalborg, Denmark. I studied Sport Management, it was a 3 years program and I made it in English. So, to sum up, I graduated the Bachelor of Sport Management and the Schalke and St. Gallen program was something extra. It was very interesting and there were many top speakers, like for example Klitschko. It was a very high-quality program in case of the studies and networking. So that was my story of getting into sports business also from the other side, from the economic side.

Roger Hampel: It's great to hear that FC Schalke 04 helps ex-players to find themselves in the sports business!

Michael Gspurning: Yes, exactly!


Roger Hampel: So I assume it was very useful because you had opened your own football academy in the United States, right?

Michael Gspurning: I did it together with Christian Fuchs. He is Austrian too and we knew each other before from the Austrian national team. He asked me, because he wanted to bring his center of life to United States, he opened his football school there and he asked me to be the co-founder of this project. At the beginning we made it together, I was the founder of the first camp that we made in New York. We had a great fun and we are still in exchange. Now, it it his business, he is doing it next to his football career in Charlotte. We are still in exchange and he's doing great as far as I know.

Roger Hampel: The youth football academy - Is it a difficult business?

Michael: Well, of course there are lots of things to organize, you have to be also aware with the laws, how to set up the camp, how to deal with the kids, how does the insurance work if something is happening - so it's a lot of organizing. The wife of Christian, Luca, is doing a lot of organization over there. So yes, it's a lot of work, but it can be fun!



Roger Hampel: Staying on the topic of USA, as a footballer, you played in the United States and in Germany. How would you compare the two countries outside the pitch, in case of football business and innovation?

Michael Gspurning: It's hard to compare. Of course in the United States, the MLS (Major Soccer League) is well organized, as well as the clubs here in Germany. In the US there is a central organization of MLS, and we as a players sign the contract with the MLS, with league, not with the club. Everything is ruled by the league. This is of course different than here in Germany, where the clubs are doing that stuff by themselves. In America from the sporting perspective in case of innovation you have to look a lot for other sports, because soccer is not even in the TOP5 of the most popular sports, so you have to look what is baseball doing, what is American football doing or what is hockey doing. In Europe football is of course the most popular sport, is the leading power of sports. In America it is different, so you look from different perspective. And that is something that I took also to my coaching side, I asked myself "What is going on in other sports?". So, I met here with the goalkeeper coach of the hockey team Eisbären Berlin, I met also with the handball goalkeeper Silvio Heinevetter, to see another, different, out-of-the-box view. I really liked this! Some things are more innovative in America, some things are more innovative here in Germany, and I think that you can learn from both sides.

Michael Gspurning as a Seatle Sounders Player, 2013.


Roger Hampel: You are currently working as Head of Goalkeeping at 1. FC Union Berlin. Union Berlin is perceived as "Echte Marke" and has an authentic, traditional image. Currently the club is 2nd in Bundesliga, will play in UEFA Europa League and is very successful. How the club can raise more funds to remain competitive for many years and on the other hand conserve an authentic image?

Michael Gspurning: It's a tough task to be competitive in the modern sport world but also stay to tradition and to your values. But I think you can handle it! Of course, sometimes you have to make decisions, what is more to be on the competitive side and you have to think how can we bring it in into our values, but if you have some clear messages to defend and stand for your values, than the defence is also understanded. If you want to be competitive, you have to be open for money. Of course, Union is doing it very well but in the end Union is also a Bundesliga team so it’s also up to business. Without winning Bundesliga games, without staying in the league, the rest is tough and it would be different. In case of relegation many jobs would be lost, so you need to be competitive in order to be successful.

Roger Hampel: That’s the perfect summary. I think the uniqueness of 1. FC Union Berlin is also is one of the keys to 1. FC Union Berlin's current success.

Michael Gspurning: If you take the example of the stadium now, we have plans for a new stadium and hopefully it will be soon. Three-quarters of our stadium has standing places. The same proportion will be when we increase the stadium's capacity to 36,000 seats. This are the right steps to bring the values of the club into the future. This is something that people would like to have when they will go to the Union Berlin’s match. They want to stand, they want to cheer, they want to sing, they want to stay in the stadium until the last minute and it doesn’t matter what is the result. This is something that Union Berlin is standing for and you should share this values and you should protect this values. Of course, also on the other hand, everybody will accept that you have to be open for not investors of course, but sponsorships that will bring more money into the club.


Roger Hampel: Of course! You are a former Schalke player so I have to ask this question. Last year, Union won in Gelsenkirchen 6: 1. 6 to 1! I remember less than 4 years ago when Union played in the 2nd Bundesliga and Schalke played in the Champions League against Manchester City. What is missing now in Schalke, that Union currently has?

Michael Gspurning: It’s tough to compare. Schalke is a huge club, that was last year in the 2. Bundesliga and for us is something new to be in the Bundesliga. We want up and we have success. We have successful years now. We didn’t have troubles yet, but troubles will come, because it’s not normal that it’s going up all the time. But what we have now is success. The lack of success would be more common here than at Schalke. In their history, Schalke won European Championship, they have different understanding on what is success than Union. We are now at Union during the most successful period in the history of the club, so this is different, it's tough to compare. Schalke is now back to business after one year in the 2. Bundesliga, and I hope they will stay in the league and they will find the way to become a big on the german sporting pitch again.

Roger Hampel: In my opinion, Union's notable success over time may be attributed to the singular leadership of Urs Fischer, who is the coach of the club for 5 years.

Michael Gspurning: What we have in Union Berlin now with Urs Fischer and the management is consistency. Consistency is very good for the entire team! It's tough to stay consistent by changing the coach many times. If you have consistency everybody knows how the structure and the routine, so it helps a lot!

Roger Hampel: Thank you Michael for this great interview! Good luck!

Michael Gspurning: Thank you! We will need a lot of luck!


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