As a shared leader, Vitesse will resume the Eredivisie on Saturday after an international break of two weeks. The architect of the historically good start of the competition for the team from Arnhem is the unknown trainer Thomas Letsch. A profile of a possessed and polite German, who evokes memories of Peter Bosz with his attractive playing style.
‘He is not a man who plays games’
Vitesse goalkeeper Remko Pasveer was sitting in the stands with his former teammate Simon Cziommer when Ajax was blown away by Red Bull Salzburg (0-3) in their own Johan Cruijff ArenA. It was on a wintry day in February 2014, in the knockout round of the Europa League. Pasveer watched with amazement the intense game of the Austrian formation, trained by current PSV coach Roger Schmidt. A bald man sat on the chair next to Schmidt. His name? Thomas Letsch.
More than six years later, Letsch lifts his kicksen over a path in the Arnhem woods near Sports Center Papendal. Hat over the head, stubble beard on the tanned cheeks. Whether the reporters want to know anything after the private training ?, the 52-year-old German asks the almost ten exiled reporters in a friendly tone. After a few conversations, he dives into the spacious club building.
Letsch is the architect of the historic success of Vitesse, which is a co-leader in the Eredivisie together with Ajax. With 21 points from eight matches, the team from Arnhem experience the best competition start in club history. But perhaps even more important are the positive reviews from all over the Netherlands. With Letsch’s adventurous ‘full-throttle football’, the criticized ‘Volga-catenaccio’ of its Russian predecessor Leonid Slutsky has been driven from Arnhem.
Who is this Letsch, a trainer with no background as a professional football player and an exponent of the acclaimed Red Bull school? How does it work? And why is his approach so successful in Arnhem?
Thomas Letsch observes his players during the first training session of Vitesse on July 1. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Johannes Hofer, reporter for the Austrian sports channel Sky Sport Austria, got to know Letsch about five years ago, when Letsch started as coach of FC Liefering, the training team of Red Bull Salzburg, playing at the second level of Austria. Letsch, who stranded as a football player in higher amateur leagues in Germany, had only trained some German amateur clubs and youth teams from Red Bull Salzburg and was Schmidt’s assistant with the main force for one season.
“Letsch was successful at FC Liefering from the start, but he also had the players that matched his playing style,” Hofer said by telephone from Austria. “He always has his ideas about the way of playing and makes no concessions, unless there really is no other option.” His style has been shaped by the Red Bull school, in which hunting, high intensity and direct play are the main building blocks.
In 2017 Hofer gets to know a different side of Letsch. Red Bull Salzburg is currently looking for a new trainer and Letsch seems to be the perfect candidate for the vacancy with his background. To everyone’s surprise, the club management ends up with Marco Rose, who then coached the oldest youth of the Austrian club. “Letsch wasn’t angry, but he didn’t believe it anymore and stopped.
“Rose was appointed because he had better contacts within the top of the club. Letsch is not a man who plays games, not even with me in front of the camera. He is a nice man. Not detached from reality, but always polite and humble.”
Under Thomas Letsch, Oussama Tannane (middle) and Thomas Bruns (right) blossomed at Vitesse. (Photo: Pro Shots)