A notoriously wonky table and frantic managerial change have long gone together like Blut and Grätsche in the Bundesliga.
Each season, half a dozen unexpected overachievers put pressure on the remaining two-thirds of the league. Halfway through the campaign, roughly one half of the clubs will have replaced their coaches in hope of a bounce.
This year, however, has produced extreme levels of upheaval. A tidal wave of disruption has cut through the league, sweeping away not just the poor blokes in shellsuits and roll-neck jumpers but many of the formerly bullet-proof powerbrokers. They stuck around for years, sometimes decades, unshiftable, immovable, expertly sitting out crisis after crisis.
But the trick has stopped working. The revolution has come and a number of sporting directors have fallen. At Schalke, Horst Heldt went in the summer after six years of stasis; Robin Dutt was fired after Stuttgart’s drop to Bundesliga 2 in May; Thomas Eichin was shown the door in May after three years of lower mid-table stagnation at Werder Bremen.
And last weekend there were two more prominent sackings. Dietmar Beiersdorfer (chairman of the board at Hamburg) and Klaus Allofs (sporting director, Wolfsburg) were relieved of their duties, having guided both their clubs into the relegation drop zone (once more, in Beiersdorfer’s case).
Beiersdorfer was told of his fate by the advisory board before Hamburg beat Augsburg 1-0 on Saturday. Curiously, HSV asked the 53-year-old to stay and conduct the odd transfer over Christmas but Beiersdorfer declined.
In his second stint in charge at the Volksparkstadion, the former Bundesliga defender never lived up to his earlier nickname of Dukaten-Didi (rough translation: dough Didi), earned when he sold a series of HSV players for top dollar from 2003-09, at a time of regular success. Beiersdorfer’s more recent dealings in the market are yet to pay similar dividends.
In his defence, some of the signings seem to have been ordained from above, by investor/king-maker Klaus-Michael Kühne and his advisers, but an embarrassing failure to find a new sporting director and three dismissals of coaches since 20123 spoke of a lack of nous. The latest man on the bench, Markus Gisdol, actually looks as if he might be able to stabilise the incoherently built team at a reasonable level after the club’s worst-ever Bundesliga start. But the slight upturn in fortunes has come too late for Beiersdorfer, who had been brought back in as the self-styled Dino’s saviour.
“This is the low point. There’s no strategy, unless one describes the permanent changing of the club’s leadership as a strategy,” Hamburger Abendblatt wrote. “HSV appear beyond salvation. The only thing that’s top-class at this club is chaos. No one else in the Bundesliga or Europe can compete.”
Beiersdorfer’s departure might not be the worst thing to befall the erstwhile powerhouse of German football, but the timing is unfortunate. And so is the choice of his successor.
Heribert Bruchhagen, 68, is an uninspiring member of yesterday’s guard, a dour traditionalist well versed in complaining about the “plastic” clubs and about the unfair financial advantage of the bigger teams, but not quite so good at emulating the success of others (he had a pop at Hamburg, too, not long ago).
The former club boss at Eintracht Frankfurt reigned as a kind of human handbrake over relentless, rampant stagnation at the Commerzbank-Arena for 13 years, forever warning against the pitfalls of aiming too high. With him in place, hubris and having ideas above their station will no longer be a problem for HSV, to be sure. Dreams of glory will be replaced by Biedermeier contentment. However, Bruchhagen’s lack of ambition might ultimately prove just as counterproductive in a cut-throat league. The rumoured appointment of Heldt as HSV’s sporting director would complete the picture.
The story at Wolfsburg is a little different. Tasked with establishing the Volkswagen-owned club among the elite when he was hired in 2012, Allofs delivered the DFB Pokal in 2015 and a successful Champions League campaign last season. The former Werder Bremen general manager was also a fairly cute operator in the transfer-market, making a ton of money on the sale of Kevin De Bruyne (£54m to Manchester City) and others like André Schürrle.
This season, though, things fell apart. Their coach, Dieter Hecking, was unable to motivate a dressing room full of players who either felt they should be somewhere else or were only there for the generous wages in the first place. The Germany international Julian Draxler was made an example of in August – he had an offer from Paris St Germain, Wolfsburg said no – but the desired effect on morale failed to materialise.
Gormless performances took Wolfsburg into the wrong half of the table. Hecking’s replacement, Valerien Ismael, could not stop the rot. The former Bayern defender winced as his men were embarrassed in Munich on Saturday, going down 5-0 against the champions without so much as a whimper of resistance. Draxler was not included in the matchday squad. He will be sold in January, for a fraction of the €70m that the Parisians had been prepared to pay four months ago.
Wolves are only one point off the automatic relegation places but that in itself was probably not enough for 60-year-old Allofs to lose his job. The board had run out of confidence in him following a series of uncomfortable stories in the German press detailing his closeness to certain agents.
An internal investigation into one deal did not find anything untoward, but Allofs was watched ever more closely as results worsened and VW began contemplating cutbacks as a result of the emissions scandal. A Spiegel football-leaks story at the weekend about payments to agents in the British Virgin Island during his time at Werder Bremen might well have been the final straw. The club must have felt that somebody else should control the purse-strings during the inevitable down-sizing. Whatever the division.
• Bayern’s stroll in the Englischer Garten against Wolfsburg aside, it was a weekend of minimal wins, and minimal artistry. The bottom club, Ingolstadt, ended Leipzig’s unbeaten run and time at the top – Bayern are first again – with a rough and rugged approach as well as good tactical coaching by Maik Walpurgis, the successor of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s successor at Ingolstadt, Markus Kauczinski.
Die Schanzer avoided falling prey to Leipzig’s fast transition play by booting the ball high and long beyond the pressing lines. Passing accuracy was a historically low 42%. They refused to come out of their half, too. A seven-men midfield condensed the space and when the Brazilian midfielder Rogera headed home a free-kick it proved enough to secure an upset. “We had the ball but didn’t play well enough with it,” Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg said.
• The very same could have been said of Borussia Dortmund. Away to Köln, Thomas Tuchel’s maddeningly inconsistent men had absurdly high possession numbers last seen in Munich in the Guardiola days but there was neither precision nor pace in the attacking areas against a side playing “clever, high-quality, underdog football”, as Süddeutsche Zeitung said. Dortmund nearly lost their fourth league game of the season before Marco Reus’ last-minute goal snatched a draw. Tuchel, for once, did not go into headmaster mode, criticising a plethora of short-comings but preferred to pay compliments to Peter Stöger for making it such an awkward afternoon. Borussia remain outside the Champions League places.
Frankfurt 0-0 Hoffenheim, Köln 1-1 Dortmund, Freiburg 1-0 Darmstadt, Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg, Hertha 0-1 Werder, Bayern 5-0 Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt 1-0 Leipzig, Gladbach 1-0 Mainz, Schalke 0-1 Leverkusen.
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