The Bundesliga: A League Gone Mad ?

In a move that surprised few, FC Schalke 04 announced Wednesday the dismissal of Head Coach Felix Magath.  Magath was scheduled to attend a meeting with the club’s supervisory board Wednesday morning but did not show up.  According to a statement from supervisory board chairman Clemens Tönnies on the Schalke website,  “from the point of view of FC Schalke 04 there are very good reasons for this parting of the ways. We will not be making them public because legal proceedings are set to follow. We go into these proceedings very relaxed,” said  Tönnies before adding: “The substance of what we have decided is a good outcome for FC Schalke 04.”  Tonnies also mentioned the dissatisfaction of the club’s player committee, which related its unhappiness with Magath’s coaching methods to Tonnies earlier.

Magath took over as head coach and general manager of the Gelsenkirchen club in July, 2009 and the club finished 2nd in the Bundesliga table last season.  This year the Royal Blues have been quite inconsistent.  Currently a disappointing 10th spot in the table, Schalke have nevertheless qualified for the DFB Pokal Cup final and have gone through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League under Magath, and now are the only Bundelsiga club in the Champions League after Bayern Munich’s loss Tuesday to Inter Milan.

Magath joins a long line of Bundesliga coaches dismissed during the current campaign.  FC Koln dismissed Zvonimir Soldo after the club won only one of its first nine games.  VfB Stuttgart dismissed Christian Gross in October, and his replacement Jens Keller was fired in December and replaced by Bruno Labbadia.  Ralf Rangnick left Hoffenheim over the winter break in a dispute over the club’s sale of Luis Gustavo and the general philosophy of the club’s future.  In 2011, Michael Frontzek has been fired in Gladbach, Steve McClaren dumped by Wolfsburg (replaced by Pierre Littbarski, already under fire), Armin Veh was sacked after Hamburg’s 6-0 loss to Bayern Munich and lame-duck Coach Louis van Gaal, who will leave Bayern after the season.  And now Magath, who twice won the double with Bayern Munich and brought Wolfsburg to the Bundesliga title in the only time in the club’s history.  Only ten Bundesliga clubs are being led by the same coach when the season began last August.

A League Gone Mad

One can argue the merits of each of these coaches’ dismissals.  That is part of the fun of being a fan.  But the trend of Bundesliga clubs to lose patience with the coaches they hired smacks of an unsettling madness among the management of certain clubs, and fans can rightfully question the direction that the club managements of Bayern Munich, Schalke, Hamburg, Wolfsburg and Stuttgart are taking.  It is obvious that these teams’ hierarchies share much of the blame.

In the cases of Jens Keller, Michael Frontzek and Zvonimir Soldo, one cannot fault club management too much as each did not have a long track record as coaches, and all three clubs looked relegation bound.  Something had to be done.  But Bayern Munich?  Louis van Gaal has been coaching since he began guiding Ajax in 1991.  Schalke?  Magath began his coaching career in Hamburg in 1995, while Armin Veh took the reins at FC Augsburg in 1990. Christian Gross began coaching in 1988 and spent ten years leading FC Basel and Steve McClaren started out as head coach of Middlesbrough in 2001.  All of these men have won titles  — have they suddenly become incompetent, or is the incompetency in the club hierarchies that hired them in the first place but lack the patience to see the results they expected?

I say the incompetence lies with the men running the clubs.  Bayern Munich certainly knew that van Gaal as a coach emphasizes attacking sometimes at the detriment of defensive play and that he can be a prickly character, especially with the media.  Magath has a tendency to wear out his welcome with players who grow tired of his strenuous training methods, and McClaren’s success has been with smaller clubs devoid of big stars and big egos.  For the club managements to expect anything different from the coaches that they hired in the first place is…..madness.  These men all have track records. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, even highly successful coaches, and you live with the weaknesses because the strengths are greater.  Patience will be rewarded in the long-term with results.

But patience is the key, and it is becoming a disheartening trend among Bundesliga club managements to demonstrate a distinct lack of that virtue.  Win today, and the hell with tomorrow!   This is a results oriented business !   Well, yes it is, but sometimes you have to allow time for a coaches’ methods to work.  To repeat — Magath took Schalke to Europe after last season’s achievement, got Die Knappen into the quarterfinals and into the Cup finals.  What more can reasonably be expected from a team in transition?  Van Gaal had the audacity to lose three games in a row…to Schalke 1-0,  to the dominant Borussia Dortmund club and to a surprisingly strong Hannover team at the AWD Arena.  Oh my, the world is at an end.

Yes I know Bayern Munich lost Tuesday to Inter Milan, and, as Cris Nyari mentioned in his analysis on the Bundesliga Fanatic, the Bayern players showed mental frailty.  But, with a lame duck leader and a club hierarchy that cannot decide to stay the course with the coach they’ve hired, where have they inherited that lack of mental strength?  I would say that a club’s management that quicly loses faith in its own earlier decisions demonstrates mental frailty.

It’s common for a coach and the team’s hierarchy to be at odds.  Coaches want more power to sign players they want, train where they feel is best for their players, etc.  And club management is often looking at the bottom line.  Mistakes in hiring are made, certainly too, but what once looked like a very promising year for the Bundesliga in Europe is crashing down in disappointment.  Only Schalke survives in the Champions League, and Bayer Leverkusen have an uphill battle Thursday to take the 2nd leg of their tie with a strong Villareal team playing at home.  The progress made by the Bundesliga in gaining another Champions League spot at the expense of Serie A rings a bit hollow when Bundesliga teams have difficulty competing in Europe.  And the management of certain clubs should take a long look in the mirror.

Hopefully the current trend of cashiering established and successful coaches is more of an aberration than a permanent fixture of life in the Bundesliga.  There is so much to love about the league — its traditions, the club rivalries, the opportunities that young players are given, the reasonable prices of tickets for matches.  But if club managements want to do something more productive with their time than firing the coaches they recently hired, they may band with the DFL in gaining better foreign television deals.  In an excellent article on the Swiss Ramble blog, the Bundesliga ranks well below incoming television revenues compared to other European leagues.  In the recent article entitled  “Is Football’s Gravy Train Slowing Down,” it is pointed out that ” At £1.1 billion a season, it (the EPL’s television revenue) is higher than Serie A £760 million, Ligue Un £560 million, La Liga £500 million and the Bundesliga £340 million. The difference is largely due to those foreign rights, e.g. the Premier League earns £480 million a season, while La Liga only receives £130 million and the Bundesliga a paltry £35 million.”  Now there is something for clubs and the DFL to work on.

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

5 Comments

  1. Veh is a cluless old school coach. I doubt anybody at Stuttgart including the players knows how they won that championship. Heck, nobody there knew why Veh was hired in the first place. He was completely gone from the Bundesliga market.

    Dieter must be the worst manager in German football. I can’t overstate how bad he is. I really really don’t understand why Wolfsburg hired him. The development there isn’t really surprising given his magical touch.

    Hamburg’s problem aren’t on the money side. They now have the second highest revenues in Germany though all clubs at that level sit pretty tight. Their problem has been the football brain or the missing of it. Beiersdorfer was decent, but the ongoing feud with Hoffmann mitigated a lot of the good he did. Since he left everything is a drift. Hoffmann has no clue about football. We will see what happens now, the club looks even more chaotic than Schalke.

  2. Veh is old school. HSV players have been quoted as saying that tactics are rarely, if ever, discussed. Contrast that to Klopp or Tuchel, where tactical organization is key. HSV look to finally be making some moves in the right direction. That club should be Germany’s second colossus. It’s a great place to live, and should be a natural attraction for players, not a stepping stone. It’s like Roma. Tremendous potential, just needs modern marketing & management to get it running at full-strength.

    It really is as simple as you said above. If Bayern’s board gave 100% support to van Gaal regardless, they’d be in a much better position. Constantly undermining him in the press has the effect of…constantly undermining him. They’re shooting themselves in the foot every time they use the press to stroke their egos. Next they’ll chew up & spit out Heynkes. It never ends. Uli seems to have a congenital need to show everyone how smart he (thinks he) is by constantly belittling his coach in the press. He’s a great money manager but an idiot when it comes to managing people.

    Dieter needs to be dumped out on his can. He’s a one-man destroyer of clubs. If VW keep him in the job next season they deserve every misfortune that comes their way. He put McClaren in an impossible situation. You can’t judge McC on his job at VfL.

  3. I agree that Schalke maybe should have gotten rid off magath. The question is whom do you replace him with? Rangnick is clearly not a step up from Magath. So firing Magath doesn’t make sense on that count…

    Veh isn’t a bad coach, but he has had the tendency to work at clubs that pull the trigger to quickly. Veh hasn’t had any support in Hamburg since November, on that count you must give him credit for getting the most out of the team on a number of occasions.

    McClaren isn’t a bad coach, he has taken Boro to a European Cup final, won the Carling Cup in England and won a Championship in the Netherlands. Furthermore, McClaren has several years of experience from being the number two behind Sven Göran Erikson on the England bench. His merits speak for themselves, and he has proven on more then one occasion that he has what it takes. However, hiring an English coach who doesn’t speak the German language is a risky experiment, one that I thought would fail from the get-go. I would blame W.burg’s bad season on the bad management of Dieter Hoeness, not McClaren.

    I agree 100% about what you write about LvG.

  4. In the case of Schalke it clearly wasnt. You wrote yourself that Magath is somewhat notorious for living out his welcome pretty fast. There are additional points here, finacially, which make his dismal more understanding.

    Why Bayern fired van Gaal only Kalle and Uli know. At the end of the day Bayern has only one playing style ever had: winning. You’re not winning, you’re no longer a Bayern coach. They may moan about beautiful football, but at the end winning is all that counts at Bayern.

    McClaren and Veh are both bad coaches. I wouldn’t want them on my Bundesliga-team no matter what. I still don’t know how Veh won the title, but that run involved more than bucket load of luck. The Dutch league is something completely different than the Bundesliga. Winning there doesn’t mean all that much any longer. It not only applies to coaches but also to players. The 90s are long gone.

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