Frankfurt, the City of “Mulligans”

Friday night the 2. Bundesliga season kicked off, and got off to a ferocious start. The golf term “Mulligan” fits into the description of the drama that occurred in two of the matches.

What is a “Mulligan” you might ask? Well, I didn’t even know myself before I picked up a golf club for the very first time in my life a week ago. On that day I found out that golfers get to re-take their first shot of their round if they mess it up. Amongst golfers this is called a “Mulligan”. A rather nice and fair sentiment, that doesn’t apply to most areas of life as most people might know. Especially in the world of football. Once a player or a coach have taken their shot, made their decision, and it turned out horribly wrong, most of them are gone. A bad transfer move has destroyed numerous promising careers, bad results at one club have removed many coaches from their posts. Many of those players and coaches did never get the chance to come back. However, two of the participants in tonight’s drama were granted their very own “Mulligan”.

The talented youngster who vanished
What were you thinking when you saw the name Zafer Yelen on FSV Frankfurt’s team sheet today? Did you recognize the name? Well, nobody can blame you if you didn’t, Yelen hasn’t played in the Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga for some time now. Between 2006 and 2008 Yelen did play 45 matches for Hansa Rostock in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, scoring 5 goals. The local media and some of the national media hailed him as a great playmaker, somebody for the future.

When Yelen had to take his next shot to advance his career he chose to leave Hansa and the Bundesliga, and move to Trabzonspor in Turkey. An adventure that should have been full of glorious nights in European competitions, and league campaigns fighting for the league titled turned sour for the Berlin born player. While the rest of his team got to do all those things, Yelen was ignored by the new coach that followed the coach who had signed him. Injury trouble followed him, and a conflict with Trabzonspor’s medical staff left the German Turk out in the cold. All in all Yelen managed to get 4 appearances for Trabzonspor’s second team during his two-year long stay at the club.

When Yelen’s contract at the club was dissolved most of the people who were still following the lad thought that his career had finally gone down the drain.

However, Yelen was granted a “Mulligan” after he convinced FSV Frankfurt coach Hans-Jürgen Boysen during a trial training period at the club. And today, almost three years after he had left Germany, the forgotten talented who had never had the chance to reach his full potential returned to the pitch in Germany.

Yelen and his team mates were periodically outplayed by strong 1. FC. Union Berlin side in a 1-1 draw, but that didn’t stop Yelen from showing his box to box abilities, and some of his passing skill. The 24-year-old had a huge point to prove in this match: “Yes, I’m still here, and yes, I’m good enough to compete at this level.” Yelen did just that. The fans of FSV Frankfurt should look forward to the continuation of this story. Giving an unwanted player like Yelen a “Mulligan” might just turn out to be one of the wisest things FSV has ever done.

The coach who was going to quit

The other Mulligan of the night has been granted to the coach of FSV’s local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt. Armin Veh has never had an easy time handling the public pressure of being a football coach. “Veh is far too moody” has been amongst the favorite lines of the German press. Furthermore, Veh has  never lasted more than  3 seasons wiht any club after he left his first coaching position at FC Augsburg in 1995. Not a particularly impressive stat. However, if one takes into consideration that Veh coached  VfB Stuttgart, VfL Wolfsburg after their championship winning seasons and HSV, one has to admit that this man isn’t afraid of taking on a huge challenge.

Veh thought for a brief moment that he had found his ideal home for a moment back in his HSV days and declared:”I’ll never coach another German side again after Hamburg.” The love affair between Veh and the club didn’t even last an entire season, and even Veh had to back track his earlier comments stating that he didn’t want to leave the coaching business in this manner.

Veh got another chance to prove himself as a coach tonight. Eintracht Frankfurt’s decision to hire a man who hasn’t got the best track record according to some German tabloids, and many German football fans, was somewhat controversial. Even David Jarolim chose to lash out against his former coach when Bild interviewed the Czech a while ago. Jarolim called Veh “a clueless coach”.

Not the sort of coach any football fan wants for his club. The first half of Eintracht’s game against Greuther Fürth seemed to prove Veh’s critics right: Greuther grabbed a very convincing two goal lead, and Eintrach Frankfurt seemed idealess and unable to perform.

However, Veh proved his critics wrong at half time, sending out a completely different Eintracht side. Alex Meier’s goal in the 56th minute seemed to restore the team’s faith. The same player put the sides level after 64 minutes. Both sides kept on fighting to grab the all important goal, but Veh’s move substituting Karim Matmour for Brazilian Caio proved to be the move that decided the match. Nine minutes after Matmour entered the pitch he tuck away the all deciding 3-2 goal for Eintracht, after a lovely pass from Alexander Meier.

I have to be honest: I’m amongst Veh’s critics. The people who are following my Twitter feed know that I ridiculed Eintracht Frankfurt for signing him.

I’m still of the same opinion after tonight’s matches. However, one shouldn’t forget that football at times can be a brutal business, but one has to ask oneself (myself included): Do people like Veh and Yelen deserve a “Mulligan”? Furthermore, should journalists, fans and the community of Twitter be more reluctant of giving definitive answers to questions that only can be answered in the future? If the evidence of tonight is anything to go by, the answer is clearly yes.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

7 Comments

  1. well, Robert Enke had a dreadful time in Turkey as well. However, one shouldn’t forget that many players who went there have loved every second of their stay in Turkey. Michael Skibbe is the next German who has taken the brave step into this country of football madness.

  2. I am recalling a tale of hating Turkey from an English player not so long ago as well. Took me a minute–Darius Vassell. I believe at some point the club stopped paying for the hotel room they housed him in or something. Ran a blog too, documenting how miserable his time in the Turkish league was.

  3. Yelen played for a decent side, Trabzonspor(they are actually in the CL qualifiers right now). The Turkish league has a number of decent sides, it is nothing like Qatar or Kuwait. It was his dream to play in Turkey, because of his heritage. But, after having been there for a couple of seasons he’ll never come back. He had to fight to get his wages, and the physio of the team didn’t want to treat because of personal differences etc. Yelen said in an interview that the time in Turkey has been the worst time of his life.

  4. If last season taught us anything, can’t judge managers too soon, but I’m with you Nik–don’t like Veh anywhere. As for Yelen–isn’t Turkey supposed to be where continental footballers go AFTER they’ve exhausted their talents? Or is that the Middle East? I forget the current semi-retirement homes of today’s footballers.

  5. Fluke win. Furth should have been up 3 or 4 nil and killed it but blew easy chances. Not saying we can conclude anything definitive from one match, but Frankfurt were lucky more than competent.

  6. I second the idea of waiting to make any judgments on managers this year. Last year was just ridiculous in terms of the trainer carousel, and I’m hoping for some more stability and level-headedness this season.

    Regardless, great job, Frankfurt(s)!

  7. I did not see the game as I was listening to Standard – Twente but a great comeback on the opening day for Eintracht against more than decent opposition. On the point about Veh, of course people should be wary of making definitive judgments before a ball has barely been kicked. Any coaching appointment is a risk and one tries to minimise the risk. Even if Veh does well, he should because he is in charge of the favourites to be promoted, at least in my opinion. And what’s more, he is still a big risk given his dreadful record and his indecision over his future career – did he want to be a coach, a sporting director or an agent? Still, if he takes them up, like Babbel did with Hertha, you have to give credit where it is due.

    Good luck with the golf – you never know. There could be a Bernard Langer inside you waiting to get out!

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