Hoffenheim – Stuck in a Loop

Hoffenheim are currently playing their fourth consecutive season in Germany’s top fight. During this period, they always found themselves somewhere in the middle of the league table at the end of the season (2008/2009 7th, 2009/2010 11th, 2010/2011 11th).  This year, after 12 matches Hoffenheim have won five, drawn two and lost five times. Throughout their spell in the league the key ingredient they have always missed was consistency. To overcome this, the “Sinsheimer” appointed Holger Stanislawski as their new coach over the summer.  With half of the season nearly done, has Stanislawski come closer to establishing that consistency?

Stanislawski spent 20 years at FC St. Pauli. He was promoted with them two times as a player and in spring 2009 he graduated the Advanced Training for Trainers workshop as class winner. Alongside this course he finished in eighth place with St Pauli in the 2. Bundesliga as coach.  One year later he was promoted to the first Bundesliga and although his team was relegated in that season Stanislawski’s great work with the team was apparent. He is well known for developing and guiding young, talented players into the realms of professional football and for creating a great team spirit.

Hoffenheim's euphoria is usually short lived.

In other words he was deemed a perfect fit for 1899 Hoffenheim, a club whose primary goal is to develop young players coming out of their region. But even Holger Stanislawski has so far struggled to find the right balance and get the best out of his team. In an interview with “Kicker” a couple of weeks ago he was asked why his team could not overcome this inconsistency, replying:

“You should ask the players. Sometimes they are missing a bit of persuasion. The team needs to recognize that we have to improve our defending and our passing game.”

The follow up question basically implied that Hoffenheim is only a mediocre team and Stanislawski humbly agreed.

“Yes, you can say it like that. We cannot think about the top of the league table. We are missing stability.”

But why is this the case? Why are Hoffenheim’s victories with great attacking football always followed up with games where they lose due to lack of concentration or complacency.

One reason for sure is the lack of experience. If you have a look at the team of the “Kraichgauer” you will see that they only have six players older than 27. Only their goalkeeper is over thirty.  Their captain, Andreas Beck, is still only 24 years old. The team has a lot of players who are playing their first or are in their second or third seasons only. For these players a lot of situations occurring in a match are new and because they lack the experience of other Bundesliga veterans, it is not surprising to see that they have yet to win a single point after being a goal behind.

Another reason is the absence in team spirit. Way too often Hoffenheim overcomplicate things and try to play beautiful football and fail to score the easy goals as a result. Their players almost want to carry the ball into the net, as we say in Germany, rather than shoot early or pass the ball to another teammate when possible.  Some even think that player selfishness is behind it.  One person who sees it that way is their director of sports, Michael Tanner, as he told “BILD” after the game against VfB Stuttgart.

“They want to show everybody how good they are while dribbling way too much and in the end they lose the ball. The players rely too much on their individual skills and try to shine.  The team should be above everything else and only if that’s the case can we win.”

This is not really surprising but their director of sports is also to blame for much of what ails the team. A lot of players have left the club last year and even some key players have been sold. It is only logical that the team has to get to know each other in order to grow. Stanislawski too has only been there for four months and you cannot really expect miracles in that timeframe.  It takes time for any new coach’s philosophy to be properly and visibly implemented.

Stanislawski and his training staff have been hard at work to address the team's deficiencies.

The good thing about Hoffenheim, unlike most other clubs, is that the people who are in charge will get the time they need and benefit of the doubt to develop the team. In this rather short-term oriented “business”, it is really refreshing to see this kind of behavior. The club is well-positioned. They have modern training facilities and brand new club premises. Only the contracts of five players are running out at the end of this season and out of five, only Sejad Salihovic is a regular starter. All other players have long-term contracts which bodes well for the team’s development. The club also has a lot of talent and if the management is able to hold them together we might witness the development of a really strong team in a couple of years.

Although the “Kraichgauer” have not really been in the race to qualify for international football in their time in the Bundesliga one simply has to look back where they were just a couple of years ago to see the growth of the club.  Considering that they played in one of Germany’s lowest leagues back in 1990 they have come a long way in the last twenty years.  Suffice to say, the future looks bright.

 Images courtesy of bundesliga.de 

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