Hard Times at Kaiserslautern

1. FC Kaiserslautern are a team in turmoil. There is now no doubting that. Last weekend, amidst the excitement surrounding Bayern’s clash with Schalke and whether Dortmund could keep their incredible winning streak alive, there was the Rhineland derby. For Mainz o5 it was another derby game and that isn’t degrading the significance of the game for them but for FCK, it really was, or at least could have been, a huge turning point. Bearing in mind this is a club who has won the title four times, the DFB Pokal twice and harvested some of the finest players in Germany’s history, this is a game that held significance for the club but also for the tradition and importance of one of Germany’s biggest teams.

So far this season the Red Devils have struggled. It has now been thirteen games without a win and quite frankly, although many fans wouldn’t like to admit it, that is relegation form. Not even the form of a potential candidate. Simply relegation form. The Rhineland derby against Mainz 05 on the weekend present FCK with a timely intervention. This game is a massive fixture and is arguably one of the most underrated derby matches across the world.

A win in this game would provide not only hope for the fans and the management but also for the players. Hope that is believable and more importantly, achievable. However, the reason for the worry and the less than positive headline is the fact that FCK did not really arrive for this fixture in the mindset they required. At half-time the match had already been lost and the second half drifted into the inevitable oblivion of the home side content to keep the ball and the away side continue to muster far too little to make a difference. A further goal in the second half simply added insult to injury and many would argue that it wasn’t undeserved either.

A 4-0 defeat in the context of FCK’s season and the game itself is unacceptable. Looking at the game from an analytical point of  view, just as Arsenal’s defeat to A.C. Milan was “avoidable” in a manner of speaking, so was FCK’s on Saturday. Each goal was preventable and would have been done by a more confident, more tactical sound and most pivotally, better side. The first goal was a matter of poor defending from the stand-in, left-back Antar Yahia who was poor throughout. That is not to say Zidan’s finish wasn’t superb, because it was, but the pass to him should never have been allowed to be made. The second was a matter of poor communication, the third yet another sign of defensive frailty. The final goal was tiredness and quite simply a lack of determination, it was as if they knew the result had already been decided and one more goal wouldn’t matter anyway.

The only notable efforts of intent from FCK were a De Wit free-kick, which was saved, and a Tiffert effort, which hit the woodwork. Apart from that, ‘Lautern were abject with the ball and hapless without it. There were far too many simple options avoided which led to misplaced passes but most frustratingly was the severe and ultimately fatal lack of movement. Without that, it made it impossible for them to create any chances let alone be in a position to score. It was difficult to watch and it seemed that way for the fans as well, who, according to the commentator at the time, had never been so quiet.

Kurz has a problem. He is clearly well liked by the board and they clear trust him to get them out of the mire but results or the clear lack of are unavoidable, as is the 17th spot the club now occupies. The biggest problem he has is the lack of real quality on the pitch. For the first time in a long time, FCK are not looking like a Bundesliga side. Last year, there were moments when questions were correctly raised but then swiftly answered by a or all members of the team. There seemed to be cohesion and desire. This year, and judging by last Saturday, both seem to be lacking.

The reason for this lack of quality is the lack of financial support he has been given or in fact, dare I suggest, can be given. The incoming transfer money for most major players, Lakic, Amedick and Illicevic in particular, has gone back into the club and therefore has not been around for Kurz’s disposal. The lack of money has, as simple business dictates, a smaller range of options and within said options, a huge reduction in required quality. Herein lies the issue. Herein lies the aptly named Teufelskreis and it is one that if FCK don’t untangle soon, it could be too late.

Sandro Wagner’s loan in from Werder Bremen has been the gamble that hasn’t paid off for Kurz and the rest of his shoestring budget has been spent on players of mediocrity. The absence of Sahan and Shechter, was apparent however as so far this season they have been bright lights amongst a sea of blurriness. The departure of former club captain and centre-back Martin Amedick in January to lower league Frankfurt caused a shock and was one stirred by rumours on the Mainz terrace on Saturday. The rumour namely being that Kurz had an affair with Amedick’s wife and thus caused the centre-back to leave and the squad to collapse. There is, as is the case so often with media headlines, no evidence whatsoever to support this theory but the mere creation of said rumour adds more fuel to an already roaring fire of concern at the club.

Elsewhere in midfield, apart from the excellent Tiffert, FCK lack real drive. This was something they had last year in the form of Jan Moravek, who tackled and bossed the tempo in the centre of the park, allowing Tiffert to attack more (see his number of assists for last year as supporting evidence).

It is however, up-front, that FCK have really got a problem. The least number of goals in the division is a clear sign that the goals have dried up and with the defence not quiet sure of its best configuration, there is a flow of goals conceded. Wagner hasn’t worked and the likes of Sukatu-Pasu and Kouemaha have contributed very little, if anywhere near enough. Once again in comparison with last year this was simply not the case. Erwin Hoffer was an astute loan signing and even after goal-getter Srdjan Lakic left, the club still kept scoring, with even the somewhat clumsy and heavy frame of Adam Nemec becoming involved. Those options are however no longer available to Kurz and there is no longer the option of recruiting anyone new. The squad he has now must do the job and that is the real worry because after Saturday, it seems likely that it just won’t be enough.

Jonathan also writes for The 4th Official in the UK and can be followed on Twitter here.

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Jonathan is a Munich based sports journalist who has a passion for most sports. He first started writing for The 4th Official and since then has gone on to write for many other sites. He is currently Sports Editor of The Munich Eye and is regularly involved in the Talking Fussball podcast. Follow Jonathan on twitter @JonBloggs66

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1 Comment

  1. Great article on the subject.

    Kurz has to go, simple as that. The derby showed how the squad just isn’t responding to him as a coach anymore, the fans are angry and once the FCK fans have turned, there is no way back for a coach. The atmosphere will be toxic if Wolfsburg go 1-0 up on the weekend. There were also rumours he hadn’t spoken to Vermouth for at least a month or two and thus giving him no idea what he had to do, very poor man management.

    Though I’d have to say it’s worth saying that FCK have spent a lot of money since coming up on players who just haven’t worked out which has reduced transfer budgets for this season. Micanski, Rivic, Walch, Sukuta-Pasu, Vermouth [though I think he’s good enough for the BL] cost a total of around 2.5m on players who have made more or less a handful of appearances between them and outside of SP have either left or been loaned out since signing.

    Bottom line, lost too many quality players last season, replaced them with some very, very average players or youngsters who don’t have the mental strength in this stage of their career for a relegation battle. As I thought to myself at the time, if you replace good quality 1.BL players with average 2.BL players, your destined to go down to the 2.BL.

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