Bundesliga 2011/2012: Which Coaches have Excelled?

Whether they are referred to as managers, head coaches, trainers or even the director tecnico (en español), the man pacing the sidelines during matches while exhorting his players during practices between games is hired to be fired.  Every season, coaches are fired with regularity — this season alone there have been nine coaching changes among the 18 Bundesliga clubs.  But while some coaches fail, others succeed, and this year’s Bundesliga campaign has produced some outstanding coaching performances.  But who indeed has done the best job — the coaches with top talent on their clubs who have their clubs poised to win multiple trophies or those with few stars on their clubs who nonetheless have their clubs achieving results most fans would have considered highly unlikely before the season?

Whatever your philosophy concerning that question, here’s a list of those who have excelled in Germany’s top flight this season.

Jürgen Klopp – Borussia Dortmund

The tall 44 year-old wearing the baseball cap on Dortmund’s sidelines is in his fourth season in Dortmund, and has his team on track to win the league title again while also being in the final of this year’s DFB Pokal.  The energetic, emotional leader who spent almost two decades at Mainz as player and coach has led his Dortmund side to finishes of 6th, 5th and 1st in his first three seasons with the club, and BvB are currently riding a club-record unbeaten streak in which Dortmund last lost a league match on September 18th.  Dortmund are third in least goals allowed this season ( behind Bayern Munich and Gladbach) and second in goals scored (second again to the Bavarians).  But Dortmund have twice beaten the big, bad boys from Munich, including their midweek 1-0 victory and along with Saturday’s win against arch-rival Schalke Dortmund are eight points ahead of second-place Munich with only three matchdays remaining.

Not only does Klopp have Dortmund winning, but they win playing highly entertaining football.  The only blot on Klopp’s status has been their inability to advance from the group stage in European competition, denying foreign fans the opportunity to witness the specialness of the current Dortmund club.  In Klopp’s defense both he and his players had very little European experience compared to the clubs in this season’s grouping.  Nevertheless, Dortmund have overcome injury to wunderkind Mario Gotze to enjoy another spectacular Bundesliga season, and with Gladbach’s Marco Reus joining the club this summer it appears that the good times at Dortmund will continue to roll.

Jupp Heynckes – Bayern München

The great job done by Jupp Heynckes this season in Bavaria may be overshadowed by Wednesday’s loss to Dortmund, but the veteran coach still has Bayern Munich within reach of doing the treble this season, and really, what more could one ask of a coach at this late stage of the season?  After the tumultous 2010/2011 Bayern Munich season, Heynckes had done exactly what he was hired to do — win games and steady the listing ship.  The relative peace and quiet this year emanating from the Allianz Arena is quite a change from the FC Hollywood antics of last season’s campaign.

Also lost in Bayern fan’s disappointment in losing twice to Dortmund may be the understanding of what Heynckes has done with his players.  Franck Ribery has had a monster season, rebounding to again be a world-class threat, while Toni Kroos has raised his profile and teenaged David Alaba seems like a star in the making.  Heynckes has had to do without stalwart midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger for much of the season and has had a relatively thin squad (especially considering that Bayern are successfully playing in three competitions).  Heynckes’ team is tied with Dortmund for the Bundesliga lead in goals scored while allowing the least goals, and he has even gotten injured and unhappy midfielder Ivica Olić playing fine football again — meaning that even if the Croatian leaves in the summer, his transfer fee will be greater with the revitalization of his career.

If Bayern have disappointed on some occasions, especially in their lackluster draw with Mainz, they are assured Champions League football again next season and could be playing in this year’s final at the Allianz.  Heynckes was hired to win and restore calm, and he has done both.  Job well done.

Christian Streich – SC Freiburg

Ok, your team has had an atrocious first half of the season under a 46 year-old debutante coach leading a top-tier club after working with your club as an assistant.  You’re looking relegation straight in the eye, sitting in the Bundesliga basement anticipating the loss of  your top goalscorer and a number of other players because of conflict with your inexperienced coach.  To remedy matters, you fire your embattled coach and replace him with a proven fireman to save you from the hellfires of demotion.  Right?

Wrong if you’re SC Freiburg chairman Fritz Keller or Sporting Director Dirk Dufner.  You fire Marcus Sorg and hire another 46 year-old with a lengthy history with your club, who will also be making his debut leading a senior squad.  Your new leader on the sidelines?  Christian Streich.  Risky?  Yes.  A surprise?  Yes, according to Streich himself.  But Freiburg management had the courage of their convictions, and its paid off rather grandly thus far, as Freiburg look well able to avoid relegation and play on in the top flight.

Despite losing Papiss Demba Cisse to Newcastle United during the January transfer window, Streich has earned 23 points since taking over in 14 league matches.  The belief granted him by Freiburg management was paid forward by Streich to his young players, including several making their senior team debut in the Ruckrunde.  He didn’t allow the transfer away by Cisse to be a concern while his ability to deflect pressure from his players has allowed the youngsters to gain confidence and Freiburg’s veterans to regain theirs after their Hinrunde battering.  Team play, attacking football and a radical improvement in the team’s defending (allowing almost a goal less per match under Streich than under Sorg) have restored belief at Freiburg while illuminating the fact that Mr. Streich indeed knows something about our game.

Lucien Favre – Borussia Mönchengladbach

Yes, Borussia Monchengladbach have not been in great form as of late, earning only one win in their last eight league matches prior to Sunday’s fixture with FC Koln.  Despite that loss of form as the thinness of the Foals’ roster has been exposed, Coach Lucien Favre still deserves plaudits for turning around the fortunes of Gladbach.

Since his appointment as the Foals’ head coach on February 14, 2011, the native of Switzerland has been a Valentine’s gift to Gladbach fans that keeps on giving.  Not only did he coach a historical turnaround last season that kept Gladbach from relegation, but Favre has his club looking at a Champions League berth for next season despite their recent struggles.  Their Sunday win over FC Koln leaves the Foals only one win away from Champions League football.  Imagine taking a team from almost-certain relegation to Champions League play in a little more than a year’s time!  Favre has rectified the Foals’ defending to the point that they’ve gone from the worst defensive team in the Bundesliga to be on par with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.  That’s outstanding coaching.

But Favre also improves his attackers.  Mike Hanke, who only scored five times in his last season and a half at Hannover, has already contributed eight goals to the Foals’ efforts this season.

Mirko Slomka – Hannover 96

Mirko Slomka hasn’t gotten the attention he received last year as he dramatically improved Hannover’s profile, taking a team that’d finished 15th in 2009/2010 to  following his January, 2010 arrival and to the fourth spot in the table and the Europa League last season.  Currently looking at a return to Europe next season, Hannover made its long-awaited return to European competition this year by surpassing Sevilla in the competition’s play-in round and advancing to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Atletico Madrid on aggregate 4-2.

To many observers, Slomka’s Hannover side overachieved by making the quarterfinals of the Europa League after a two decade absence from Europe.  Many questioned whether Hannover had the squad depth to compete successfully in the league and the tournament, but Slomka gets the most out of his players, and isn’t afraid to give a promising player time on the pitch.  This winter’s prize acquisition, Mame Biram Diouf, has well rewarded Slomka’s belief by scoring six goals in only 780 minutes in 2012 league play while scoring four times in five Europa League contests after being almost an afterthought during his time at Manchester United.

What Slomka has achieved in a bit more than two years is remarkable.  Hannover, normally a team battling relegation and ending up in the bottom half of the table, have become a consistent contender for a European spot without the financial resources available to many of its competitors.  Thanks to Slomka, it is a great time to be a 96ers fan.

Bruno Labbadia – VfB Stuttgart

When Bruno Labbadia was appointed as head coach of Stuttgart in December, 2010, he was the fourth Stuttgart coach hired in less than two years, and the ninth hired in the first decade of the 21st century.  To be hired by Stuttgart seemed a guarantee to be fired quickly, as the club seemed close to total chaos without the patience to develop any coherent plan for success.  In Labbadia, Stuttgart seemed to have made another questionable hiring decision, as his lack of success coaching at Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg SV didn’t inspire faith among Stuttgart fans.  Some pundits opined that Labbadia’s new appointment could be his last opportunity to coach on the big stage.

Labbadia encountered relative success in lifting Stuttgart from the relegation zone after his arrival, but improved Ruckrunde performances were routine for the Swabians — the trouble was their dismal efforts during the season’s first half in recent years.  That would be the question that Labbadia would have to answer entering the 2011/2012 campaign.

Labbadia fashioned a mediocre 6-4-7 before winter break….mediocre by any standards but those of Stuttgart’s recent past.  More importantly, Labbadia has been able to build further following winter break, taking 27 points in 14 2012 fixtures to have almost assured the Swabians of European play next season.  Their dismal DFB Pokal elimination by Bayern Munich seemed to spark the club to a strong stretch run in which Stuttgart have climbed to fourth in league scoring behind Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and Schalke.

But they still had a hurdle to climb.  A dismal scoreless draw at home against last-place Kaiserslautern looked like it may break Stuttgart and end their momentum.  Instead, the team won four of their next five matches and came back twice to draw with league leading Borussia Dortmund in the most exciting Bundesliga match of the season.  Labbadia was a highly successful Bundesliga player, scoring over 200 goals.  Perhaps now he is on the way to being regarded as a successful Bundesliga coach, too.

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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.

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