Last season was FC Augsburg’s maiden voyage in the Bundesliga. The Bavarian squad almost devoid of top-flight experience was led by Coach Jos Luhukay, with the full backing of then-Sporting Director Andreas Rettig, who commented to the effect that Luhukay would guide the club even if they lost every match.
FC Augsburg earned a point in its debut Bundesliga match last season, drawing 2-2 against SC Freiburg at their SGL Arena home on the strength of two second half goals by Sascha Molders. They earned a point in their next match, against 1. FC Kaiserslautern, but it took them another six games to earn two points and by the winter break they looked like definite relegation material.
The restart of the season in January only further emphasized Augsburg’s relegation fears, as the Bavarian club earned just a point in its first two January matches against fellow relegation candidates SC Freiburg and Kaiserslautern. But Luhukay rallied his team to safety, as the team’s fortunes changed following their late February 3-0 win over Hertha Berlin, and in their final eleven matches Augsburg knocked off Mainz, Köln, Wolfsburg and Hamburg while drawing against top of the table sides Hannover, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Borussia Dortmund to surprise most observers, finishing the season fourteenth in the table, seven points above relegation, while “bigger” clubs Hertha, Köln and FC Kaiserslautern fell victim of the relegation axe. Certainly an acceptable finish for Augsburg team officials, who repeatedly expressed low expectations for the season and complete support for Luhukay after the club gained promotion in May, 2011.
Going into the 2012/2013 season, though, Luhukay and Rettig are both gone despite the earlier vote of confidence, with Luhukay controversially resigning after the season ending win over Hamburg and Rettig leaving his post as he’d announced early in the season. With such a significant turnover, the mission for the new season is simple: Klassenerhalt, or, avoiding relegation amidst what is sure to be a very fragile Bundesliga status.
Management Turmoil and Turnover
Despite surviving their first season in the Bundesliga, all was not cozy between club Chairman Walther Seinsch and Luhukay. Chairman Seinsch can be seen as comparable to Dietmar Hopp at Hoffenheim, as the hands-on chairman who raised the once small-time club to the Bundesliga level of competition. Differences of opinion over various issues however, between Seinsch and Luhukay intensified throughout the season, from an early season disagreement over the dismissal of popular Augsburg forward Michael Thurk, to an apparent final straw for Luhukay when Seinsch was very slow to extend the contracts of Luhukay’s assistant coaches, which coupled with several other issues caused Luhukay to resign. Luhukay, with three successful seasons as Augsburg coach, was replaced quickly by former SSV Jahn Regensburg coach Markus Weinzierl. The 37 year-old, who guided Regensburg to 2. Bundesliga promotion last season after an eight year absence, had been the club’s coach since 2008. A former midfielder during his ten-year career, Weinzirerl’s closest experience to playing or coaching in the top division was his stint with the Bayern München reserve side as a player between 1995 and 1999.
While lacking big-time experience, Weinzierl has proven that he can win with a small budget. According to Seinsch
I’m delighted that Markus Weinzierl has decided to join FCA and we wish him all the best at the club. At SSV Jahn Regensburg he managed to win promotion into Bundesliga 2 with the smallest budget in the third tier. That performance alone, which I once again congratulate him for, was exceptional
Taking Rettig’s spot as Sporting Director is Manfred Paula, 47, who was involved with the club’s youth academy. Paula was previously the coach at TSV Aindling and SSV Ulm 1846, while having experience as Sporting Director at FC Ingolstadt between January ,2005 and January. 2007. Both Weinzierl and Paula, though, lack experience at the top two levels of German football, and most likely therefore demand lesser wages than most of their peers.
While both the coach and sporting director at Augsburg have little Bundesliga experience, they do inherit a more experienced squad than that which Luhukay led into the start of last season. With a year of Bundesliga play under their belts, the Augsburg players should have the confidence now to know they can compete with the biggest clubs in Germany.
Gone from last year’s roster are several important players, perhaps most important being Axel Bellinghausen, who played in 25 league matches for Augsburg last season and signed with newly promoted Fortuna Düsseldorf earlier this summer. Also gone are Daniel Brinkmann, Hojime Hosagai, Marcel Ndjeng, Nando Rafael, Andrew Sinkala, Edmond Kapplani, Jonas de Roeck, Lorenzo Davids and Akali Gogia. Hosagai, a regular for Augsburg, played on loan in 31 matches last season from Bayer Leverkusen while Davids featured twenty times.
Augsburg will welcome the return of Wolfsburg loanee Ja-Cheol Koo, who was busy this summer representing South Korea at the London Olympics. They also have several other players on loan for the season, including Wolfsburg forward Giovanni Sio, along with Schalke’s Jan Moravek and Hoffenheim’s Knowledge Musona. New signees include Ronny Philp, who played for Weinzierl at Regensburg, along with well-travelled forward Astride Bance, Andreas Ottl (Hertha Berlin), Kevin Vogt (Bochum), Ragnar Klavan (AZ Alkmaar) and Milan Petrzela (Viktoria Plzen).
In their most recent preseason friendly, last Sunday against Lech Poznan, Weinzierl led off with the following lineup from back to front:
Jentzsch, – G. Sankoh, K. Vogt, P. Langkamp, M. Ostrzolek, – K. Musona, D. Baier, A. Ottl, G. Sio, P. Hain, – A. Bance; with the following players introduced later M. Amsif (46th); D. Reinhardt (70), R. Klavan (46th); M. Strohmaier (70); M. Petrzela (46th), T. Werner (46th), M. Thiede ( 75), T. Oehrl (46th),
Weinzierl was without holdovers Paul Verhaegh, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker and Marcel de Jong, along with newcomer Jan Moravek for the match, which Augsburg won 3-1 on a brace by Bance and a goal by Sio. The Saturday before, Augsburg were shut out by FC Kaiserslautern 1-0 which followed Augsburg’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, with Bance and Musona scoring for Weinzierl’s squad. The club plays its last preseason match on August 11 at the SGL Arena against Queens Park Rangers.
Augsburg head into the season with a solid goalkeeping tandem headed by veteran Simon Jentzsch, with Mohamed Amsif, just back from the Olympics while playing for Morocco, providing strong protection in case of injury. It appears that Weinzierl, on the basis of his preseason starting lineups, will feature the experienced Bance, who scored three goals in the last three test matches, upfront. It appears that the central defense pairing of Gibril Sankoh and Sebastian Langkamp will continue, with Verhaegh, de Jong or Callsen-Bracker as the fullbacks and Phlip and Klavan pushing for playing time. Weinzierl has many options in midfield, including Musona, Daniel Baier, Moravek, Tobias Werner, Vogt, Petrzela, Ottl, Sio, Stephan Hain and Cheol. Holdovers Thorsten Oehrl and Sascha Mölders will provide depth in attack.
While Augsburg is completely lacking in star players, Coach Weinzierl has a relatively deep squad to play good defense and also score goals (Augsburg’s total of 36 league goals scored was third worst in the league). They should be competitive in the league, but are still in the situation where their priority will be simple survival to play another season in Germany’s top division.
What will determine their survival is likely twofold — how competitive the promoted squads (Düsseldorf, SpVgg Greuther Fürth and Eintracht Frankfurt) will be, along with the performance of last year’s disappointing clubs, Werder Bremen and Hamburg SV most notably. The second factor in survival will be the ability of the new Weinzierl/Paula leadership to handle the pressures of Bundesliga competition and the losing slumps that a club like Augsburg are likely to encounter. Chairman Seinsch has taken a real risk in hiring two individuals so lacking in big-time experience, and although there has been a tendency recently in the Bundesliga for young coaches to find quick success, there are also cautionary tales of coaches lacking in experience failing just as quickly (Oenning in Hamburg, Sorg in Freiburg).
Augsburg open the season at home against Fortuna Düsseldorf, and with the exception of their MatchDay 2 trip to Schalke, will not encounter any of last season’s top four clubs until November. The 2012/2013 schedule looks to give the club an opportunity for a good start to the season, but Augsburg’s immediate future will likely be determined by how well Seinsch chose Augsburg’s new managerial hirings and whether the same internal conflicts can be preempted.
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