Happy New Year to the lovers of all things Bundesliga as well as the random curiosity seekers who stumble onto this while patrolling the internet for football discussion.
And, of course, to my Mom, who reads what I write because that’s what moms do.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to the business of updating our “power rankings” from mid-October edition, which erroneously had Hannover 96’s Mirko Slomka smack-dab in the middle of my manager table. Although the road struggles of Hannover were evident even then, I didn’t think for a moment anyone else would be running that squad in 2014.
Shows what I know…but still read the rest of this – won’t you?
I was going to put some bit of preemptive excuse-making here about how this should be less about a coach’s current job security and standing with fans than a general hot-versus-cold ranking, but I apparently decided to not be a complete wuss and just rank ’em how I see ’em and let you be judge and jury.
“Meet the New Boss . . .”
18. Tayfun Korkut – Hannover 96 (13 days in position)
Dirk Dufner did not make many fans among the Hannover 96 faithful when he decided zero points from eight road matches was the reason he needed to rid himself of Mirko Slomka, the coach he inherited when he accepted the Sporting Director position back in April of 2013.
Sporting Directors tend to prefer having their own choice of coach in place, as long as their own job performance is generally closely tied to that of the head coach.
And now Dufner has decidedly cast his lot with Tayfun Korkut, most-recently a co-trainer with the Turkish national team.
The 39-year-old native of Stuttgart has fairly large shoes to fill, considering he’s replacing a coach fairly popular with the fan base thanks to Slomka overseeing Hannover’s greatest era of success to date.
Slomka joined Hannover in January of 2010, while the cub was mired in 16th place in the table and looking like relegation fodder. The red shirts managed to win their final two matches of the season to seize 15th place and stay in the league, setting the stage for a remarkable following season in which the club finished fourth, their best ever Bundesliga placement, and gain entry to Europe.
The bar for Korkut today is fairly low: start getting points away from HDI-Arena.
With trips to the current top four in the table part of the recently concluded Hinrunde and the eventual return of Didier Ya Konan maybe giving the new coach the luxury of a double striker attack of Ya Konan and Diouf rarely available to his predecessor this season, this bar should be easily cleared.
The problem will be when fans begin to expect a return for Europe in exchange for the move away from Slomka.
For now, you go on the bottom of the pile, Herr Korkut.
“Has time rewritten every line?”
17. Armin Veh – Eintracht Frankfurt (929 days)
For the first season of Armin Veh in Frankfurt, take 2nd place in the 2.Bundesliga, outscoring opposition by more than a 2:1 ratio and assuring the absence from Bundesliga competition was a short one.
For the first half of the second season of Veh with Eintracht, start strong enough to linger in a Champions League spot for most of the Hinrunde, then finish that half of the campaign with a healthy +9 goal differential and become the surprise story of the season.
Second half of second season of Veh: Eintracht is shut out eight times in final 17 matches of the season, resulting in a minus-six goal differential for the Rückrunde, and grabbing just enough points to maintain the final European spot.
European portion of Veh’s third season: Winners of Europa League’s Group G, winning five and losing just one while scoring 13 goals and conceding just four.
Domestic portion of Veh’s third season: Zero wins in eight home matches, just 20 goals scored in 17 matches total, and staying above the relegation spots by the slimmest of margins with one point between Eintracht and the playoff spot and just four from the league’s cellar.
I have no idea what Veh was doing that seemed to work for Frankfurt for a while. Nor do I know whether he’s doing the same things now or if he’s been altering strategy.
What I DO know is that the domestic results, especially failure to win matches in front of some of Germany’s most boisterous fans, are not at all what was expected of this club after two years of success. The run in Europe is definitely delightful, but Veh’s going to have to find some points, which means finding a way for the club to score some goals, to keep everyone happy. A Europa League champion in the same season as finishing in a relegation spot would be an interesting, but dubious, accomplishment.
“The old and new, they get mistaken all the time. . .”
16. Bert van Marwijk – Hamburger SV (112 days)
I’m giving Bert van Marwijk an edge over Veh simply due to it still being fairly early in van Marwijk’s tenure in Hamburg.
That said, I doubt much of anyone was impressed with HSV being shutout at home by FC Augsburg or by how Mainz scored three goals at Imtech Arena just days before Christmas, pulling Hamburg even with Hoffenheim for the title of most-generous Bundesliga defense of the Hinrunde, finishing with 38 goals against.
Fortunately for van Marwijk, the four points earned over the final seven matches of 2013 should alert HSV board members that Thorsten Fink may not have been the entire problem with this year’s club.
Even so, the excitement that usually comes with a change in leadership (current situation in Hannover excepted), definitely withered away with the three-match losing streak that is currently on winter break with the rest of the league.
Whatever defensive adjustments are made in the winter break will be tested early, with matches against Schalke, Hoffenheim, and Dortmund all on the schedule before the end of February.
15. Thomas Schneider – VfB Stuttgart (142 days)
The VfB Stuttgart has played just four of its final five matches of the Hinrunde because their match day 17 opponent needed to reschedule so they could travel to Morocco to dominate teams from around the world at the Club World Cup.
Otherwise, Thomas Schneider’s club has already lost three of those matches by an 8:1 margin, leaving a 4:2 home win against Hannover (which has zero road points this season) and the lingering visit from FC Bayern München as not-entirely-negative portion of the evaluation of their form to end the Hinrunde.
Schneider’s reign started with a six-goal effort against Hoffenheim, which launched Stuttgart into a seven-match unbeaten streak.
Since then, however, the club has logged two wins and four losses, putting them in the middle of the table, but closer to relegation than Europe, point-wise.
The struggles have yet to become the biggest story in Stuttgart as of yet, as the emergence of 17-year-old Timo Werner is the main story of Stuttgart’s first half.
14. Gertjan Verbeek – 1. FC Nürnberg (85 days)
The third of the three new coaches who started in the Hinrunde, Gertjan Verbeek is the only one yet to experience the thrill of victory with his new club.
How does he end up being the highest on this list of the trio? Good question!
One could argue der Club has been the most-consistent team of the three with new men in charge. Granted, the results haven’t exactly been glowing, but while you could say Hamburg and Stuttgart have struggled recently, Nürnberg seems to be showing gradual improvement, finishing 2013 strongly with a scoreless draw at Schalke the week after blowing a three-goal lead in Hannover.
And, since Verbeek refuses to play the victim with the horrible officiating call that allowed a plain-as-day-offsides Mame Diouf to score in the 87th minute to open the door for the injury-time equalizer, I won’t use the “they should have won” to boost my argument.
Maybe a little…
They got robbed!
“You and I’ll just use a little patience . . .”
13. Robin Dutt – SV Werder Bremen (228 days)
Seems like the worst thing to happen for Robin Dutt in his first season at Werder Bremen was for his side to win their first two matches of the season.
Though, without those six early points, Bremen is stuck in the midst of a battle for survival rather than lingering near the middle of the table.
Even with the low expectations after a summer-long campaign to slap a “rebuilding project” label on the club . . .
Even after some questionable results from off-season test matches . . .
Even after a first-round exit in the DFB Cup at the hands of third-division FC Saarbrücken . . .
After ALL of that, six points from Braunschweig and Augsburg seemed to instantly raise all the tediously curated reasonable expectations.
Then, when Bremen dropped into 14th place in the table after a 7:0 drilling in their own building at the hands of FC Bayern München, some people had forgotten entirely that this season was never meant to be about much more than survival while identifying a way forward.
Dutt and business director Thomas Eichin continue to be united in their message of the club being in the beginning stages of a lengthy process to return the club to glory.
Besides, a home 1:0 over second-place Bayer Leverkusen while wearing the Christmas tree club crest to finish 2013 was a fairly nice bow to put on the gift, even if it might be a while before you can actually enjoy what you’re getting.
“Only time will tell . . .”
12. Jens Keller – FC Schalke 04 (393 days)
Just how narrowly did Keller avoid losing his job in December?
Let’s just say that rumors that Thomas Schaaf had agreed to become the next head coach at Schalke were persistent enough that at least one news outlet reported it was going to happen.
The rumor proved to be false, but considering how long it took Schalke to opt to remove the “interim” tag from his status last year after replacing Huub Stevens, one might determine there to be a dearth of passionate support for Keller among the decision-makers, despite the Royal Blues having advanced to the knockout stages of Champions League and sitting just four points behind the Champions League qualification spot the club achieved last year.
Ultimately, one gets the feeling the club is only slightly happier with Keller’s performance than they’ve been with the alternatives presented to them.
Expectations in Gelsenkirchen are necessarily high, especially after a summer outlay of cash that had observers thinking the club was making a push to improve on a fourth-place finish, if not to actually challenge for the championship. Hence, despite a late-year vote of confidence leading chairman Clemens Tönnies to say Keller will be in charge for 2014, no “ifs, ands, or buts. Few coaches at the helm of a club suffering what is widely categorized as, put mildly, “disappointment,” would be given such a public boost of support.
BUT, should Schalke linger outside the European spots too deeply into the new year, don’t be entirely surprised if another vote on the coach’s future is called with a very different ending.
11. Torsten Lieberknecht – Eintracht Braunschweig (2,074 days)
The last time I ranked the coaches, I had Lieberknecht sixth, which was probably too high.
In my own defense, the Eintracht Braunschweig coach had received a huge outpouring of support from fans of the club when a bit of publish self-doubt had him sounding as if he might be ready to throw in the towel.
After continued struggles, which included a run of four matches without a goal for Braunschweig, those cries of support had quieted, which allowed some of the more discontented voices to be heard. Fortunately for the coach and the fans, the Lions grabbed their second home victory of the season and third overall on the final match day of the year, giving everyone a much-needed shot of happy to take into the winter break.
The three points taken from Hoffenheim kept Braunschweig level with Nürnberg on points and just three points behind the relegation playoff spot, which has been the stated target of Lieberknecht and the club for several weeks.
So, it’s a bit of lowered-expectations that has Lieberknecht in a relatively high position here despite the miserable season, not to mention a public vote of confidence from an important source.
When asked whether he expected Lieberknecht to be coaching the club in 2014, Eintracht president Sebastian Ebel responded plainly, “Yes, clearly. What otherwise?”
Even if Braunschweig posts another minus-22 goal difference in the Rückrunde? With as few as 11 points to show for the 17 matches remaining?
Well, if you say so, Herr Ebel. That’s enough for me to keep your guy near the middle of the coaching ranks for at least some part of the four months remaining in your club’s Bundesliga existence. If somehow he manages an escape, he can only go higher, I should think.
10. Markus Gisdol – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (288 days)
I’ve moved Gisdol up in the rankings, not because I think Dietmar Hopp is suddenly less likely to fire coaches at will, but because Gisdol has survived to the half-way point of the season despite having relegated a lot of big-money talent to spectator-status and then fielding a team incapable of preventing goals even more-quickly as their high-flying attack can score them.
Their 36 goals scored trails only Bayern and Dortmund, but the 38 allowed is tied with Hamburg for worst in the league.
Hence, in my way of thinking, Gisdol has somehow earned the trust of Hopp and his advisors.
Plus, the defense actually ended 2012 on a high note, surrendering just one goal in two of the last three matches of the Hinrunde. The TSG had not held anyone to fewer than two goals since match day five.
Does it really matter that those two matches were against Braunschweig and Frankfurt (aka two clubs with anemic offenses)? Or that Hoffenheim actually lost to Braunschweig?
Yikes! Don’t tell Hopp!
“Believe it or not, I always believed in you.”
9. Dieter Hecking – VfL Wolfsburg (379 days)
When last I performed this stunt, VfL Wolfsburg looked a bit of a wreck, having just lost at home to previously win-less Braunschweig and sitting 14th in the table. Considering the club had been tabbed as many to be a dark-horse contender for a Champions League spot, the season could hardly have started much worse.
Dieter Hecking’s crew has not lost a match since and now look very much like that preseason dark horse, if not a favorite to surge into the Bundesliga’s top four.
The defense has fueled much of Wolfsburg’s rise. Ricardo Rodriguez has inserted himself into any discussion of the Bundesliga’s fullbacks, while his partner on the right side, Patrick Ochs, has been more than capable since stepping in for the injured Christian Träsch.
Like Ochs, teenage sensation Maxi Arnold also has become a regular since the loss to Braunschweig, which looks more and more like a watershed moment for Hecking’s team. The 19-year-old has five goals since becoming a starter.
Whether the momentum carries into the new year remains to be seen. What we have seen, however, is a roster packed with potential coming to realization under the direction of Hecking.
Things are definitely on an upswing for Die Wölfe.
8. Christian Streich – SC Freiburg (745 days)
Oh, how the mighty have tumbled!
Or have they?
Yes, a move from second to eighth would seem a precipitous drop for the man with the colorful press conferences, and it is, but considering Streich is helming a team looking every bit like the relegation fodder their current table position says they are, eight is still fairly high on this list.
If points and goals continue to be as rare as they’ve been this season, however, all of Streich’s bluster will start to get very old, very quickly.
And that’s assuming it hasn’t done so a bit already.
Freiburg was kept off the scoreboard completely in five of their eight matches since the last rankings, despite which they also posted nine of their 14 Hinrunde points in that span.
That’s not sustainable.
7. Thomas Tuchel – FSV Mainz 05 (1626 days)
The Mainz roster may be in a perpetual state of repair due to transfers and injuries, but Thomas Tuchel marches on.
An early-season four-match losing streak is but a memory. Mainz has lost but twice since the last rankings.
The biggest threat to Tuchel’s stay in Mainz remains the allure of coaching in England.
Until that offer comes, Tuchel will continue to make-do with what he has, offering some surprises along the way.
Steady as she goes…
“Don’t you know that you are a shooting star?”
6. Jos Luhukay – Hertha BSC (563 days)
One year ago, Jos Luhukay had Hertha BSC in second place and looking a decent candidate for promotion from the second league to the first.
Hertha flourished in the season’s second half, ultimately blowing by fall champion Eintracht Braunschweig and winning the league championship.
In their return to the Bundesliga, the Berliners are the surprise of the season, finishing the first half in a European spot, much like Eintracht Frankfurt did last season in their first season back from the second league.
It’s also somewhat reminiscent of Hertha’s 2011-12 season in the Bundesliga, which started with plenty of promise and mid-table presence, but finished with an epic collapse and stumble into the second league.
So, you can forgive the average Hertha fan if their praise of Luhukay and his squad has a bit of hesitation to it.
The primary problem for Hertha two years ago was the disappearance of offensive production. Luhukay’s team is a bit more balanced and defensively disciplined than was the Markus Babbel version that fell apart.
I don’t know if that will keep anyone concerned from pressing alarm bells if goals start getting past Thomas Kraft (or Marius Gersbeck), but you can try to calm your Hertha-fan friend with it in case of emergency.
5. Sami Hyypiä – Bayer Leverkusen 04 (198 days)
Focusing on the positive, you have to say that Bayer Leverkusen is having maybe their best-ever season. With 37 points, die Werkself are comfortably second in the table.
Yet, it’s difficult to not question what role Sami Hyypiä played in his club dropping nine points to teams in the relegation discussion: Braunschweig, Frankfurt, and Bremen.
The “What if . . .” game has no place in a serious sports discussion.
Lucky for me, I’m not that serious!
Hence, I am able to say, “What if Leverkusen takes care of business against the weaker clubs with effort similar that earned them a draw with Bayern and a win at Dortmund?”
Well, nine points from those matches would be enough to have them in first place right now. And, while you can’t assume victories over anyone, Leverkusen certainly is equipped to do what a good number of lesser teams have accomplished this season, which is to beat those clubs who’ve collectively lost already 28 matches.
That out of the way, it’s only fair to get back to the fact that Hyypiä is having a remarkable season. With the league title all but out of reach, don’t be surprised if the greater focus on the upcoming Champions League tie with Paris St. Germain (and, again in fairness, key injuries) leaves opportunity for domestic opponents to take a few more points from Leverkusen in the Rückrunde.
But it won’t be too many, I’m certain.
4. Lucien Favre – Borussia Mönchengladbach (1066 days)
Lucien Favre started with Borussia Mönchengladbach dead last in the table in Feburary 2011. That team won four of it’s final six matches, drew another, and managed to crawl into the relegation playoff spot, from which die Fohlen fended-off VfL Bochum to maintain their spot in the Bundesliga.
There’s no telling what direction the club might have taken had they not found their savior in Favre, but it’s fairly safe to assume it would not have gotten them to the very edge of Bundesliga supremacy by this point in time.
Only Bayern can brag of a stronger run into the winter break than the one Borussia Mönchengladbach put together. Favre’s crew has not suffered defeat in eight matches, winning six and drawing two over that span. They will likely be kicking themselves a bit for drawing the final two match days of 2013 while second-place Leverkusen lost both of their matches.
Then again, both second- and third-place finishers get automatic places in Champions League, so not a ton of damage done there. Plus, passing Borussia Dortmund just before the winter break is not a bad consolation prize.
Mönchengladbach seems to be enjoying a moment of arrival, with Favre at the steering wheel.
Now, is there a good reason there has yet to be a contract extension for the coach, whose deal expires next summer?
“Well, he brought the ammunition and a plan that wouldn’t fail . . . “
3. Jürgen Klopp – Borussia Dortmund (2024 days)
If I may impart anything to you before you turn away in disgust over my dropping Jürgen Klopp from the top of this list, let it be this:
In NO way is there a crisis, mini- or otherwise, taking place in Dortmund right now, which means I am not among those who mumble or scream “KRISE!” as I see uncharacteristically poor finishing and a rash of injuries contribute to the recent two-time champions end the Hinrunde in fourth place (a.k.a. the Champions League qualification spot) and three times as many points behind the table leader than in front of the first non-European spot.
In case I’ve not thrown enough qualifiers/excuses into the equation to make it clear, let me summarize: Borussia Dortmund will be just fine.
And much of that is because they do have arguably the best coach in Germany.
I suspect the winter break is going to be very healthy for Klopp, not only because his squad will be healthier, but because Klopp honestly appeared in great need of some time off. The man maintained appearances well enough, but the relief visible when the BVB topped Olympique Marseilles to win their Champions League group probably paled to that Klopp expressed when he finally was looking at a calendar with a huge stretch of days without matches.
Dortmund have won just one league match since beating Stuttgart 6:1 on the first day of November. That’s a rough patch for almost anyone, but especially for a club and coach who have been good enough for long enough they simply no longer expect such things to happen to them.
The ending of the Robert Lewandowski saga is now written. Mats Hummels is nearly back to full health, joining Sven Bender and Lukasz Piszczek as recent returnees whose absences truly tested Dortmund’s debt.
The schedule also provides potential to let Klopp show his stuff, with the five teams currently at the bottom of the table among Dortmund’s first seven domestic opponents in the new year.
So, I repeat: There is no crisis here until Klopp decides he’s ready to join the continually growing list of BVB successes ready to test themselves elsewhere.
2. Pep Guardiola – FC Bayern München (198 days)
I’m not sure I wanted to put Pep Guardiola this high, but the results are difficult to ignore.
The idea that it’s more difficult to coach a collection of stars and top talent than it is to coach average players is not my own, but I believe there’s something to it. Were there not, the list of names who’ve taken the main job in Bayern would be a lot shorter.
That said, it’s difficult to truly gauge the impact Guardiola has had since replacing Jupp Heynckes who . . . oh hell, I’m not going to list all he accomplished . . . did pretty well (understatement of all understatements).
Despite the inheritance, Pep has not hesitated to put his own stamp on things. Without question, the 2013-14 edition of the Bayern München juggernaut has a distinctly different style to it from the 2012-13 edition.
The results? Largely the same.
Early in the season, games consistently finished closer on the scoreboard than what some Bayern fans expect. Some of those fans were moved to instantly declare Pep a failure in the making.
Those fans have gone back to regularly scheduled programming: toasting the dominance of their club.
When Pierre-Michel Lasogga scored in the 87th minute of Bayern’s final league match before leaving for Morocco to play for the Club World Cup, it was the first domestic goal Bayern had surrendered a goal since November 2nd.
Also absurd is that, according to statistics from Transfermarkt.de, Bayern has had a decided edge in possession in every league match, with the ball spending at least 60% of the time with the Bavarians in every match but the opener against Mönchengladbach. Frequently, Bayern keeps the ball for at least 2/3 of the time and has eclipsed the 70% mark a few times.
It’s not hard to find stats that show Bayern is as dominant with Pep as ever.
What is hard? Getting the ball or points from them. Until it appears otherwise, Pep will always be in the mix.
But, for number one I chose another direction…
1. Markus Weinzierl – FC Augsburg (563 days)
And, let the angry comments from FC Bayern supporters from around the world reign down upon my head!
Listen, I have no idea what Markus Winzierl could or could not do with the piles and piles of talent available to Pep Guardiola or Jürgen Klopp or even to Jens Keller . . .
Wait . . . I feel okay saying I think Weinzierl would get more from Schalke’s talent than Keller has.
Go ahead Gelsenkircheners and S04 lovers; let me have it!
You could argue all day long the relative pros and cons of any of these men in relation to the rosters they’re given. That is certainly the stuff of sports talk, and is something I’d happily do with any and all of you sitting in a tavern somewhere sipping the local wares.
But, for today, I’m sticking with Weinzierl.
As is FC Augsburg.
Shortly before Christmas, the club and coach came to a deal to extend their relationship into 2017.
It was just 17 months prior when Weinzierl snuck his former club, SSV Jahn Regensburg, into the second league with a relegation playoff victory over Karlsruhe SC.
Merely eight months ago, Augsburg benefited when all the right events fell into place on the last match day of the 2012-13 season to let the club reach safety and remain in the Bundesliga.
You can hardly see a resemblance between last year’s club that grabbed only nine points in the Hinrunde and this one sitting on 24 points, with just nine more needed to match last year’s entire season’s point total.
Well, the resemblance is there in that the faces on the pitch are mostly the same ones Weinzierl coached last year. Halil Altintop’s arrival and Ja-Cheol Koo’s departure being the notable changes.
But, please, before you try to sell me that it’s Altintop’s goal-scoring mastery and not that Weinzierl is a wizard that has driven the improvement in Augsburg that we’ve been at the tavern long enough to have tipped a few.
“This is the end . . .”
I don’t really have much more to say about this, but was hoping to end it a little less-suddenly than just that.
So . . .
We have a total of 11,626 days of service between the 18 current coaches, which is 645 days on average. Only six of the current coaches are above that average, which seems pretty insane. Three of those coaches helm clubs currently near the relegation zone. Should any of them go, the average, of course, will drop a bit.
The current dean of Bundesliga coaches would be Torsten Lieberknecht, with Jürgen Klopp not far behind in tenure. The pair are the only two men with over 2,000 days in their current job.
Sami Hyypiä technically has been in charge at Leverkusen longer than the time stated, which is only accounting for when his former co-coach, Sascha Lewandowski, stepped down to return to duties with developmental players.
That’s enough numbers for me. See you again when lack of matches drives me to unreasonable behavior!
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