Augsburg confounded expectations of most pundits last year, with the Bundesliga’s youngest manager, Markus Weinzierl, steering an unfancied side to an eighth place finish thanks to a talented squad and the support of a good sporting director in Stefan Reuter. Augsburg ended up just one point shy of Europa League qualification largely through the goals of former Offenbach winger Andre Hahn and ex-Jena man Tobias Werner – neither of whom had played at the top level before their moves to Augsburg – and the metronomic passing of Daniel Baier. Augsburg has not looked in danger of a slip back to the second tier since a great late escape a few seasons ago, and despite the loss of Hahn to Borussia Mönchengladbach over the summer, Weinzierl and his men look well equipped to easily finish in mid-table come May, despite a much smaller budget than many other clubs, some of whom are almost certain to finish below them. How have they done it?
Primarily, credit the shrewd appointment of Weinzierl as head coach. Joining from Regensburg in 2012, Weinzierl was something of an unknown quantity, having never managed at the top level, but with youth on his side (after two-and-a-half years of Bundesliga management, Weinzierl remains the Bundesliga’s youngest manager, at 39-years-old), he quickly established himself at Augsburg and helped establish his new club in the league.
In 2012, Weinzierl took the reins of a squad which had narrowly scraped survival under Dutch manager Jos Luhukay, who had departed to relegated Hertha BSC. The FCA followed a poor Hinrunde with an excellent second half of the season, eventually surviving with a few points to spare and, crucially, setting Weinzierl up for a good sophomore year as a Bundesliga manager. Survival, even if narrow, meant Augsburg avoided the vultures swooping around for their key players, such as Callsen-Bracker, Klavan or Baier. Crucially, Andre Hahn joined in the winter of 2013 and would go on to have a great term in 2013/14.
Despite a couple of early setbacks, including an opening day drubbing by Dortmund, Augsburg maintained formidable form throughout the season to easily clinch survival early and push into the middle of the table. Andre Hahn and Tobias Werner proved key. Both had been bit-players before the season started, but provided a lot of goals and assists to the cause. Augsburg were occasionally tearing teams apart, thanks to the form of their stars on the flanks. The rest of the team continued to go from strength to strength as Marwin Hitz gained experience in the league and Alex Manninger proved a strong back-up in goal, with Callsen-Bracker and Klavan’s defensive understanding helping the club to concede few goals.
This season, things have continued in much the same vein. Andre Hahn is, of course, gone, asAugsburg didn’t manage to avoid the vultures a second successive year. The winger linked up with Lucien Favre at Mönchengladbach. Impressive full back Matthias Ostrzolek opted to also leave, but for Hamburg. Other key members of the team stayed, while Fürth’s Abdul Rahman Baba and Nikola Djudrjic, Ingolstadt’s Caiuby, Nürnberg’s Markus Feulner, plus strikers Shawn Parker (Mainz) and Tim Matavz (PSV) made their way to Augsburg to ultimately improve Weinzierl’s team. This great transfer business must be credited to sporting director Stefan Reuter, who’s been at Augsburg since the winter of 2012. Ultimately, his appointment of Weinzierl and his player signings have, by and large, proved very successful. Hence, Reuter deserves some plaudits for how he’s shaped the club over the past few years.
Augsburg also benefit from avoiding the poor management displayed recently by clubs such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Stuttgart, all very obvious examples of what can happen when careless transfer business and poor management choices are combined to just the right degree. Clubs of their size should be much higher than mid-table, but have for the past few years contested in the fight against relegation, a position more natural for a club of Augsburg’s size. However, making the right purchases, promoting from the youth academy, and also allowing talented managers to guide the squad allows clubs like Augsburg, Freiburg, Mainz, and now even Paderborn to punch above their weight.
This isn’t meant disrespectfully. In fact, it’s a very positive thing that clubs like Augsburg are showing others the way in how to run a football club economically without any drop-off in results. The fact that Augsburg picked up 3. Liga player Andre Hahn in 2013 and then signed one of the best young players in the 2. Bundesliga, Abdul Rahman Baba this year, shows a commitment to making cheap, effective business with high resale value over both short and long term, something which means Augsburg will continue to grow as a club.
Continued business, the like of which we’ve seen at Augsburg over the past few seasons, will allow Augsburg to truly become a mainstay of the top flight. Despite great form over the past two years or so, it’s hard to exactly say what would happen if injuries hit two or three key players at once or if other clubs begin to find out Markus Weinzierl’s game plan and tweak their own appropriately. With mid-table teams such as Hannover and Hoffenheim, it’s easier to say with some degree of certainty that they should be fine even through occasional bad times.
That said, it is imperative that Augsburg keep Weinzierl as long as possible. Losing their touchline leader would be an unfortunate setback for the club, who’d likely have to find another talented but untried manager, which is possible, but never as easy as the first time.
Overall, Augsburg’s excellent form has been an amalgamation of several factors; chiefly the work of Markus Weinzierl and Stefan Reuter, in assembling a strong squad and then morphing it into a cohesive on-field unit, but also in scouring the lower leagues for talent (this, of course, includes as much the hiring of Weinzierl as the signing of any player) and making the club an attractive prospect from the outside. It’s genuinely exciting to see where Augsburg go from here. A few more years could see the club pushing for Europe or struggling at the foot of the table as in their first two seasons. Either way, there should be an interesting story to be told.