On September 24, Union Berlin fell to 1. FC Kaiserslautern in a lifeless 1-0 defeat. It came just 24 hours after fellow strugglers 1860 München lost by the same margin to SV Sandhausen.
Both teams had started the season with high hopes, yet in Week 7 they were each sitting in the bottom half of the 2. Bundesliga with just six points from a possible 21.
Their respective seasons up until then had uncannily mirrored each other.
New managers had been appointed in preseason, with management outlining bids to gain ascendency to the Bundesliga. Munchen’s history and foreign ownership meant their project commanded a shorter timeframe then Union’s, but the sentiments were essentially the same.
Incumbents Ricardo Moniz and Norbert Düwel may have also differed in their experience and footballing philosophy but each had promised to introduce a new brand of football to their respective clubs.
Moniz was a past Red Bull Salzburg employee, a club fast becoming known for producing young, bright managers. He was intent on bringing attacking football to the blue half of München, with a 4-3-3 in mind.
Düwel, on the other hand, was thrust into his first full-time head-coaching role, and was more focused on implementing a three-man defence that focused on width and fast counter attacks.
Both sides had also severed ties with club legends. While Benny Lauth wasn’t offered a new contract at 1860 towards the back end of last season, he was at least given a farewell appearance in front of his adoring fans.
At Union, club talisman and captain Torsten Mattuschka chose to jump ship just before the transfer window slammed shut after it became apparent he was not a big player in Düwel’s blueprint for success.
It was a case of new eras for both clubs, and fans in Berlin and München began the season with optimism and expectation.
Yet neither manager was able to hit the ground running, failing to get their players up to speed with new philosophies.
Moniz’s team, despite the influx of Spanish midfielders Ilie Sánchez and Edu Bedia and the impressive emergence of Rubin Okotie, just weren’t clicking and were prone to surrendering promising leads.
Düwel’s charges just couldn’t grasp the intricacies of playing a three-man defence, and looked completely clueless when it came to the basics of football.
Yet with the losses in Week 7, the comparisons stopped, mostly thanks to the differing actions of club management.
Die Löwen’s sporting director Gerhard Poschner pulled the trigger, sending Moniz packing after just three months in the job. In came former assistant coach Markus von Ahlen.
Union’s president, Dirk Zingler, however, prevailed with Düwel, determined to avoid an overreaction and willing to give his new man the time to adjust.
Düwel’s time in the hot seat didn’t immediately get any better, especially with a minority of Union fans calling for his head. But he made it through to the recent November international break, grabbing some vital wins along the way.
Meanwhile Von Ahlen failed to change 1860’s fortunes, taking charge of six games for a return of four losses and two victories.
The week’s rest was a welcome sight for both clubs.
When play returned, Union and München found themselves up against one another, with the tie presenting itself as a key relegation scrap.
What happened next was a complete shock to every German football fan.
Die Löwen ran out 4-1 winners, pummeling a lacklustre Union side in the first period to enter the break 2-0 up, and then firing in two quick goals before the 50-minute mark.
It was an emphatic victory, one that promised a resurgence for München and the threat of more misery for Düwel and Union fans. The Düwel raus chants once against emanated from a frustrated minority.
The expected fallout didn’t occur, however.
Düwel has since led his team to three victories from four, while Von Ahlen has presided over a further three losses and one stalemate.
The Düwel raus boo boys are looking a little bit silly now, while the München hierarchy are facing increasing opposition from the stands as their decision to eject Moniz continues to backfire.
It’s a refreshing scenario for neutrals that are becoming disenchanted with the ruthless nature of modern football. Managers are discarded with increasing nonchalance as owners vigorously chase a quick fix.
Union’s recent performance against second-placed Karlsruher – a 2-0 victory – represented a showing of solidarity from the Union players. Their joyous dancing on the pitch well after the final whistle signaled a renewed sense of optimism, which was mirrored in the crowd.
The slumped shoulders and expressions of disbelief drawn on the faces of 1860 München’s players following Wednesday’s draw with Kaiserslautern summed up their season so far. Another lead lost, another week in the relegation zone.
It’s a just reward for Union Berlin, who rode the storm and continued to build on their preseason plan in face of trying circumstance. It’s just deserts for 1860 München’s management for failing to exercise restraint and patience.
Yet it leaves long-suffering München fans in an unfortunately familiar position. The tenures of president Mayrhofer and his director of football Poschner are becoming increasingly unpopular in the stands, and München’s Jordanian owners would be well served to review their positions.
It’s clear Moniz was ejected far too early, and that he was not given anywhere near enough time to implement the club’s masterplan. How such shortsightedness can be left unpunished is a travesty.
Union fans should rejoice that they can boast such levelheaded management – it’s a commodity in football becoming all too rare. Die Löwen fans can only hope their club employ a similar approach, because at this rate there’s no chance of attaining that elusive promotion.
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