It’s the 1998-99 Bundesliga season and under trainer Felix Magath, Werder Bremen are flirting with relegation mixing it with the teams struggling at the bottom of the table. With just six games remaining, the Werder hierarchy decide that a coaching change is required to save the Grün-Weißen.
The man they turn to is Werder II trainer and former player Thomas Schaaf- a real Werderaner through and through. The ex-defender saves Werder leading them to 13th place albeit just a point above 16th place Nürnberg, who were demoted.
The rest has gone down in Werder folklore with Schaaf going on to oversee one of the club’s most successful periods winning the Bundesliga in 2004 as well as securing a hat trick of DFB Pokal triumphs in fourteen seasons at the Weser Stadion.
Fast-forward to October 2014 and Werder once again found themselves in the depths of the Bundesliga table with trainer Robin Dutt struggling in his second season at the club. After succeeding the legend that was Thomas Schaaf, Dutt finished 12th in his debut season, but with results and performances on the slide, the Bremen management once again deemed a change on the bench necessary.
Once again, it was from within the club itself that they turned, appointing Ukrainian Viktor Skripnik, who had been in charge of the Werder’s U-23 team in the Regionalliga Nord.
Skripnik was a highly popular player at the Weser Stadion playing 138 matches over eight seasons at the club winning the Meisterschale in 2004. Although he’d lost his starting place by then, the fondness of the fans for the ‘Beckham of Ukraine’ showed itself towards the end of the Championship winning season during Werder’s penultimate home game in the Nordderby with Hamburg.
5-0 ahead and awarded a penalty five minutes from time, the Werder fans demanded that Skripnik, who was known to be retiring at the end of the season, take the spot kick. He duly obliged and slotted it past Tom Starke to seal a fine win and bow out in style.
The then 34-year-old turned to coaching and took on the assistant trainer role with the Werder U-15 side. He moved on to coach the U-16’s and U-18’s before taking over the U-23 side.
So Skripnik, like his former boss, has immersed himself in the club from the youth levels upwards. After nineteen years at the Weser Stadion, he now has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Schaaf and return Werder to the upper echelons of the Bundesliga.
The early indications are promising. The 45-year-old has managed to get some wins on the board for Werder, has signed a few players to boost the squad and is now looking to push on in the Rückrunde as the club look to put right the faults of the disappointing first seventeen matches and climb the table. An opening win over Hertha Berlin has certainly brightened the mood at the club.
The financial constraints at the club mean instant success and a return to the glory days is unlikely, but with his past record working with the youth teams, there is probably no better person to integrate the club’s most promising youngsters into a squad capable of a top ten finish. From a tactical point of view Skripnik has known how to delight the fans as well. The Ukrainian states that he learned more about football from Thomas Schaaf than anybody else. At times this has been reflected on the pitch by Werder playing some positive attacking football which the fans weren’t used to see under Robin Dutt.
It’s happened already with the coach unafraid of handing game time to the likes of Melvyn Lorenzen, Marnon Busch, Max Eggestein, Levent Aycicek, Janek Sternberg and Levin Öztunali. With fellow Werder old boy Torsten Frings as his assistant, optimism is growing on the Weser.
The footsteps of Thomas Schaaf are huge, but the club have one of ‘their own’ looking to follow in those steps.
In Skripnik we trust.
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