Is Hoffenheim’s appointment of Stevens symptomatic of the lack of foresight in the Bundesliga?

On Monday Hoffenheim made official what the entire league and its followers had already known after the final in the match between Hoffenheim and HSV: They fired their coach Markus Gisdol after the club’s worst start to a Bundesliga season. After 85 matches in charge, saving the club from an almost certain relegation and turning the team into one of the most attractive sides to watch in the league, the officials around Dietmar Hopp had decided to pull the plug.

In steps Huub Stevens, an experienced veteran with 365 Bundesliga matches as a coach under his belt. The Dutchman is only going to remain in charge for the rest of the season, before the 28-year-old baby-faced youngster Julian Nagelsmann, the current U19 coach, takes over Hoffenheim’s managerial duties.

In their search for a solution the club officials had pondered over a host of different names, ranging from Mirko Slomka, Thomas Schaaf, Lucien Favre to Tayfun Korkut. In the end the club decided to go for Stevens experience to save the day, before a new fresh face can reform the club.

The desperate search for a new coach and the makeshift solution is going to raise several questions. First and foremost: Why didn’t Hoffenheim trust Nagelsmann to take over from the get go? Why did the club choose a complete departure from their attacking playing style despite their rather offensive minded squad? Why isn’t Sporting Director Alexander Rosen questioned, given that his signings haven’t really provided Hoffenheim with what they needed?

Stevens a symptom rather than the disease

Hoffenheim themselves have always described their first team as an attack minded football side that should include as many young talents as possible, and rid themselves of many key players from past campaigns over the summer, as Andreas Beck, Roberto Firmino, Anthony Modeste, Sven Shipplock, Sejad Salihović and David Abraham among others left the Rhein-Neckar Arena club. Now the officials have decided to sign a coach who puts defensive stability above attacking flair and who in the past has preferred to work with older players rather than talents. Signing Stevens is a stark departure from what was going on at the club under Gisdol.

In taking an overview of Gisdol’s 85 matches in charge as a whole, one could argue that he represented the club’s philosophy perfectly at times. However, this doesn’t hide the fact that the team has had many faces over the years. At the beginning of their stint in the Bundesliga they had the right man in charge with Ralf Rangnick, but ever since he left a number of coaches, as Marco Pezzaiuolli, Holger Stanislawki, Markus Babbel and Marco Kurz have had a go at coaching Hoffenheim. Not all of those coaches were a good fit for Hoffenheim’s philosophy and most of them spent rather short stints at the club. It was Gisdol’s return to Hoffenheim’s philosophy which saved the club from relegation in 2013.

However, one would do the Hopp-owned team a disfavour if one was only to point the finger at them. In the past, sides with a clear-cut playing idea and philosophy have managed to outdo much richer opponents precisely because there are many teams who don’t follow a clear-cut philosophy in the Bundesliga, but instead choose to jump from coach to coach, hoping that any given change is going to yield results.

The main culprits of the firing and hiring of coaches over the last few years have been Hamburger SV. If one takes a look at their results in the recent past one can see how far that strategy has gotten them. Their northern neighbours Hannover have lacked any sort of philosophy since Slomka left and Werder Bremen have struggled to find stability ever since Thomas Schaaf’s last couple of seasons at the club. In the case of both clubs, it should also considered that a lack of younger players filling the void has also contributed to their drop in the table.

Time for self examination

It might be a worthwhile exercise if many of the clubs currently playing in the Bundesliga would look into the mirror and ask themselves what sort of philosophy they are following. That doesn’t mean that coaches shouldn’t be fired in the future, however, it would mean that teams should be more specific in their choice of coach. Gladbach’s Andre Schubert has not changed Lucien Favre’s recipe drastically in order to turn things around, Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund has kept certain elements of Klopp’s philosophy. InDortmund’s case, one can certainly see a well-thought out choice in finding a successor for the departing Klopp.

In a larger context one could ask how much of the boredom in the race for the championship over the last three years has been down to the fact that Bayern haven’t been challenged by more teams with a clear-cut philosophy? Schalke somehow managed to stay in the Champions League region over the last few years, before the team dropped off drastically under Roberto Di Matteo. Prior to the Italian’s appointment it was Jens Keller, a man who has the charisma of paint drying slowly and a somewhat unclear footballing philosophy, and Huub Stevens at the club. Stevens took over for the more attack minded Rangnick. Leverkusen went from Dutt to Hyppiä to Schmidt. Three coaches with very differing views of football. With these constant changes the squads of Bayern’s potential challengers had to be adjusted time and time again, whilst Bayern were allowed to perfect their game under Guardiola and Heynckes.

Yes, the Bavarian juggernaut has all the financial power in the world, but the fact that many of the teams in the league go with vastly differing coaches every time they fire their current coach has certainly contributed to the fact that Bayern have managed to make sure of championships before the last snow has melted.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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