April 25, 2017

Frank Baumann Putting his Fingerprint on this Season’s Werder Side

Ever since Werder Bremen failed to qualify for Champions League in the 2009/10 season, the club from the north of Germany has been struggling to find consistency and to put up the sort of performances to which fans had become accustomed ever since Thomas Schaaf joined the club in 1999. For a long time, the Green-and-Whites were synonymous with stability and high-octane attacking football.

Since both Schaaf and Allofs left in 2013, however, the club has had two different coaches and two different heads of the sporting department. This summer has marked the entry of a new man in charge at the Weserstadion. Former Werder player Frank Baumann came back from his stint away from football after having been at the club as a player from 1999 to 2009 and as a backroom staffer between 2009 and 2015.

Now that Baumann has decided to take centre stage at the club, he’s been entrusted with the task of balancing an ailing budget that depends upon players being sold at a profit while also lifting the club out of the relegation struggle.

His first order of business included shipping Anthony Ujah and Jannik Vestergaard out of the door at massive profits. Furthermore, Baumann decided to go against his predecessor, Thomas Eichin, who wanted Coach Viktor Skripnik out the door. Instead of firing the longtime Werder defender and captain, Baumann decided to extend the Ukrainian’s contract by a year.

The Kruse gamble

After having generated around 24 million Euros from the sales of Werder’s two most valuable assets, Baumann had to restructure both the attack and the defence at the club. In attack, Eichin had already done some work ahead of his dismissal, signing Lennart Thy and Justin Eilers. Both came from the lower divisions of German football, which means that the chance of one or both of them failing at a higher level definitely exists.

Baumann’s first signing in attack was Austrian left winger Florian Kainz, who came on a 3.5 million Euro transfer from Rapid Wien. The 23-year-old is an interesting prospect for the future, having played 169 matches in the Austrian Bundesliga (scoring 26 goals and assisting 40 goals). The new man in charge of Werder’s transfer business was thrilled with the deal, stating that he was surprised to find a player of Kainz’s quality still playing in the Austrian Bundesliga at his age.

Despite all those transfers, there was a feeling among fans and officials that Werder’s attack lacked a bit of flair and quality. Given the fact that all the players who had come to the club so far are wild cards, something more was needed. On Tuesday, kicker was able to break the news that the Green-and-Whites had worked their magic on the transfer market yet again. This time, though, they were getting a big-name player with loads of Bundesliga experience.

Werder signed Max Kruse from VfL Wolfsburg for a fee between 6 and 7 million Euro. The transfer of the 14-time German international gives Viktor Skripnik the choice of varying between a 4-2-3-1 system with the 28-year-old playing behind Claudio Pizarro, or to field a formation with two strikers (both playing up top).

The fact that Baumann was able to pull off this transfer speaks volumes about Kruse’s botched season. In the past, there have been doubts about the striker’s professionalism and dedication to being a footballer. Werder have a reputation of taking on troubled players and allowing them to find their best form in the calm surroundings of the Hanseatic city.

All things considered, there’s little doubt that Werder Bremen field one of the more interesting attacking line-ups this season. There’s a lot of proven quality with players like Pizarro, Kruse, and Bartels. Additionally, many of the summer signings are bright prospects who could eventually make an impact at the Weserstadion.

The re-making of the defence

Scoring goals hasn’t been the biggest concern for the Green-and-Whites over the last few seasons. The leaky defence started to become a problem during Schaaf’s tenure at the club and is still to this very day the biggest headache for club officials. Skripnik hasn’t made much headway in this area since he overtook the team. With Jannik Vestergaard and Alejeandro Galvez out for a combined total of 14 million Euro, Frank Baumann had some restructuring to do.

The first two moves were to sign Niklas Moisander from Sampadoria and to bring back Fallou Diagne to the Bundesliga. The Finish international Moisander is often found wanting for pace, but his strong points include good anticipation and great organisational skills at the back. Diagne, on the other hand, is a proven Bundesliga player who, despite being a bit too erratic at times, can help a club like Werder Bremen at the back.

Additonally, Werder have signed the Senegalese defender Lamine Sane (brother of Hannover 96’s Salif Sane) from Girondins Bordeaux. All three signings cost a total of 3.3 million Euro, but the question is if the players who have joined the club can make up for the fact that the Riverislanders have lost their best centre back.

Eichin’s work still in place

Last season, Werder Bremen conceded a total of 63 goals. Many of them came due to the fact that the team lacked the ability to switch off attack to defence upon losing the ball and dreadful defending of set pieces. Filling the position next to Clemens Fritz in holding midfield was one of Viktor Skripnik’s biggest problems over the course of the season. In the end, the Ukrainian decided to give the role to up-and-coming Austrian talent Florian Grillitsch.

Werder decided to address the problem towards the end of last season, and Thomas Eichin signed Thanos Petsos from Rapid Wien on a free transfer. During the winter break, Eichin had already signed Sambou Yatabare to address that problem, to very little avail. Whether those solutions work out remains to be seen; however, they aren’t Frank Baumann’s work.

The new man in charge now has also the task of clearing out some of the dead wood left by Eichin. Neither Raphael Wolf nor Izet Hajrovic have had the impact one would have hoped for; neither have a future at the club as things stand.

Additionally, Baumann has to make a choice if he wants to follow his predecessor’s philosophy of having 5 to 8 players out on loan in order to develop talent. Currently there are a number of players at the club who don’t have the chance of getting an awful lot of playing time. Among the candidates for loan moves there are Milos Veljkovic, Lukas Fröde, Melvyn Lorenzen, and Laszlo Kleinheisler.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-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 and on the @AufstiegPod.