March 22, 2017

Stefan Böger – Victim of His Own Short-Lived Success

It’s become a familiar story at Dynamo Dresden in recent years.

Following a third consecutive defeat after the Winterpause, Stefan Böger lost his job as head coach of die SG this week, the fifth man in the last four years to have this fate befall him. Dynamo, a giant of the last days of the GDR, currently lie in eighth place in the 3. Liga.

Feel-Good Factor

It had started so well for Böger, the 48-year-old former East Germany international who had vacated a long-held position within the DFB youth set-up to join the club in May. His experience working with young players had made him the perfect candidate for the task at Dresden, which started the season with a cheaply-assembled squad of mostly young players. After last season’s relegation, the club underwent a complete overhaul of its squad. Between contracts not valid in the lower league or being snapped up by better sides, the vast majority of last year’s first-team squad left in the summer. For once, expectations would not be sky-high because of the squad’s lack of experience. Dynamo were not considered among the favourites for promotion when their season kicked off at the end of July.

Within two months, Stefan Böger had fans daring to dream again, with seven wins out of twelve matches, as well as the renowned victory over a full-strength Schalke 04 in the German Cup. It was not simply the results, but the quality of football at the Rudolf-HarbigStadion which were cause for great optimism. Böger had brought the feel-good factor back to Dynamo. Wasteful, lethargic, and low on confidence in recent years, the club now had a young team playing with intensity and purpose, reminiscent of SGD at their best when they finished ninth in the 2. Bundesliga three seasons ago. While Dennis Erdmann and Marco Hartmann provided mettle and tenacity at the heart of the team, the front four of Marvin Stefaniak, Luca Dürholz, and particularly Justin Eilers and Sylvano Comvalius were linking up effortlessly in attack. The team had played especially well in victories in Wiesbaden and Cottbus, and after one third of the season, Dynamo were top of the league.

It must have gone badly wrong for Böger to lose his job a mere four months later.

Late Goals and Inconsistent Performances

Yet it hasn’t.

Form has been inconsistent rather than terrible, but the club has slipped from first in the table to eighth since October in a competitive division. After a poor post-winter start, they have lost further ground on the leading promotion contenders. A particular problem has been a baffling inability to close-out matches. Dynamo have been guilty of giving up winning positions on many occasions this season, but most astonishingly, they have conceded a succession of important late goals, squandering either draws or victories in the last minute or later on five occasions this campaign.

Although there is an element of bad luck to conceding late, for this to happen so regularly points to a deeper problem, either in terms of match preparation or the concentration and mental strength of the players. But luck has contrived further against Böger, losing key players to injuries, particularly the influential Hartmann for two months in autumn.

In recent matches, however, the margins between success and failure haven’t been as narrow. The high-tempo football has wilted. Eilers has scored just two in his last eleven games, after having netted eight in eight between August and October. Since the break, performances have been especially sub-standard. A red card turned the 2015 opener in Münster, and a last-minute Rot-Weiβ Erfurt goal decided a poor game the following week. There were signs of disharmony within the squad, with captain Cristian Fiel telling the press that “everybody is responsible for making sure their performance is at the right level. We’re not doing that at the moment.”

The club fell to their third straight defeat last weekend after a toothless performance in Kiel. “We were rubbish in this game. It was terrible,” admitted Böger after the 1-0 loss, which proved to be his final game in charge, as he was relieved of his duties two days later.

He leaves the club five points behind Erfurt in third place and by no means completely out of the promotion race with 13 matches to play. Considering the club’s position when he took over – relegated, with a new squad of players, and few outside (or even inside, for that matter) the club expecting them to bounce straight back – it is possible that Böger is a victim of his own early (albeit short-lived) success. By achieving a spell of excellence with his inexperienced group, Böger may have inflated expectations. He had restored the feel-good factor to the club only months earlier and has now paid the price for not sustaining it.

A Far Deeper Paradox

Whether Sporting Director Ralf Minge’s decision to sack Böger given the club’s position was harsh, and whether Peter Nemeth, Böger’s assistant who has been promoted to head coach, is capable of unlocking the potential of the team on a more consistent basis, are questions which will have to wait until the end of the season to be answered. But there seems to be an underlying contradiction about Böger’s perhaps premature dismissal which points to a far deeper paradox within Dynamo Dresden as a whole.

Since Ralf Loose’s largely successful spell in charge came to an end in late 2012 after just under two years, Dynamo have now fired four head coaches in 25 months, while also undergoing overhaul in the boardroom. Either the coaches they hire are not up to the job, or the expectations at the club are simply too high.

Dynamo were forced to operate on one of the lowest budgets of the 2. Bundesliga teams. Although Loose’s initial success pointed to an optimism (as realised by a team like SC Paderborn in this league recently) that Dynamo could achieve well on a low budget, a number of issues, including injuries and low confidence, saw the club relegated, adding further financial strain. The club has been forced to rely on donations from the state council (in excess of €2 million for the last year) for support. Despite this, Dynamo remain in every sense a Traditionsverein. Its average attendance of 22,000 is comfortably the largest in the 3rd tier, bettered only by five teams in the league above, and is the 23rd highest in the country.

With Böger’s sacking, this paradox is now threatening to stunt their progress. Dynamo are a big club with ambitions beyond the 3. Liga. But these high ambitions will not be met overnight, if at all, with the financial pressure the club is currently under and especially if they continue to sack coaches for not delivering at least six months of consistency. Böger’s task in particular was highly challenging. Taking over a completely overhauled squad of mostly young players and making them gel into a consistent team does not happen in an instant. Their early success was bound to end at some point, and perhaps Böger had done well enough at the start to deserve the chance to turn fortunes back in his favour again.

But with recent poor performances and suggestions of disharmony at the club, there is an urgent need to head in a new direction, particularly given that, although promotion is not out of reach, many other clubs are fancying their chances this season. Indeed, Peter Nemeth’s job begins with a tough home game against Wehen Wiesbaden, where both teams will be looking to re-ignite their seasons after losing their way. This will soon be followed by the prospect of facing Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup in front of a packed home stadium.

Böger had a difficult job, and he leaves having taken a new, young squad to a respectable league position and gave the fans some thrilling football again. With the club’s future unclear, one thing is for certain: Peter Nemeth will have to battle the many contradictions which underpin the team he has taken charge of.

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Jonathan Lines

Jonathan is a teacher and football writer based in the UK. He writes mostly about German football, with a particular interest in clubs from eastern Germany, past and present. Follow him on twitter @JDL_1989

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