Expectations were high in the brown and white half of Hamburg ahead of the beginning of the 2. Bundesliga season. FC St. Pauli had made a number of fine signings during the summer transfer window. The Kiezkickers brought Michael Görlitz (FSV Frankfurt), Daniel Buballa (VfR Aalen), Enis Alushi (1. FC Kaiserslautern), and Ante Budimir (NK Lokomotivia). They also borrowed the services of Lasse Sobiech from local rival Hamburg SV through June. The Buccaneers of the league looked set to challenge for a top spot for real this time, instead of just getting close as they did the year before.
So . . . how has it gone?
Well, after Erzgebirge Aue’s Friday night victory, St. Pauli is at the bottom of the table. Should Pauli fail to beat SV Sandhausen in their first match back from winter break, the cult club will spend a fourth match day as the league doormat.
St. Pauli have lost eleven of 19 league matches, including their match day three home match with their Saturday opponent. St. Pauli exited the DFB Cup in the second round, when they became one of the few German sides to lose to Borussia Dortmund.
Safe to say, autumn did not turn into the anticipated fairy tale start to the season. While it may have turned out to be hard to compete for the top spots with wealthy rivals FC Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig to cope with, few could have foreseen St. Pauli’s bad run into 2015, which is, by far, the biggest negative surprise in the league.
And now spring 2015, once thought to be a time of a thrilling chase for promotion, will necessarily be all about survival.
The board at Millerntor-Stadion has not spent their days rolling their thumbs hoping all the problems will simply vanish.
Head coach Roland Vrabec was fired after just four match days.
Thomas Meggle stepped up from the youth system to take charge over the senior team, but was not in place long before he had to leave the touchline to overtake the sporting director role after Rachid Azzouzi was fired.
Ewald Lienen, a tactician with a reputation for being a perfect short-term solution for clubs in crisis, became St. Pauli’s third coach of the season in December. The 61-year-old has never managed a professional club for more than three years (the lone exception being MSV Duisburg’s U23 side). St. Pauli is Lienen’s fifth employer since 2010.
The Lienen era began with an unlucky defeat at Ingolstadt (2-1), but then provided the home fans a win to take into the break by downing Aalen, 3-1. The much-needed victory instilled a lot of hope for St. Pauli players, staff, and fans to keep them warm over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
“We want to do better than last year’s eighth.”
So, why all this losses?
Well, first come the failed transfers. Ante Budimir still cannot find the net; Enis Alushi has had his season degraded by injuries to strain; and Michael Görlitz has spent as much time on the bench as on the field of play.
Injuries to Bernd Nehrig and Markus Thorandt have also played a role.
Additionally, the summer loss of goal-scorer Fin Bartels (Werder Bremen) has also haunted the side.
Put it all together, and you have the perfect recipe for failure and a club much weaker than a year ago.
Heading into the season, Vrabec himself portrayed a belief that his team was among favorites to earn promotion. The 39-year-old told St. Pauli’s official website that he believed Nürnberg would live up to expectations and top the league, but held his own side as one of the best.
“Fortuna Düsseldorf, Eintracht Braunschweig, 1860 München, Greuther Fürth, and RB Leipzig can all be included in the list over clubs that wants to move up next year,” said Vrabeck before the ball got rolling. “I see us in the extended circle that can end up in the top third.”
“This is our objective, because we want to do better than last year’s eighth.”
They probably won’t.
15 games remain, and with only 16 points collected, St. Pauli should be happy if they somehow finish in the mid-table area. Someone who will try to kick his club up to that area of the standings is the under-fire Budimir, who told Bild in a recent interview that his luck is about to turn.
“My goals are coming! I know that. I’ll do anything for it,” said the Croation summer transfer. “I cannot explain why it hasn’t worked out any more than president Oke Divine can’t explain why St. Pauli is in 17th place.”
Divine, Meggle, and the rest of the board will be hoping Budimir’s prediction comes to fruition. The centre-forward is one of the most-expensive signings in St. Pauli’s history. Thus far, the deal has been nothing but a mistake. The 23-year-old was bought to score goals, but he has just one to his credit, and that came in the first round of the DFB-Pokal against Oberliga side Optik Rathenow.
Winter recruits arriving to save the season
After rain comes sunshine, as a positive man or woman would say. St. Pauli has been active in the winter transfer window and will bring an exciting team to Baden-Württemberg on Saturday. Julian Koch has been signed on loan from Bundesliga side FSV Mainz; Waldemar Sobota has arrived from Club Bruges (also on loan); and Lienen has brought Armando Cooper from his former employer, Romanian club Oțelul Galați.
“I am delighted that the transfer to FC St. Pauli materialized and that I get the chance to play football in Germany,” said Cooper after making the move to Hamburg. “From what I’ve heard, the supporters are very passionate.”
It’s left to be seen whether Cooper and the rest of his teammates have what it takes to save St. Pauli from being relegated to 3. Liga. For now, it can be said that salvation seems likely, as not many league rivals have been able to strengthen with the same quality acquisitions St. Pauli managed during the winter break.
But, as we all know, you don’t win matches by signing players, rather you win matches by scoring goals, and that’s at which FC St. Pauli has been very bad this season.
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