When the partying comes to and end, when the hangovers subside and the realisation that they will be taking their place in next season’s Bundesliga really hits home, those in positions of power at Werder Bremen should take a long hard look at themselves and be prepared to make some tough decisions.
What happened on Tuesday at the Voith Arena should be a massive wake-up call for the club. Werder Bremen were fighting for their Bundesliga survival and only the controversial away-goals rule saved them. As a Werder fan, it is difficult to admit, but true nonetheless, that had the Grün-Weißen been relegated this season, they would have deserved it.
The fact that they were even given the chance to ‘earn’ their topflight status in the relegation play-off was mainly due to Fortuna Düsseldorf bottling it on two separate occasions when in tennis terms they had ‘match point’. Had Uwe Rösler’s side beaten Augsburg on matchday 33 or not collapsed against Union on the final matchday, Werder would have been watching the play-off on TV while contemplating away trips to Sandhausen and Aue and a Nordderby against Hamburg.
In fact, their Northern rivals are a glaring example of what can happen if you bury your head in the sand and ignore monstrous problems at the heart of your club. HSV were too big to go down they said, but down they went and down they have stayed. This same fate sadly awaits Werder if the issues from this season are not addressed.
In Kohfeldt we trust (!?)
The trainer’s emotional words following the play-off second leg pretty much sum up the season: “Scheiße Saison, geiles Ende” (‘shi* season, but great end’). The ‘great’ finish should not and cannot disguise the fact that Kohfeldt hit the nail on the head- it has been nothing short of a ‘shi*’ season for Werder.
Just two wins and nine points were achieved at home with the fans only actually witnessing one of them due to the corona virus shutdown. Only 15 goals were scored at the Weser Stadion putting Werder bottom of the pile in the Bundesliga on that count.
After every poor performance and loss Kohfeldt would stress his readiness to put things right ahead of the next match backed up by the congenial Frank Baumann. The trouble is, it was like Groundhog Day in the Werder press room as the coach struggled to fathom why his side were so poor and what to do about it.
Did Werder trust in Kohfeldt a little (a lot?) too long? Finishing 17th in the Hinrunde should have set the alarm bells ringing, but the coach was allowed the chance to rectify the situation. He never did. What is going to change ahead of next season? What sudden improvement will occur that will take a team (minus Milot Rashica) to a higher level?
With Hoffenheim heavily linked with the coach, it could be that a change is on the cards. Many will say that Werder achieved Bundesliga survival in spite of Kohfeldt, not because of Kohfeldt.
No more Mr. Nice Guy
Having club legends in positions of power is a very German thing and should be encouraged. It works at Bayern, it works at Dortmund and it works elsewhere, but serious questions need to be asked of Frank Baumann as sporting director.
Clinging onto the ‘Werder is a family’ line may have served them well in the past but when that loyalty to the family becomes ‘blind loyalty’ things need to change. The extremely tough decision to sack Florian Kohfeldt fell on the shoulders of ‘nice guy’ Frank Baumann and he just couldn’t do it.
The current structure at Bremen with Baumann as managing director of football and Marco Bode as Chairman of the supervisory board, doesn’t really match up to the requirements of the Bundesliga. Everyone seems very ‘nice’, but there seems to be a lack of passion from those in the upper echelons and an unwillingness to take the tough decisions.
“We have all documented our trust in Florian over and over again,” Baumann said after the 2-2 draw on Tuesday, “and he has proven that he can fight his way out of such a difficult situation with the team. There is no question that we are still absolutely convinced of him. And I firmly believe that he has the desire, strength, and power to continue along the path here.”
Round pegs in square holes
Those upper echelons have also been responsible for a pretty dire record on recruitment in recent times. The signings of injury-prone players like Ömer Toprak and Niklas Füllkrug were gambles that didn’t pay off. Davie Selke was brought in to score goals, when scoring goals isn’t something that Davie Selke does on a regular enough basis. It is a deal that could end up costing the club €10 million. Both Kevin Vogt and Leonardo Bittencourt were unwanted at Hoffenheim (why was that?) and overall, it is difficult to see where any improvements were made in the squad that finished 8th the season before.
There isn’t a whole heap of money lying around in the Bremen finance office so spending over €20 million on Toprak, Bittencourt and Selke seems rash. Better scouting and procurement of players is needed, not just signing Bundesliga names that can fill a position.
The example of Hamburger SV should serve as a stark warning to Werder Bremen as to the dangers of ignoring the danger signs. By rights, Bremen should have been relegated this season, but somehow, they have lived to fight another day.
VfL Wolfsburg found themselves in a similar position after surviving their relegation play-off in 2018 against Holstein Kiel and look at them now. There is hope for Werder, but some serious introspection is required if the same fate is not to await them next season.
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