German football loves theme songs. The AC/DC anthem ”Hell’s Bells” blasts around the Millerntor before St. Pauli players take to the pitch. Bayern Munich prefer the more august tones of Carl Orff’s ”O Fortuna.”
But right now, The Jackson 5 debut single ”I Want You Back” is the most appropriate song for the Bundesliga.
Clubs just can’t resist hiring old boys to get them out of trouble.
One of the most jaw-dropping managerial moves of recent seasons saw Felix Magath return to Wolfsburg last week. Champions League quarterfinalists Schalke, the club that had just fired Magath, decided to re-hire a former coach, Ralf Rangnick, a former schoolteacher who had just rejected the Wolves job. And it seems just a matter of time before Bayern reappoint Jupp Heynckes, a man of such experience that he had already played 150 Bundesliga games when the teenage Michael Jackson burst on to the music scene with the famed 1970 hit.
Indeed, in a crazy eight-day spell, six Bundesliga clubs (one third of the entire league) announced coaching changes.
In addition to the appointments at Wolfsburg, Schalke and Bayern:
- Leverkusen said that long-time Freiburg coach Robin Dutt would replace Heynckes this summer
- Goal-shy Eintracht Frankfurt appointed controversial coach Christoph Daum
- Hamburg named assistant Michael Oenning as their new man in charge.
Cologne, Hoffenheim and Borussia Monchengladbach have already axed coaches this season while Stuttgart (never a club to be outdone when it comes to chopping and changing) have sacked not one, but two of them this season.
All that means with two months still to play this season, only five Bundesliga clubs have had no managerial changes since August.
In some quarters, alarm bells are ringing.
”We must make sure that the respectability of the league does not suffer,” warned national coach Joachim Loew.
Without a hint of sour grapes, soon to be ousted Bayern coach Louis van Gaal called for a transfer window for coaches.
“It’s not normal that Magath was first at Schalke and then at Wolfsburg, or Rangnick was first at Hoffenheim and now at Schalke,” the Dutchman opined. “That distorts the competition. The world is going crazy.”
True, perhaps, but at this time of the season there is always work for good coaches, as Magath proved. His new Facebook page may have created more enemies than friends, but Schalke’s dismissed coach was out of work for no more than 48 hours. Wolfsburg fired ex-England coach Steve McClaren, and quickly lost faith in his replacement, Pierre Littbarski, after four defeats in five matches.
The Wolves urgently needed what the Germans call a ”Feuerwehrmann” — a Fireman to save their season.
So they looked to the man who led them to the title in 2009.
Negotiations only took a few hours: the main sticking point was the coach’s bonus for saving Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga skin. The two parties agreed on a new Bentley, worth around 155 000 euros (a decent deal for a club owned by the company that makes the sought-after cars).
On his first day back at work, renowned fitness fanatic Magath was amazed at how out of shape his new charges were.
”I left behind different players to what I have found again. I have seen a side which is in poor condition. Why and how they are in such a poor state, I will only be able to say soon.”
If Magath’s appointment was the most surprising, Daum’s was the riskiest. Daum’s coaching record is top drawer. He led unfashionable Bayer Leverkusen to second place in the Bundesliga on three occasions (earning the club the unfortunate nickname ”Neverkusen”) and was considered a shoe-in for the national coach’s job.
But Daum’s reputation never recovered from a positive cocaine test and a high-profile police investigation into his private affairs.
Rangnick, born in the same year as Michael Jackson, has neither a weakness for cars or drugs, but his personality may yet be his downfall. Nicknamed ”The Professor,” Rangnick’s studious nature never won over Schalke’s passionate working-class fan base during his previous stint in Gelsenkirchen. But Rangnick does have principles: he walked out on Hoffenheim after the club sold Luiz Gustavo behind his back.
Judging by recent weeks, the chances of Rangnick seeing out his four-year contract are about as great as The Jackson 5 reforming to perform their most famous song.
The Bundesliga is on an international break this week but live coverage is back on Eurosport2 on 1 April with St. Pauli against Rangnick’s Schalke.