When spring is in the air, struggling Bundesliga clubs have a habit of calling on Die Feuerwehrmänner — ”fireman” coaches hired to stave off the catastrophe that is relegation to the second division.
The seasons ends this weekend and three firemen are in the spotlight; Christoph Daum of Eintracht Frankfurt; Borussia Monchengladbach’s Swiss coach Lucien Favre; and Felix Magath of Wolfsburg.
Come Saturday night, one will be a hero, one a villain and one left biting his nails for another 10 days to come.
The three clubs had high hopes for this season so it’s a surprise to see them all in such a sorry state.
St. Pauli have already been condemned to life in the second division next season and Frankfurt are favourites to join them. One place off the bottom, the Eagles face a Borussia Dortmund side that has already wrapped up the title. Jorgen Klopp’s men might take things easy before collecting the trophy, but 30 goals in 33 matches so far doesn’t give Frankfurt much hope. Daum needs a minor miracle to avoid the drop.
Meanwhile, the Foals of Borussia Monchengladbach are on the up. They are one place and one point above Frankfurt and playing out of their skins. In fact, with three wins and three clean sheets on the bounce, Favre’s team is currently the best in Germany and will be confident of getting three points at mid table Hamburg.
Like Borussia Monchengladbach, Wolfsburg have 35 points, albeit with a better goal difference.
Felix Magath’s Wolves looked safe after beating Cologne and WerderBremen in the back end of April. But it all went horribly wrong at home to Kaiserslauternon Saturday, when they scored early but lost 2-1 after their expensively assembled defence showed the fragility that led to the sacking of Steve McClaren.
The only man who looked more bemused than Magath at the VW Arena was Kaiserslautern forward Srdjan Lakic. In January, the Croat signed a deal to leave the then-struggling Kaiserslauternto joinWolfsburg at the end of the season, saying that he had ambitions to play European football. Lakic’s goal might yet condemn his new side to the second division.
So how do the records of the three firemen stack up?
* Daum took over from Mickael Skibbe on 22 March with Frankfurt in 14th place. Record pre–Daum: 31 points from 27 games (1.1 points per game). Under Daum: 3 points from 6 games (0.5 points per game).
Verdict: ”When they brought in Daum, it’s as though they thought they hired Elvis Presley. But it’s not about big names, football is about winning matches and a coach who does not win is not a good coach,” said former player and long time Norwegian international Jan Age Fjortoft.
* Favre took over on 14 February when Monchengladbachwere rock bottom. Record pre-Favre: 16 points from 22 games (0.7 points per game). Under Favre: 19 points from 11 games (1.7 points per game).
Verdict: ”No one gave us a chance. But we as a team will show the experts, and that is the greatest feeling,” said striker Mike Hanke.
* Magath replaced caretaker Pierre Littbarski on 18 March with Wolfsburg in 17th place. Pre-Magath: 27 points from 27 games (1 point per game). Under Magath: 8 points from 6 games (1.3 points per game). Verdict: “You brewed the soup, now eat it,” Magath told his players after the match.
So this weekend professional pride is at stake for all three coaches. Daum was favourite to take over the German national team a decade ago before being embroiled in a drugs scandal that overshadowed his career. He feels his coaching methods (which have included ordering players to walk over burning coals to boost confidence) merit the Champions League, but another loss atFrankfurt might be the final bookend of his Bundesliga career.
Favre was perhaps hard done by at Hertha Berlin, who sold key players behind his back after a top four finish in the Bundesliga then sacked the coach himself.
Magath is still fuming after being ousted from Schalke. The biggest triumph of his career came in 2009 when he won the title at Wolfsburg and he wants to silence the critics all over again.
So it’s the Eagles v the Foals v the Wolves.
Three firemen, but only two will have the chance to set the first division alight next season.
Catch the final action of the Bundesliga season this Saturday (15:30 CET) on Eurosport 2 North East Europe with Dortmund vFrankfurt. We’ll bring you extended highlights of Bayern v Stuttgart, Freiburg v Leverkusen and one other of the top matches. And at 20:15 don’t miss our one hour special review of the Bundesliga season.