Thick-skinned coaches face battle of wills

If Fabio Capello felt insulted from interference from the English FA, the sensitive Italian is best advised to turn down any job offers from the Bundesliga, where coaches are used regular doses of meddling, big egos and snipes at key players from above.

This is a nervy time of the season. Mid-table security can quickly turn into a relegation dogfight. Coaches from Cologne in the west, Hoffenheim in the south, Hannover 96 in the north and Hertha Berlin in the east are feeling the heat from nervy sports directors and presidents.

A successful coach-sporting director relationship is key to success in Germany. Here’s how it is should work:  sporting directors manage transfers, salaries and business affairs leaving ”Der Trainer” to coach the team and pick team.

Sounds simple, but as any Cologne fan will tell you, easier said than done.

Bundesliga: Cologne controversy, but Solbakken survives

Bundesliga: Cologne controversy, but Solbakken survives

Coach Stale Solbakken is having a decent first season in Germany but a very public slanging match with sports director Volker Finke leaves the job of one of the two men on the line.

The Norwegian was down in the dumps when Lukas Podolski picked up a serious injury, but he was left livid when Finke replaced the German international with Jong Tae-Se, the ”people’s Rooney” who came to international attention during the World Cup for blubbering hopelessly during North Korea’s national anthem. Podolski, Jong most certainly is not.

Cologne is notorious for behind the scenes spats but the purchase of Jong is “very dramatic, even by Cologne’s standards,” Solbakken fumed.

”There is only one opinion when it comes to the team and that is mine,” he told Kicker magazine. “The director of sport has responsibilities in other areas, in which he has the final word.”

And that might have been Solbakken’s final word as Cologne coach before a precarious trip to Kaiserslautern at the weekend. Defeat could have been the perfect excuse for Finke to wield the axe.

As expected, the match at the Fritz Walter Stadion was a drab, niggly affair. The sole surprise was that only one player, Kaiserslautern’s new signing Ariel Borysiuk, was sent off.

Temperatures reaches minus 8 degrees and it seemed like hell would freeze over before a goal would be scored.

Cue Solbakken’s masterstroke.

With Jong shivering on the bench, Der Trainer brought on two other forwards, a Swedish rookie and a free transfer from famed Albanian team Flamurtari Vlore. When former Flamurtari forward Odise Roshi popped up with the winner, ”I told you so” was written all over the Solbakken’s face.

Solbakken survived the weekend but the already strained relations between Holger Stanislawski and his Hoffenheim sporting director Ernst Tannerbroke down completely after a 2-2 draw against minnows Augsburg. Eighth place is  just not good enough for Tanner, who is a hard man to please (last season he criticized coach Marco Pezzaiuoli for not having enough charisma before showing him the door).

Hoff sack Stan

Hoff sack Stan

While Tanner is quick to criticize personality, Hannover 96 president Martin Kind has made a startling criticism of the girth of his best paid player.

Ivorian forward Didier Ya Konan was rewarded for a stellar season with a lucrative three-year contract but Kind now has regrets.

Ya Konan’s goals (14 of them last season) have been replaced, it seems, by a life of luxury and impotence in front of goal.

“After his contract extension, he has started to take things easy,” Kind rued. “Now he is overweight and has pretty cars. It all started when he signed a new contract.”

Too fat? Kind has attacked Ya Konan's form

Too fat? Kind has attacked Ya Konan's form

Coach Mirko Slomka, who temporarily resigned last season after a spat with Kind, was not amused.

But for sporting directors and president alike, the limited role of coaches makes them easily expendable.

In the east, Hertha Berlin sporting director Michael Preetz had enough of Markus Babbel’s hesitation over a new contract and fired the former Bayern, Liverpool and Stuttgart man just before Christmas.

At the time, it didn’t seem too much of a risk with Hertha comfortably in mid-table. But when Eurosport spoke to former German international Steffen Freund, who now manages Germany’s under-16 team and lives near the capital, alarm bells rang.

Freund sensed the Berlin-based media were ready to pounce on any mistake made by new coach Michael Skibbe and feared Hertha could be sucked into a relegation dogfight.

That seemed overly pessimistic at the time but three defeats later and The Old Lady of German football are only two points off the relegation playoff place.

Babbel, like Stanislawski, might have the last laugh: while both will be confident of finding work elsewhere, a failed stint as sporting director can often be the final curtain of a promising career.

Andreas Evagora, Deputy Head


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This weekend’s Bundesliga action gets underway Friday with Wolfsburg v Freiburg (20:30 CET). On Saturday, we have Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen (15:30), extended highlights of Bayern Munich v Kaiserslautern (17:30) and high-flying Mönchengladbach v Schalke (18:30). Then on Sunday catch Augsburg v Nürnberg and Cologne v Hamburg. Highlights of all matches at 19:30 on Sunday. Coverage in North and East Europe.

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