Scandal, surprise and soap opera – a year of the Bundesliga
With 2011 now over, followers of the Bundesliga are looking back on what has been a year full of scandal, surprise and soap opera. The year ended in relative normality, with FC Bayern top of the table, two German clubs in the Champions League, and the national team as one of the favourites for next year’s European Championships. In the past twelve months, though, almost all of Germany’s elite clubs have veered alarmingly from one extreme to the other, while the media have had, if such a thing exists, a field year with more tantrums, sackings and sonorous off field disputes than you could shake a Bockwurst at.
The Amazing Klopp and his Wonderkids
Youth development is the word on everyone’s lips when it comes to German football. The national team is proving the worth of the Bundesliga’s unmatched capacity to produced and develop brilliant young footballers, and what better face of this new revolution than the 2011 Champions Borussia Dortmund?
Jürgen Klopp’s baby-faced league winners were simply exhilarating in the first half of the year. As Mats Hummels, Mario Götze, Kevin Großkreutz and co lit up the Bundesliga, even Schalke fans were hard pressed to begrudge them their title. Even Uli Hoeness congratulated them, though only after declaring his discomfort in sleeping in yellow and black underwear.
Klopp, the young, mischievous managerial talent from Mainz, was the perfect leader of a team so full of cockiness and flair that, even when the coach banned the “M-Word” (Meister), from his interviews, they seemed to have no doubt that they would take the title in May. Even a disappointing Champions League campaign this season could not disguise the fact that the Dortmund class of ‘11 are a team for the future.
The fall and rise of FC Hollywood
If Germany’s biggest club catastrophically failed to fulfil expectations on the football field in the first half of 2011, there can be no doubt that Bayern Munich lived up to their billing in terms of off field excitement.
The early part of 2011 was based around the Louis van Gaal saga. As his initial success wore off, and Bayern struggled even to retain third place in 2011, van Gaal’s famously individual style of management clashed ever more frequently with the expectations of the Bayern hierarchy. An array of catastrophic gambles eventually saw the Dutchman released from duty in April, and his former assistant manager charged with saving Bayern’s season. Andries Jonker did just that, as a dramatic late surge saw Bayern nick third place and Champions League football from Hannover 96.
With sights firmly set on the coming season, Bayern reverted to type, and set about grabbing as many big names as they could. Jupp Heynckes’ third spell at the club has been built around stability, with a defence made more compact by Jerome Boateng and Rafinha; not to mention their star signing – a perfect symbol of the club’s footballing monopoly: Manuel Neuer.
The Schalke rollercoaster
After the vulgar protests of Bayern’s infamous “Schickeria” had failed to dissuade the Munich hierarchy from going after the Germany keeper and Clemens Tönnies and co were left clutching at straws at the end of the season, and Neuer’s transfer, to the disgust of many, was confirmed. Even a little girl at a Schalke endorsed community project in Gelsenkirchen couldn’t change his mind, as she quietly implored him not to go leave the club.
Schalke’s eventual surrender of homegrown hero and Germany number one Neuer was just one chapter of a tumultuous year in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke’s were as calamitous in the league as they were astonishing in the Champions League, as a major management crisis engulfed them throughout 2011. Felix Magath’s tenure came to an ugly close, as fans displayed their disenchantment by mocking his facebook activity, and his replacement Ralf Rangnick ended a satisfactory spell by resigning for health reasons earlier this season.
With a Champions League semi final, a new cult hero in Raúl, and a victory in the German Cup Final, 2011 sounds like it might have been a good year for Schalke. Few in Gelsenkirchen will look back fondly, though, on the loss of local hero Manuel Neuer, and the club’s seemingly never ending involvement in what has become the theme of 2011: the so called “Manager Merry-Go-Round”.
McClaren and the Trainer-Karussell
Markus Babbel’s ugly separation from Hertha BSC this month was the final act in a drama which has peaked at each end of the year. Managers seemed to have filled the gap left by Pokemon cards when they went out of fashion. Rather than a useful tool in success, the manager had become a temporary entity in German football, to be traded and swapped at will. Armin Veh’s sacking from HSV, for example, eventually saw him take over at Eintracht Frankfurt, who had got rid of Michael Skibbe at a similar time. Skibbe would then go on to take Babbel’s place at Hertha BSC and so on and so forth.
Skibbe’s departure’s immediate effect, though, was the return to Germany of Christoph Daum. The one time coach of 1. FC Köln had, after the disgrace of his cocaine sniffing days, carved out a niche as a cult hero in Turkey, but with Skibbe gone, he was brought back to save Eintracht Frankfurt from relegation. On his arrival, Daum told German bi-weekly “kicker” that “relegation is out of the question.” His team were promptly relegated, two months later.
One of the first heads to roll was one sparsely covered with the ginger hair of a Brit. Hired by VfL Wolfsburg in 2010, Steve McClaren had already outstayed his welcome by the time 2011 rolled around. His complete inability to learn German was worse than his Englishness in the eyes of the German media, and it certainly didn’t help him control the dressing room of egos in his charge. In a moment of genuine wit, Wolfsburg fans even raised hundreds of green and white umbrellas at a home game against Hoffenheim. The accompanying banner, addressed to the whole team, read: “We won’t leave you standing in the rain. Will you do it to us?” Even if he couldn’t read it, there is little doubt that McClaren got the message.
The end of the 2011 season was a glorious one for several clubs who would normally have been flirting with relegation. The unprecedentedly high finishes of Mainz 05, SC Freiburg, FC Nuernberg and Hannover 96, however, generally proved to be poor reference points for how the teams would fare later in the year.
The loss of André Schürrle, Lewis Holtby and Christian Fuchs saw Mainz fall back into the bottom half, while Nürnberg experienced similar issues as German Turkish duo Mehmet Ekici and Ilkay Gündoğan departed together. Freiburg find themselves at the foot of the table at the end of this year, and while Mirko Slomka’s Hannover side have clung onto their Europa League spot, their claim to retaining it next season is looking increasingly tenuous.
How the other half plays
The 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany probably received more media coverage in the host country than it has ever done before, as several publications launched themselves into making the country aware of this celebration of the Women’s game. For a few months in the summer, names such as Birgit Prinz, Lira Baramaj and Kim Kulig became as recognisable as any of their male counterparts, and even “Man of the 2011” Jogi Löw was briefly outshone by the women’s coach Silvia Neid.
The fairytale didn’t quite go to plan, as Germany were knocked out by eventual champions Japan in the Quarter Finals, but with the 70,000 capacity Berlin Olympic Stadium sold out for the opening game, and the country in rapture for a month, 2011 was a special year for women’s football in Germany.
A future to look forward to
Almost every club, player and manager has had a story in the course of 2011. In Cologne, the tactical system of new coach Ståle Solbakken has caused a stir, though not as much as the resignation of president and club legend Wolfgang Overath. The respective promotions of FC Augsburg and Dynamo Dresden – along with the latter’s incessant crowd control issues – have hogged the headlines, and the attempted suicide of referee Babak Rafati last month brought home once more the stark reality of depression in football, just days after Germany remembered the tragic death of Robert Enke.
On the pitch, the outlook is brighter. The 3-0 home victory over arch rivals Holland was a fitting conclusion to Germany’s football year. 2011 has seen the famous young talent of the Bundesliga propelled to the very tip of the world stage. Dortmund’s title win, Bayern’s new look European Cup challengers, and the national team’s “Jogi-Generation” have all proved that German football is distinctly on the up. Hopes are high for next summer, as respected voices in Germany unanimously agree that even the “group of death” will not set them back too much in EURO 2012.
If 2011 has taught us anything, however, it is that, even in the age of technology, very little can be predicted in football. With the winter break, we now have a few weeks of calm before it all starts again, and even that seems a little too long to wait.Tagged in: bayern munich, budesliga, euro 2012, german football, nueur
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