At first glance, you would not think that this is a relegation battle. From the winter training camp in Palma de Mallorca, the Werder Bremen players looked at a mountain panorama two weeks ago. A quiet beauty. Florian Kohfeldt trains game forms. The Bremen coach always interrupts when his professionals do not work as he demands. He often interrupts.
“Every ball has to sit!” Calls Kohfeldt. His voice roars across the square, cutting through the silence. The players lower their eyes. The tone has become rougher at Werder Bremen.
Werder once competed with Bayern under the coaches Otto Rehhagel and Thomas Schaaf. Bremen’s last peak so far is already a decade old. After that, the club mostly looked down. In the end, it was thought that the times of the crisis were over. This season, however, Bremen is back in the table cellar. As 17th, the club is three points behind in 15th place, behind it is the worst first half of its history. The second half of the season begins on Saturday with the game against the table 16. Fortuna Düsseldorf (3.30 p.m .; TV: Sky; live ticker SPIEGEL.de). For Bremen, the second half of the season will be a relegation battle – right from the start.
2.41 goals conceded per game in the first half of the season
Today’s Werder should be like yesterday’s Werder. Frank Baumann puts it this way in conversation with SPIEGEL: “Despite our situation, we consciously say: we stand for offensive football. Of course, without neglecting defensive stability. “
Baumann sits in the café of the Castillo Hotel Son Vida, the five-star residence of the Bremers in Mallorca. The hotel terrace overlooks large parts of the island and the view is magnificent. The 44-year-old is the managing director of football for the Bremen team. In 2004, he led the team to the championship and cup as captain, alongside Johan Micoud and Ailton, Miroslav Klose and Diego. At that time the club was successful and it stood for entertainment. Under coach Schaaf the Bremen played unusually offensive, scored goals, scored goals. There were unforgettable games: The 3: 2 against Real Madrid 2007, the wonderfully wild 5: 4 against Hoffenheim 2008, or the 5: 2 at Bayern in the same year. But at some point Werder lost his balance. The players got worse, the results, the entertainment.
If you want to know how things are really going in Werder, you only have to look at these statistics: Bremen is the team in Europe’s five major leagues that has scored the most goals in the past decade: 599. This results in an average of 1.77 goals per game. The real surprise is that Werder hasn’t relegated during this time.
This season, the average number of goals conceded is even higher: 2.41 per game. The descent could follow this time. Baumann disagrees: “I am convinced that we will not descend. We will get out of the situation with Florian Kohfeldt, ”he says.
Kohfeldt was a U23 coach with the Bremen team just over two years ago. When things went badly again in the Bundesliga, he was promoted to the professionals. The 37-year-old made it to the relegation class and a carefree season in the season after. Most recently, Schaaf had succeeded. Football also got a good look under Kohfeldt. The team tried to combine forward.
In the displacement competition of the Bundesliga, Werder wants to stand out with attractive football, says Baumann. If not a title, then at least offer refreshing football. That would be recognizable.
When you ask Baumann why Werder was so successful under Schaaf and Rehhagel for so long, he mentions three things. First, timing. Werder often won at the right moment. For example, he mentions the introduction of the Champions League, in which Bremen participated when he was one of the first clubs from Germany. Second, the right people in responsibility, not only on the coaching bench, but also in management and club management. And, third, continuity.
The search for the new Rehhagel or Schaaf
Trainers have always played an even more important role at SV Werder than anywhere else. Schaaf (from 1999 to 2013) and Rehhagel (1981 to 1995) were each in office for 14 years. In both cases, the club staggered beforehand. Rehhagel led Bremen from the second division to the top of the Bundesliga, and after his departure it was only Schaaf who managed to form Werder into a top team again. But between Rehhagel and Schaaf there was also a phase in which a new long-term solution was sought but not found. Four coaches came and went in four years.
With the exception of Christian Streich, who is entering his ninth year in Freiburg, no Bundesliga coach has been in office for a long time. Fourth place in the list of longest terms follows with two years and two months: Kohfeldt. He hopes, says Baumann, “to take a long-term path with Flo”. Thomas Schaaf is the role model.
Schaaf came to the professionals from the U23. The club followed this promotion strategy not only at Kohfeldt, but also with its two predecessors: Viktor Skripnik and Alexander Nouri. Skripnik in particular seemed to want to build up in the long term.
Skripnik would stay even if he lost the next eight games, said Baumann in 2016. Shortly thereafter, they separated. “If the team loses faith completely and the coach can no longer develop the team, you have to act,” says Baumann today. “Even if you said something different two weeks beforehand.”
“Florian was the yardstick. There was and is no better coach for Werder.”
In some moments, SV Werder looks like an association that is dominated by its own history. As if he was trying to repeat past successes with the same means. In addition to Baumann, two other honorary captains also hold important club posts in Marco Bode (CEO) and Clemens Fritz (head of the scouting department). Werder wants to be family and yet still have to open up to new impulses from outside.
Baumann says: “We didn’t make Florian Kohfeldt the head coach because 20 years ago Thomas Schaaf came from the U23 and was successful.” He was at risk at the time. The calls for an external fireman were loud, and they had also dealt with it. “But Florian was the yardstick. There was and is no better coach for Werder. ”Kohfeldt had to meet high expectations in his first station as a Bundesliga coach.
Is Kohfeldt really as good as you think in Bremen?
Werder relies on the fact that a better coach can be the decisive advantage in the league, that has always been the Bremen way. The coach is the most important position in a club, says Baumann. Other clubs have recognized this today. Perhaps they recently overlooked the importance of other areas in Bremen. Clubs like Frankfurt, Hoffenheim or Mainz managed to generate high profits with just a few transfers and then invest them in new talent. The Bremen squad, on the other hand, is relatively old. Only four other Bundesliga teams have used older players on average.
And then there is the question of whether Kohfeldt is really as good as they think in Bremen.
There are some indications for this. The 37-year-old is more tactically savvy than his predecessors. In 2018, the DFB awarded him as coach of the year. Under him, the market values of players like Maximilian Eggestein or Milot Rashica have multiplied.
But recently Kohfeldt’s team had also developed tactically. When Bremen started at Ascender Cologne shortly before Christmas, the team entrenched themselves in their own half. One can consider this 0: 1 in Cologne as Kohfeldt’s low point. Before that, his team had lost 0: 5 against Mainz because they were naive and ran into counterattacks. But the appearance in Cologne seemed like a betrayal of your own idea.
There are all sorts of explanations for the Bremen crisis that relate to the present: injuries (11 professionals were missing in the meantime), possibly wrong planning of the squad, unsettled players. Werder has responded to the problems on the defensive and has loaned Kevin Vogt from TSG Hoffenheim a good central defender until the end of the season.
But the real question is one that incorporates the past and the future: Are the Bremen people again on the threshold of an era characterized by continuity in the most important positions like at Rehhagel and Schaaf? Or is the club again in a phase of searching and not finding a long-term solution like after the departure of the two strong coaching figures? But this time with the possible consequence of a descent.
The second half of the season will give an answer.