They already celebrated at FC Augsburg on Wednesday. Around the Helmut Haller statue in the arena, around 250 representatives of fan clubs grilled, talked, laughed and toasted in a built-up beer garden. “I was at a lot of tables,” reports Enrico Maassen before the home game against SC Freiburg this Saturday. The new FCA coach sensed anticipation for the first Bundesliga game and for the season while chatting, and he too is looking forward to his debut. “I have a very, very good feeling,” says Maassen.
It looks a bit as if they celebrated their very own New Year’s Eve at FC Augsburg on the evening of August 3rd, a kind of turn of the year that falls in summer in local football due to the seasonal rhythm. As in normal life, hopes, wishes and good resolutions are associated with every new year in the table football business. This is particularly true of FC Augsburg – after the last four changes of coach in three years, the often tough defensive football and a great deal of unrest due to the resignation of President Klaus Hofmann and coach Markus Weinzierl in May.
At FCA they now want to put all that behind them with their new football coach Maassen. The 38-year-old has coached in the third division at most since 2014, but always successfully, as most recently with Borussia Dortmund’s U23s. He won his first competitive game with Augsburg in the DFB Cup last Sunday 4-0 at regional league club TuS Blau-Weiss Lohne. A lot should be different and better with Maaßen in FCA’s twelfth year in the Bundesliga. This applies above all to sport through an attractive style, but it also applies to the external presentation of the club. This includes the effort to appear more approachable for the fans again, and if you will, the people of Augsburg wished each other a Happy New Year on their barbecue evening.
“In the past few years, we’ve been a bit lacking in everyone knowing exactly what to do,” says Uduokhai
If you talk to a player like Felix Uduokhai, who has been with FC Augsburg since 2019 and has experienced the complicated years with the coaches Martin Schmidt, Heiko Herrlich and Weinzierl, then there is a lot of satisfaction with Maassen’s impulses. “The coach challenges us a lot, he has clear ideas about how we should play. It’s good for us to get these guidelines. We can then get creative on this basis,” says the central defender A bit missing that everyone knows exactly what to do.” Augsburg will probably play mostly with a three-man chain. This suits Uduokhai because in this formation there are three instead of two central defenders in the starting XI. The 24-year-old is considered the first seed because of his strong left foot on the left half of the back three.
Maassen had already spoken of wanting to develop an identity, i.e. an unmistakable playing style, when he was introduced. He hopes that a “Maassen DNA” can already be seen against Freiburg, he said at the press conference on Thursday. The term was put into his mouth when the question was asked, but Maassen was quite happy to adopt it. He can do something with this thought experiment: that you make the players on the pitch unrecognizable and you know who their coach is just from the style of play of a team. This works particularly well with Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. In the future, the FCA team should also have a recognition value, Maassen hopes.
In the last game year, Uduokhai threw back injuries and a corona infection several times
Adding to the innovations by the coach, Uduokhai feels like a new beginning for himself. In November 2020 he was in the squad for three games of the German national team, but was not substituted on. In the past year, injuries and a corona infection threw him back several times, he only made 13 appearances in the Bundesliga. Now he’s finally “completely free of symptoms,” says Uduokhai, “I have confidence in my body again and feel in great shape. It’s really fun that way.”
They all want to have that more often at FCA than last time. Captain Jeffrey Gouweleeuw already says: “It’s more fun that we want the ball more and can decide for ourselves what we do in the game and are no longer dependent on the opponent.” Like his colleagues, he has “a good feeling”, despite the absence of the injured Niklas Dorsch, Reece Oxford and Ruben Vargas. Elvis Rexhbecaj (Wolfsburg), Maximilian Bauer (Fürth) and Ermedin Demirovic are available for this. The latter came in exchange for Michael Gregoritsch from the sports club. “When we’re fully on the air, it’ll be difficult for Freiburg, too,” says Maassen.
But the people of Augsburg also know that good resolutions can quickly come to naught in everyday life. The comparison with Freiburg could at least give an idea of the extent to which their hopes will be fulfilled. Christian Streich and his team definitely come to FCA as a role model. For Augsburg and other rather small to medium-sized Bundesliga locations, Freiburg, sixth in the table last season, can serve as an example of what can be possible in the long term with competence, continuity and prudence. For the time being, however, nothing will change for the Augsburgers in terms of their goal of staying in the class. In the short term, Maassen hopes to be able to break with a Bundesliga tradition of FCA: none of the six home games at the start have been won.