Bochum’s miracle: “When the last shot goes over the goal, it breaks out of you, it’s pure ecstasy”

He was not one of the most radiant heroes on this memorable evening. While the players shed tears of joy and threw their goalkeeper Andreas Luthe into the air, Bochum’s sports director Patrick Fabian stood a little to the side and took in the sensational outcome of the relegation match. He was “simply empty,” said Fabian, who still couldn’t believe that VfL had managed to stay in the league and remain in the first division.

The drama in Düsseldorf had taken its toll on him. Bochum had arrived with a 0-3 deficit from the first leg, had fought their way into extra time in the second leg and finally reached safety in the penalty shootout. “When the last shot went over the goal, it burst out of you, it was pure ecstasy,” explained Fabian: “But you’re still exhausted, the last few weeks have been madness.”

Coach Letsch fired

These weeks, or rather months, were tough on us both mentally and physically. On February 18th, when VfL beat FC Bayern 3:2, Bochum were almost safe: eleventh place in the table, nine points ahead of the relegation zone. What else could happen?

Fabian was praised for the team he had put together with limited resources. He then set about planning the future for what he believed would be another year in the first division. Something like that is never a given for the financially weak VfL.

Patrick Fabian (r.) together with Bochum goalkeeper Andreas Luthe, who announced his retirement after the match

What: REUTERS

But from then on, almost nothing went right. Defeat after defeat followed. When on matchday 28, despite a 1-0 lead, they lost 2-1 at 1. FC Cologne, Fabian decided to take a step that he had completely ruled out shortly before: He parted ways with coach Thomas Letsch, the man he actually wanted to shape the future with.

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The search for a successor turned into a fiasco: there was a hail of rejections – one candidate, Peter Stöger, even publicly humiliated Fabian. The Austrian coach said that he had “considered taking the job to get me back into the conversation”, but then turned it down anyway. Fabian was left out in the cold.

Bochum-Manager Patrick Fabian

Source: dpa/Tim Rehbein

So he made Heiko Butscher, something of a permanent emergency solution for Bochum, the interim head coach. Things remained bumpy and criticism rained down on Butscher, the players and Fabian. “Everything we had to moderate away, everything we were confronted with – hey, guys, it’s still about people out there,” said the sports director on Monday.

The severity of the accusations had hit him hard. “It took an enormous amount of energy. So much was said, so much bullshit spread. It’s unbelievable. I find it very, very difficult,” explained Fabian. It hit him hard because he believed “that we at VfL were not going down this path.” He had expected a little more understanding, a little more moderation.

Suddenly no longer fit for the first division?

Fabian was referring to the rumours that had been circulating since the 3-0 defeat in the first leg of the relegation play-offs: There was talk of the imminent dismissal of sporting director Marc Lettau, Fabian’s most important employee. Fabian himself was also said to be on the verge of being fired. Because the team they had put together, which was still being praised until February, was not ready for the first division – it was said.

The players at least gave the answer to that on Monday in Düsseldorf – in a situation that seemed almost hopeless. That makes him proud, said Fabian. “So we’re all enjoying this triumph here. What we’ve achieved is one of the greatest comebacks in football history,” he explained. We’ll have to wait and see how things continue – including in our own interests.

At this midnight hour in Düsseldorf, Fabian deliberately left his personal future open. “I’ll be honest, we’ll see. I haven’t liked a lot of things in the last few weeks and months. This victory hasn’t changed that,” he said. The 36-year-old also seemed to be thinking about all the stress, anger and criticism that comes with a prominent position in this business. Especially when you’re working for a club that’s not exactly on the best of terms.

Fabian had already felt this a year ago. In March 2023, he took a four-month break for health reasons. Details were not disclosed at the time. Fabian had asked for his privacy to be respected. “Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than football,” he said.

After Düsseldorf’s last-minute rescue, Fabian announced that he would meet with the club’s management in the coming days. Then they will talk about what will happen next – in terms of sport and in general. Until then, he will have to find an answer for himself as to whether it is all worth it.

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