The 29th match day of this Bundesliga season was a day of big-name duels. There was Frankfurt-Bremen, Stuttgart-Kaiserslautern and Mönchengladbach-Cologne, all of which were fights between relegation candidates – the latter, of course, was also something of a local Rhineland derby.
There was the Bavarian derby duel, too, with Munich up against Nuremberg. Attention was focussed pretty much exclusively on Bayern’s president Uli Hoeneß, though, who had had a real go at the club’s own fans last week after they gave him some flak for wanting to save TSV 1860, the other Munich club.
Nevertheless, all of this was nothing except window dressing for the biggest and most explosive duel of all: coach Felix Magath against his former employers at FC Schalke 04. Just 24 days after they sent him packing, he returned to the Gelsenkirchen stadium with his new team, VfL Wolfsburg. We waited excitedly to see whether Magath’s former players, most of whom were pretty happy to see the back of him, would use this opportunity to give him a real drubbing – and to see how the fans would react to this controversial coach.
Those of us waiting for fireworks, however, were disappointed by the match: whilst the rivalries and animosities were clearly present, there was no bad behaviour, no raving and ranting – just a simple 1:0 for Schalke.
Frankfurt-Bremen, too, was a pretty standard, by-the-numbers match which finished with a predictable 1:1, but the other two relegation duels were more interesting, with far higher scoresheet margins. Kaiserslautern scored an unexpected and very impressive 4:2 victory in Stuttgart, with striker Srdjan Lakic cutting a dashing figure after 10 weeks of drought.
Mönchengladbach, meanwhile, gave their local rivals Cologne a serious seeing to in the form of a 5:1 win, and showed that they still have some fight left in them – they’re now two points above the relegation spot and can suddenly see light at the end of the tunnel.
So those of us looking for fireworks had to keep all eyes on Bayern München and Uli Hoeneß, who only managed a 1:1 against FC Nürnberg due to goalie Thomas Kraft messing up; this is not the kind of mediocre play that is going to secure them a place in the Champions League and put the record holders for the most Bundesliga titles behind Hannover 96 in the table – and this led to coach Louis van Gaal having to take it hat.
And this is where the fireworks started, with Hoeneß working himself up into a lather when asked about Gaal’s departure at a press conference. Speaking about the Nuremberg match, he got quite hot under the collar about what he saw as an unnecessary change of goalkeeper from Hans-Jörg Butt to Thomas Kraft: “That’s where the shit really started to hit the fan”, he shouted into the assembled microphones and camera lenses, going on to explain how this was just the latest in a series of mess-ups on van Gaal’s part and that the Board now saw no other way than to let him go. The general discomfort in the team, according to Hoeneß, came from the changes in the goal, whilst he also criticised van Gaal for making training a joyless, jumping-through-hoops kind of affair and de-motivating the team.
It went on and on like this, and it was an unseemly sight: Hoeneß is on top and van Gaal is on the floor, and Hoeneß just keeps on kicking him. If I were Thomas Kraft, this kind of behaviour would make me rather anxious to find myself a new employer for next season, because he is no-doubt next on Hoeneß, er, shit list. My guess: They’ve already signed Schalke’s Manuel Neuer, who also plays in goal on the German national team, and the ink on the contracts is long dry, so that is probably why Hoeneß saw van Gaal’s tinkering with the goal as completely unnecessary and a sign that he had to go.
What can we learn from all this unpleasantness and unemployment? Well, I’d say it’s clear that the days of the four-star football coach general are now counted. The high-powered types who send communiqués to their teams via assistants rather than getting splattered with mud in the dug outs are on their way into the history books, shown by van Gaal’s failure, but also by Felix Magath, whose change to Wolfsburg is the start of his descent into irrelevance. The successful coaches in the Bundesliga are guys like Jürgen Klopp at Dortmund, generals who lead from the front.
Results match day 29:
Eintracht Frankfurt – Werder Bremen 1:1
FC Schalke 04 – VfL Wolfsburg 1:0
Hamburger SV – Borussia Dortmund 1:1
SC Freiburg – 1899 Hoffenheim 3:2
Hannover 96 – 1. FSV Mainz 05 2:0
1. FC Nürnberg – Bayern München 1:1
VfB Stuttgart – 1. FC Kaiserslautern 2:4
Borussia Mönchengladbach – 1. FC Köln 5:1
Bayer Leverkusen – FC St. Pauli 2:1
1 Borussia Dortmund 66 P
2 Bayer Leverkusen 61 P
3 Hannover 96 53 P
4 Bayern München 52 P
5 1. FSV Mainz 05 45 P
6 1. FC Nürnberg 43 P
7 Hamburger SV 42 P
8 SC Freiburg 41 P
9 FC Schalke 04 39 P
10 1899 Hoffenheim 37 P
11 1. FC Köln 35 P
12 1. FC Kaiserslautern 34 P
13 Werder Bremen 34 P
14 Eintracht Frankfurt 33 P
15 VfB Stuttgart 30 P
16 VfL Wolfsburg 28 P
17 FC St. Pauli 28 P
18 Borussia Mönchengladbach 26 P