So there you go: the last match day of the 2010-2011 season has been played, and the 18 Bundesliga teams is divided into two camps – the winners and the losers. Nevertheless, deciding which teams belong to which category is a matter of personal interpretation – and here’s mine.
Professional footballers have a lot in common with children – well, at least the FC Bayern boys do in any case. On the one hand, they’re unpredictable, moody, and have real difficulty concentrating on one thing for 90 minutes, as shown by their poor 1:1 performance against a much weaker Nuremberg side last week. Then again, just like children, they can be fresh, creative and full of innocent pleasure, which is what the Bayern team was like yesterday as they stormed to a 5:1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
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.
If you read last week, you’ll remember me dedicating the entire text to the absolute lunacy that has swept through the Bundesliga in the last few weeks, with boards of directors running around like headless chickens and firing coaches left, right and centre.
Well, the bad news is that these chickens are still headless. Bayern München, for example, lost its Champions League round-of-16 decider against Inter Milan and ended up in stormy waters, desperately looking for somewhere to drop anchor and get back to an even keel: to do this, however, they’ll need to offload some ballast in the form of Louis van Gaal, but he just doesn’t want to walk the plank – and, try as they might, the Bavarian boatswains can’t find a replacement first mate. For the moment, he has been saved from going overboard by Franck Ribéry, who shot a winning goal against Freiburg which has at least kept Bayern on course for the Champions League next season. The map who’ll be leading the good ship München through this, however, is likely to be Leverkusen’s Jupp Heynckes.
It’s been a dramatic few days, and as I write, a whole locker-room full of coaches is facing the sack, jockeying to try and find other teams or biting their nails about their first ever trip to the dole office. In fact, the kind of frenetic behind-the-scenes wrangling that’s been going on in the last couple of weeks is something of a novelty for most Bundesliga fans: Van Gaal, Magath, Veh, Skibbe, Littbarski, Dutt, Tuchel, Heynckes – 8 out of the 18 club trainers in Germany’s top football league are making more headlines than the teams they coach.
Right, let’s get this out of the way straight away: my team, Eintracht Frankfurt, lost this weekend, going down 0:2 to VfB Stuttgart. It was their fourth defeat at home in a row and has helped them to an astonishing new record in terms of losing: it’s the seventh game they’ve played without scoring a goal! And as if this weren’t shameful enough, they were up against a Stuttgart team which spent 75 minutes of the game one man down after their captain, Matthieu Delpierre, got a red card for smacking Frankfurt defender Maik Franz. Eintracht put in 30 shots during the game; Theofanis Gekas, top goal scorer of the first half of the season, hit the inside of the post in the 56th minute, and apart from that, Stuttgart’s 22-year-old goalie Sven Ulreich did a tremendous job. Stuttgart coach Bruno Labbadia had put him on the bench last week against Benfica Lissabon, but after the 34-year-old Marc Ziegler injured himself, Ulreich was suddenly flavour of the month again. Frankfurt, too, had a replacement goalie due to injury, but the 22-year-old Ralf Fährmann standing in for Nikolov made a bit of a hash out of the two shots which sent Stuttgart ahead.
Last week, Germany and Italy lined up against each other for a friendly, but the atmosphere was everything but. The reason is that, apart from Brazil, there is no one country against whom Germany has a worse record than Italy: over the last 30 games, they have only booked seven wins against the Italians, whilst drawing nine and losing a disastrous fourteen games. To make matters worse, their last win was 16 years ago, and one of the many defeats they have suffered fell at just the wrong time and in just the wrong competition.