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.
I like Pierre Littbarski. First he was one of the country’s most elegant dribblers in midfield, contributing decisively to the World Cup success of 1990. Then he was a coach, with a distinct lack of vanity and an ability to stay focussed and unemotional. This weekend, however, I did find myself wondering about our “Litti”, who has taken over from the luckless Steve McClaren as coach at Wolfsburg. I mean, I know the guy is pretty relaxed, and I know he’s spent the last seven years playing and coaching in Japan, known as it is for its attachment to Buddhist Zen philosophy, but calling your new job “a nice little hobby” in front of television cameras is not really on – especially when your entire team has spent much of this season playing as if their Bundesliga exploits were, for them too, little more than a nice way to pass the time of day, not their primary means of putting food on the table. In fact, they’ve played so poorly that only their goal difference is saving them from the relegation spot; nevertheless, they still lost 1:2 to SC Freiburg this weekend.
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.