Hertha Berlin boss Lucien Favre was one of the early manergial casualties of the new Bundesliga season
While the status quo reigns supreme in German politics, Angela Merkel re-elected for a second term as Chancellor, the same cannot be said of the Bundesliga, where the coaching carousel is spinning so fast this season that three bosses have been thrown off already: the Norwegian Jorn Andersen at newly-promoted Mainz, Bochum’s Swiss leader Marcel Koller and now his fellow countryman, Lucien Favre of Hertha Berlin.
Favre’s fall from grace was indeed a vertiginous one. Only a few months ago, he was the masterchef capable of whipping up a feast from leftovers, taking a group of largely workaday players and turning them into championship contenders. Yes, they tailed away in the latter stages of the campaign but a fourth-place finish, Hertha’s best perfomance in a decade, was still a remarkable achievement for a team of the Smiths and the Joneses.
At the Hertha helm since the summer of 2007, Favre was a winner on all fronts last term. Not only did he prove himself a canny blackboard warrior, brilliant in his ability to organise and plot a highly-effective counter-attacking strategy. He also prevailed in a power struggle with general manager Dieter Hoeness, the latter deciding to call it quits in June.
With his star high in the firmament, he was rumoured to be a contender for the Bayern Munich hot-seat following the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann earlier this year. But in football, the platitudes can swiftly curdle and when Hertha started 2009-10 in self-harm mode – six defeats in their opening seven fixtures – he was heading straight for an unfenced precipice.
In some ways it was a case of the fates conspiring against him. In recent weeks, he had to contend with a long list of injuries (notably to keeper Jaroslav Drobny, midfielder Gojko Kacar and attacker Raffael). During the close season he lost his two most important players, striker Andrii Voronin returning to Liverpool following a spell on loan and Croat central defender Josip Simunic moving to Hoffenheim. Club debts of around £34 million were always going to severely restrict the quest for reinforcements.
True Favre and new general manager Michael Preetz had little room to manoeuvre in the summer transfer market. But even when they did reach for the chequebook, the results were to prove decidedly underwhelming.The return of Polish striker Artur Wichniarek for a second stint at the club has not worked out, new defenders, Rasmus Bengtsson (ex-Trelleborgs) and Nemanja Pejcinovic (Red Star Belgrade) seem disorientated and error-prone, while Colombian striker Adrian Ramos (America Cali) and the Brazilian midfielder Cesar (Al Ahli, Dubai) have all the hallmarks of last-minute panic buys. Just to make matters worse, midfield dynamo Florian Kringe, on loan from Dortmund, contrived to break his foot on debut.
According to Favre, the outcome of a season is “based 85 per cent on signings”. Unhappy Hertha fans no doubt would agree.
Could Favre have turned the situation around if he had been given more time? Probably not. To coin an overused footballing phrase, he had “lost the dressing room” and his assistant Harald Gamperle was not revealing state secrets in pointing out that certain members of the squad were actively working to destabilise the boss.
“Hertha have never had such a good coach but some here do not seem to notice,” said Gamperle said, who did not name names but one likely mutineer is club captain and German international defender Arne Friedrich, who has not seen eye to eye with Favre for some time.
To kick-start the salvage operation, Hertha have turned to the ex-MSV Duisburg, Koln and Eintracht Frankfurt boss Friedhelm Funkel. A bread and butter coach if ever there was one, he seems a good choice, not least because of his vast experience of scrapping at the wrong end of the table. Sad to say this is the level Hertha have slumped to.