If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
They say loyalty is a thing of the past in football.
For example, VfL Wolfsburg have had five coaches in the past two seasons and are back with Felix Magath in charge for his first full season with the club since leaving just over two years ago. Everyone’s favourite short-term coach Armin Veh has coached six clubs in ten years and now finds himself in Bundesliga 2 with Eintracht Frankfurt. On the other hand, SV Werder Bremen are one club that can proudly claim to have stuck by a number of coaches in their recent history.
The man who led Greece to Euro 2004, Otto Rehhagel, was in the dugout at the Weserstadion for 14 seasons between 1981 and 1995. The 73-year-old German is widely acknowledged as a defensive coach following his negative tactics at Euro 2004 which came in for criticism despite the Greeks lifting the trophy. However, Rehhagel played an integral role in changing the philosophy at Bremen and is most famous in Germany for his attacking style of play during the 90s.
During this period Rehhagel made The River Islanders one of the strongest teams in Germany. Werder won two German league championships under his stewardship and two German cups. After his departure in 1995, the club went through a short period of mismanagement which almost put Werder in the second division. But the legacy left by Rehhagel was taken forward by, ironically, another tough defender in Thomas Schaaf who had been involved at the club as a player and coach since 1972.
Schaaf made over 300 appearances for Werder during his 17-year playing career and has stuck closely to a footballing ideology which has made The Green and Whites one of the most attractive teams in the Bundesliga.
Schaaf had a tough job on his hands after inheriting the mess left by Felix Magath in 1999 with Werder on the verge of relegation. With eight clubs being separated by just three points, Bremen’s two victories over 1860 Munich and Gladbach would prove to be enough to retain their Bundesliga status despite losing the last match of the 1999-2000 campaign. That sense of euphoria, but mainly relief, carried forward to the German Cup Final where Goalkeeper Frank Rost’s penalty would prove to be the difference against FC Bayern in Berlin.
Schaaf’s first full season was another success with a UEFA Cup finish and another place in the DFB Pokal final against FC Bayern. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Munich side coming out on top after the previous year’s disappointment.
For the next three seasons, Werder would consistently finish in the top-half of the Bundesliga and secured two UEFA Cup finishes with an Intertoto Cup place sandwiched between. But despite that moderate success, the following campaign (2003-2004) completely overshadowed previous achievements. Thomas Schaaf’s side cruised their way to the Bundesliga title with a six-point gap between them and FC Bayern.
Helped by Brazilian striker Ailton’s 28 goals in 33 matches, the positive approach from Schaaf paid dividends with Bremen securing their fourth ever Bundesliga crown and in the weeks later, their second DFB Pokal under Schaaf. They secured four consecutive Champions League finishes from 2004 and won both the German League Cup and DFB Pokal in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
Tactically, Schaaf’s teams have all had the same type of players. One of the biggest characteristics of the Schaaf era is the inclusion of a playmaker. In the title-winning season of 03-04, Frenchman Johan Micoud played a massive role as the ‘No.10’ behind Ailton and Ivan Klasnic. Before that, Austrian attacking midfielder Andreas Herzog played in behind Ailton and Pizarro and starred in both of Werder’s runs to the DFB Pokal final.
Replacing the legendary Micoud was always a big ask for Schaaf but he handed the responsibility to a fresh-faced 21-year-old known as Diego. The Brazilian spent, arguably, the best years of his career so far in Germany where he became a fans favourite and helped the club reach the UEFA Champions League on three occasions as well as a German League Cup and DFB Pokal in 2009 – Bremen’s last pieces of silverware. Diego went and in came another raw talent in Mesut Özil who spent just two years with the club before moving to Real Madrid last summer.
Last season was one of the poorest in Schaaf’s 14-year reign with Werder finishing in 13th, just five points away from the relegation positions. For Schaaf, it was the first season where he was unable to stick with his trusted 4-3-1-2 formation with Özil’s departure creating a massive hole in the team and ultimately, being a major factor in the poor performances of Marko Marin and Claudio Pizarro.
The pressure was quickly mounting on Werder’s favourite son and murmurs of discontent within the camp circulated towards the end of the last season. However Schaaf’s side have started well with three wins and one defeat so far this term and it appears as though Werder have found an ideal position for young Marko Marin in the Bremen “No.10” role.
This philosophy and culture is now part of the Werder Bremen DNA but in a similar case to Arsenal, the club is now under pressure to swap swashbuckling football for domestic success. So far, Bremen look undeterred by the calls for a more conservative approach and the expansive style at the Weser looks set to continue for the remaining days of Schaaf’s tenure as coach.
You can read more from Ross at his blog.