Christian Gross on a mission to rescue VFB Stuttgart.

It was not so long ago that VFB Stuttgart hit rock bottom under Markus Babbel. It did not take long for the fans to scream, “Babbel raus”(Babbel must go). The club management out of frustration and desperation hired Christian Gross to stem the tide of woeful football.

Stuttgart seem to have found its bearings again with Christian Gross in charge. The team defeated Dortmund 4-1 last weekend. It was the fourth win in succesion for Gross. Stuttgart, have not lost a game in five matches under Gross. The team has won 13 points in five matches with Gross as compared to 12 points in fifteen games under Babbel.

It is no mean feet to change the fighting spirit of the players within a short time. The new found cohension and astute style of play from defense to attack can be attributed to Gross. Serdar Tasc, the central defender, put it this way, “the coach shows us our strength. It helps a lot.”

The players do not play with so much insecurity anymore. The rotation principle practised by Babbel has been eradicated. The attacking duo of Pavel Pogrebnjak and Ciprian Marica are one of the most dangerous in the league. Sami Khedira and Christian Träsch are no pushovers in midfield.

Gross, does not mince words with his vision and football philosophy. The coach with the Kojak look, told former captain,Thomas Hitzlsperger, that he has no place in the team. Hitzlsperger, has left Stuttgart for Lazio Rome. Older players like Yildiray Bastürk moved to Blackburn, while Jan Simak, has relocated to Mainz.

Surprisingly, Babbel, has broken his silence on why the team did not function during his reign. In an interview with Bild, he blamed the German football association(DFB) for his predicament. The DFB under the leadership of Mathias Sammer,in the department of coaching, made it compulsory for all Bundesliga coaches to have a coaching license without exception. Babbel, started coaching Stuttgart without a coaching license. He was forced to shuttle between Stuttgart and the sport institutue in Cologne for coaching classes. The double stress according to him, “it was highly stressful when you begin classes from 8 am in the morning till 8 pm in the evening.” He became burnt out and could not cope with trivial issues in Stuttgart that were very important.

Gross, is not swayed by the present euphoria sorrounding the team. He thinks the team can do better. He is also a realist. His mission is to rescue Stuttgart from obscurity. He is doing it with style.

VEHLIX is history at VFL Wolfsburg.

The competence of a manager in a competitive league like the Bundesliga is not accessed by mere intentions or rhetoric of the manager alone. Rather, a cocktail of numerous factors like execution of the manager’s football philosophy on the green grass in combination with the league table as yardstick.

Armin Veh, who was dubbed Vehlix at the start of this season as manager of VFL Wolfsburg because of his triple function as manager,general manager and CEO à la Felix Magath(his predecessor) is the latest casualty of uninspiring football. Wolfsburg, who were Bundesliga champions last season are currently placed 10th. For Volkswagen, the official sponsors of Wolfsburg, the team is too mediocre and a far cry from the mission to put Wolfsburg on the international football map as a force to be reckoned with.

Veh, had the misfortune of constantly living in the shadow of Felix Magath. He came to Wolfsburg to continue from where his predecessor stopped. There was no radical change in the team structure. The maxim that never change a winning team might be true but for Veh, it was disaster. Most of the players who won the league last season stayed in Wolfsburg because of fantastic contracts that were offered. Sadly, this season, top players like Diego Benaglio, Edin Dzeko,Zvejzdan Misimovic or Grafite are unexciting.

VFL Wolfsburg defense has so far conceded 38 goals in 19 games. The defense is piss-poor There is no stability in defense. The players playing defense keep changing with every game. It has led to insecurity in the players approach to the game.

Equally disheartening is the integration of the new arrivals to the club.Karim Ziani, is still trying to find his feet. Obafemi Martins, is good but he is still a work in progress. Thomas Kahlenberg, is recovering from injury. The players costs millions. As general manager, CEO and manager, Veh, is responsible for the flop signings.

Recently,VFL Wolfsburg, appointed Dieter Hoeness, a veteran Bundesliga general manager to help relieve Veh of his triple functions. Unfortunately, it did not save his job. Wolfsburg lost to Cologne last weekend 3-2. It was Hoeness, who annouced Monday the termination of Veh’s contract. The project Vehlix is history at Wolfsburg, six months after it began. A new manager will be announced soon. In the interim, Lorenz-Günther Köstner is expected to take charge of affairs.

Raphael Honigstein, posits that “Wolfsburgs’s fall from grace seems to confirm a suspicion from Veh’s VfB Stuttgart days: the 48-year-old is the perfect manager for a side on a good run but neither stringent nor hard working enough to succeed in more difficult circumstances.” It is not far from the truth. However, like TAZ concludes, “the question for him is, how does his failure at Wolfsburg affects his reputation in the branch and for his future chance in the job market.” Definitely, i do not expect him to walk in the footsteps of Felix Magath in another club.

VFL Wolfsburg is in dire straits. Hoeness, is expected to guide the club. SZ cynically writes, “….the club must look for a manager, who must be strong enough to walk away from the shadow of Felix Magath. And also strong enough to fulfill the expectations of the global cooperation, Volkswagen. Football made by Volkswagen-there are not so many candidates.”

Veh, the manager from Augsburg, is very good at reinventing himself. Do not be surprised to see him in the headlines again. Hopefully, with a positive twist.

Oliver Kahn suggests Gianluigi Buffon for FC Bayern.

Oliver Kahn, the ex keeper of FC Bayern, is in the news lately. In an interview with Sport Bild, Kahn, thinks FC Bayern should start searching for an alternative keeper because the present keeper,Hans-Jörg Butt, is not getting any younger. He praised Hans-Jörg Butt, for a wonderful season so far.

Top on his list of Goalkeepers that is world class and good enough for FC Bayern is Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus Turin.

He thinks German keepers have immense potential but can not classify any as World class.

Buffon, is not the long term solution for FC Bayern. I am not surprised that legendary Bayern keeper,Sepp Maier, said Buffon is too old. I agree.

Kahn was not a World class keeper, when he came to FC Bayern. He had the potential to be one of the greatest German keepers during his days at SC Karlsruhe. He finally blossomed at FC Bayern. I am taking aback, when he said, “Bayern has the highest goals. If you want to achieve the goals, you need the best keeper of the world.”

Manuel Neuer, keeper of Schalke 04, is highly rumored to be the next keeper of FC Bayern. I expect Christian Nerlinger, manager of FC Bayern to look for a keeper in the mode of Neuer or Rene Adler. Micheal Rensing was a failed experiment. But Neuer or Adler could be the panacea for the Munich giants.

If Hans-Jörg Butt, continue to shine with every game, he could be in goal for another year. Then FC Bayern has enough time to search for a suitable replacement.

Is green penalty card the penacea for fairness in soccer ?

Soccer continue to attract calls for reform. Proponents of reform, argue that the game needs fair rules. A new voice for fairness and accountability in soccer is the successful Bundesliga coach, Felix Magath. He has suggested a novel idea of issuing green penalty card in soccer.

In an article for Hamburger Abendblatt sometime last year, Magath said, “i have been calling for a green card in addition to yellow and red cards for years. The card should signal punishment but not exclusion from playing the game.” He also suggested fines for a player as consequence from the green card. He is of the opinion that the card will punish an individual player who infringe against the rules of the game, without the whole team or the club bearing the brunt of the punishment. Magath, explains that other advantages of the green card, could be the establishment of a bit fairness. He added, “a wrong call in soccer can destroy existences. Coaches are sacked after losing games, teams are relegated or not. Often we find out afterwards that a yellow or red card was excessive or in other situations, not issued.”

Ken Aston, is credited to be the referee that thought about language neutral colored cards in soccer, based on the principles of the traffic light. In the 1970 FIFA world cup in Mexico, yellow penalty card to denote caution and red penalty card for expulsion was introduced. Magath’s idea will lead to a complete use of traffic light colors with the green penalty card.

The debate about fairness in soccer will not go away any time soon. But Magath’s novel idea is a breath of fresh air. My only fear is that individual players could be easily stigmatized. Also, the game might lose it’s collective structure as a team sport. There is a written codex among players in soccer that they win and lose together. What happens to team spirit ?

Let the debate begin.

Faryd Mondragon call a spade a spade.

Faryd Mondragon, the goalkeeper of 1.FC Cologne, has reacted to media reports about indiscipline at the club. In his frank manner, he addressed the issues in a six minute monologue.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG4H1TUlYXI&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=de&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

FC Cologne stars in PR gaffe.

FC Cologne, a club with tradition is struggling with different problems on so many fronts. The team lack chemistry on the field. Also, some stars on the team as reported here, refuse to drive Ford, the official car. The players are expected to drive the car during training and official appointment.

On Teusday, Maniche, came to training in his Lamborghini, Manasseh Ishiaku drove Audi R8 and Petit, Aston Martin.

Ford, supplied FC Cologne management and players this season(2009/2010) a total of 32 cars ranging from Kuga, Mondeo, S-MAX and Galaxy.

Ford has been official car sponsor of FC Cologne since 1995.

Wrong call in Hoffenheim renew debate for modernization of football

The highlight of the Bundesliga match between TSG Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Hoffenheim was the scene that occurred in the 10th minute. Josip Simunic’s potent header had crossed the line but FIFA referee, Babak Rafati and his assistants allowed the game to continue.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw with goals from Ivica Olic and Chinedu Obasi. But the reverberation from the referee’s wrong call still lingers on.

The coaches of both teams, Louis van Gaal of Bayern Munich and Ralf Rangnick of Hoffenheim are of the opinion that modern technology should assist referees in their job. Even Babak Rafati, agree that it would be a welcomed relief.

In other sport like Ice Hockey, Tennis or American football, video is part of the integral officiating process. However, in football, there are mixed views for technology like goal camera, football chip or none at all.

The last time video evidence was used in the just concluded CONFED cup in South Africa raised eyebrow. The match between Brazil and Egypt in the CONFED cup could have ended differently if the ‘human factor’ as propagated by UEFA president, Michelle Platini, was used instead of video.

The match in Bloemfontein was 3-3 for both sides. During extra time, the referee, Howard Webb, awarded a conner kick for Brazil but changed his decision. Suddenly, he gave Egyptian, Ahmed Al Muhammadi, a red card and a penalty for Brazil. Kaka converted the penalty and Brazil won the match.

It is alleged that the fourth official saw through video that Ahmed Al Muhammadi obstruct a goal bound header with his arm in the cross line. Ahmed Al Muhammadi acted like the ball hit his face to confuse Howard Webb. Egypt filed a protest after the match but justice was served.

Officially, FIFA does not support video or the much acclaimed chip in football. UEFA, on the other hand is going an extra mile, in an experiment to increase the number of officials to six. In other words, two extra officials at the goal posts. While some argue, that we should leave football the way it is because the game is all about emotion.

The pros and cons of modernizing football is a reminder of how technology is at loggerheads with a conservative sport like football. There should be a global consensus through FIFA to effect change that could lead to fair officiating.

Joern Andersen fired! Who is next ?

Joern Andersen was fired this week as head coach of FSV Mainz 05. The management of FSV Mainz 05 decided to sack Andersen after a dismal performance in the first round of German cup. Mainz lost to fourth division VfB Luebeck 1-2. It was reported that the Norwegian had problems with the team, ranging from communication to hard training methods.

Christian Heidel, the manager of Mainz 05, gave the reasons for his sack in a press release, “we have a clear concept how a coach work with the team and management. Our strengths are team work, proximity to team and internal communication. Our approach did not correspond with Andersen any more because he developed in a different direction.”

A cursory look at Mainz reveal that Joern Andersen could not shake off the stark influence of Jurgen Klopp, the former coach of Mainz. Jurgen Klopp played for Mainz 05 for eleven years and coached the team for seven years. His arsenal is his charm and communication skills. In an interview with the Welt, shortly before his sack, Andersen said he is different from Klopp and he is tougher with the players than the former coach.He place emphasis on discipline and small stuff. Although, Andersen was able to bring back Mainz 05 to the Bundesliga in just one year of his reign, there was dispute with the team in terms of the way forward.

The new coach is the 35 years old Thomas Tuchel. A former coach of Mainz 05 junior team. He is a neophyte in the Bundesliga but he has worked with Ralf Rangnick. His philosophy is based on communication and team work. Do i see a resemblance to Jurgen Klopp ?

Joern Andersen will go down in history as first ever Bundesliga coach to be sacked prior to the beginning of the season. Who might be the next coach to be fired ?

Dieter Hecking of Hannover 96 is speculated to be the next coach whose job is shaky. His team also lost in German cup to fourth division team, Eintracht Trier, 1-3.

The Bundesliga will begin tomorrow. One thing that is constant is coaches will be sacked. The variable is the name of the coach.

Muslims protest against Schalke 04 Song.

Muslims are not amused over a Schalke 04 song with reference to Prophet Mohammed. The club song titled “White and Blue, How I Love You”, made reference in the third verse to Prophet Mohammed as follows, “Mohammed was a Prophet who doesn’t understand football but from all the beautiful colours he came up with blue and white.”

The song has been in existence since 1924. All Schalke 04 fans closely identify with the song. Even Felix Magath had to learn the song as part of his orientation.

Schalke 04 management takes the protest seriously. It is a good sign that they are not insensitive to the protests.

However, many people are curious why the sudden reaction to a song that is age old. A plausible answer might be ” the mounting resentment in Germany’s Muslim community after politicians were slow to condemn the murder of an Egyptian woman in a court in eastern Germany about a month ago.”

Muslims and Schalke fans need to seek a common ground to solve the impasse.

Captain armband causes tension at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Some players are natural leaders on the field without a title,while others seek the captaincy to assert their presence on the team.

This week, Eintracht Frankfurt Coach, Michael Skibbe, announced his preference for Christopher Spycher to lead the team instead of Ioannis Amanatidis, the former captain.

Ioannis Amanatidis, the Greek forward, did not understand the rationale for the coach’s decision. He told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, “I don’t understand such a low level of respect for a player who has been with the club for four years, two as captain.”Amanatidis feels slighted by Skibbe.

Michel Skibbe defended his paradigm shift, “ I love defensive players as captain because the possibility of a defensive player getting injured is low.”

The choice of defensive players wearing the captain armband is not new. The Brazilian national team, the Selecao, have always had defenders as captain with the exception of Emerson.

I can understand Amanatidis’s disappointment because the captaincy meant a lot to him. It gave him the sense of enhanced self worth. Eintracht Frankfurt boss, Heribert Bruchhagen, always told him, “ when you think of Eintracht Frankfurt, you think of Amanatidis.” Now, he has to contend with a modest role.

Amanatidis should embark on what he does best- scoring goals. He could be the highest goal scorer in the Bundesliga like Anthony Yeboah, a former player of Eintracht Frankfurt and the first black man to captain a Bundesliga team.

The new captain, Christopher Spycher, plays for the Swiss national team. He has a cerebral approach to problems and speaks five languages.

Captains come and go. But a player can endear himself to fans by rising up to the occasion with superlative performance. You do not need the captain armband for that.