Focus on the Bundesliga

Germany's generation gap

March 15, 2011
By Uli Hesse
(Archive)

As I opened my local newspaper, the Westfälische Rundschau, this morning to check the main sports page, I hesitated for a moment and briefly thought I'd picked up the wrong edition.

Jurgen Klopp: is the current instability in the German job market the fault of this man?
GettyImagesJurgen Klopp: Unhappy with defensive frailties

It's Tuesday, after all, the day after a big game in the Second Bundesliga, the day of big games in the Champions League and the day before more big games in the Champions League and then in the Europa League. But my paper's sports page looked like a job market.

In the upper left-hand corner there was a brief item headed "Still on board" that dealt with Pierre Littbarski's situation at Wolfsburg and mentioned that Hans Meyer has denied having been offered Littbarski's post. Below that was a longer piece with the headline "Schalke's board backs Tonnies". The gist of it was that chairman Clemens Tonnies had been given the green light to go ahead and get rid of coach Felix Magath.

Below the Tonnies piece was an article called "Hoffmann's coaching heir goes by the name of Oenning". It announced that Hamburg chairman Bernd Hoffmann, who sacked coach Armin Veh on Sunday, has given the job to Veh's former assistant Michael Oenning.

(I hope you can still follow this and make mental notes of the names and places, because we're not finished yet.)

To the right of the Tonnies piece was the page's main article. Above a large photo of Louis van Gaal and Jupp Heynckes, the headline screamed "Waiting for Heynckes". The piece said Bayer Leverkusen have become convinced that Heynckes is not going to extend his contract but will join Bayern in the summer, forcing Leverkusen to look elsewhere - probably to Freiburg and their current coach Robin Dutt.

Below that was a piece about Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp, because he had voiced collegial support for Magath before expressing admiration for Otto Rehhagel, the former Greece coach who might, and I'm not kidding you, follow Magath at Schalke as caretaker manager.

To the right of the big Van Gaal piece, meanwhile, was an editorial that wondered why Frankfurt coach Michael Skibbe has not been fired despite the fact Eintracht have not won since the end of the winter break.

Below this editorial was a short news item dealing with ... Dortmund midfielder Sven Bender's injury. That, I must say, came as a bit of a let-down. Just a brief note about, say, how his side's win over Dortmund on Saturday may have saved Hoffenheim coach Marco Pezzaiuoli from the sack and we would've had a whole page devoted to nothing but the managerial chaos that has made the Bundesliga such a hard league to keep track of these days.

And who's to blame for all this? Jurgen Klopp. At least that's what most observers say. Dortmund's stunning season, goes the reasoning, has made Klopp the new coaching ideal clubs aspire to. A recent syndicated article from the largest German sports wire service argued that by and large every club in the Bundesliga is "looking for a Klopp clone".

That's certainly not entirely wrong, but it's only part of the story. What has happened is that all the teams that have done better than expected this season happen to be managed by coaches from roughly the same age bracket: Cologne's Frank Schaefer is 47, Freiburg's Robin Dutt and Nuremberg Dieter Hecking are 46, Dortmund's Klopp and Hannover's Mirko Slomka are 43. (Mainz's Thomas Tuchel, usually lumped in with those five, is actually almost too young at 37.)

This doesn't necessarily mean that our clubs are suddenly all looking for coaches in their mid- to late-40s. Leverkusen and Bayern, for instance, are both hoping to secure the signature of Heynckes, who is 65. And two names that have regularly cropped up in the recent debate are, as we've seen, those of Rehhagel, 72, and Meyer, 68.

Thomas Tuchel and Jupp Heynckes are at opposite ends of the coaching age spectrum
GettyImagesThomas Tuchel and Jupp Heynckes are at opposite ends of the coaching age spectrum

Rather, the story of the season so far has highlighted a curious fact, namely that we seem to be missing a generation of coaches. "There is currently a coaching vacuum in the Bundesliga" is how Klopp puts this. "There are the older experienced ones, such as Jupp Heynckes, and the very young ones, like Thomas Tuchel. But there is a whole generation missing in between them."

I can't quite follow Klopp's maths here, especially since he then goes on and picks Falko Gotz as an example for that missing generation. ("Nobody is talking about Gotz," Klopp quips. "Okay, he is being discussed at Bielefeld. But that's as if nobody's talking about you.")

Gotz is 48, meaning he belongs to a generation quite well represented, that of the Dutts and Heckings and Schaefers. (Not to forget Thomas Schaaf, 49.) No, the generation that is strangely under- represented is the one before them, men in their mid- to late-50s. In the lower division, Ewald Lienen (currently at Bielefeld!) and Bochum's Friedhelm Funkel, both 57, come to mind, but that's it.

Apart, of course, from Magath. He is also 57, like Lienen and Funkel, and he's pretty much on his own in the top flight. (And, it seems, at Schalke these days.) This lack of a middle generation distorts our view of the managerial situation because it makes the young seem younger than they are, the old older than they are.

What happened to this lost generation, I don't know. Maybe it was the last one that felt good managers had to be former star players, which made Volker Finke such a rarity. And perhaps many former star players of this generation happened to decide against a managerial career for whatever reason - just look at Paul Breitner and Uli Hoeness, both 59. Or goalkeeper Rudi Kargus, who is 58 now. He even spurned the logical move of going into management in order to pursue a career as ... an artist painter.