Dieter Hecking edging closer towards the abyss

The Bundesliga has shown no mercy to managers this season with six clubs pulling the trigger before February. Wolfsburg’s Andries Jonker was the first to get the bullet after Matchday 4, Stuttgart’s Hannes Wolf the latest casualty after a 2-0 home defeat against Schalke on Matchday 20.

Five of the clubs that axed their managers are currently in the bottom six, the exception being Borussia Dortmund who sacked Peter Bosz in December after a drastic downturn in form threatened their Champions League status. Here are the managers shown the door thus far:

September 18: Andries Jonker (Wolfsburg)

October 30: Alexander Nouri (Werder Bremen)

December 3: Peter Stöger (Köln)

December 9: Peter Bosz (Borussia Dortmund)

January 21: Markus Gisdol (Hamburg)

January 28: Hannes Wolf (Stuttgart)

The culpability of each manager is a matter of opinion, as some will be seen to have been hard done by (Stöger, Wolf) while others may have survived well past their used by date (Gisdol). It will often be months after a manager is sacked that the club’s decision will be justified or viewed as a mistake. The new manager effect often brings an immediate run of positive form (Jonker, Nouri) before eventually returning to the norm.

It’s rarely a joyous occasion in any profession when someone loses their job, but in the case of politicians and football managers there is often no love lost. The salaries and payoffs they receive leaves them more than financially secure, with many simply overrated hustlers and bad appointments who do more harm than good.

Up next on the Bundesliga chopping block appears to be Mainz’s Sandro Schwarz or Borussia Monchengladbach’s Dieter Hecking.

Schwarz guided Mainz to an unexpected and much needed 2-0 victory at Hertha Berlin last night which relieves the pressure. Mainz’s next two matches against fellow strugglers Wolfsburg and Hamburg have the potential to make or break their season, but one factor in Schwarz’s favour was Mainz showing faith in Martin Schmidt during a relegation battle last season.

Football managers are affected by their duration at the club, the squad they inherit, financial constraints and decisions made by their bosses. Schwarz inherited a squad that narrowly avoided relegation last season and according to transfermarkt.de, is valued at €70m with Hecking’s Borussia Monchengladbach at €177m.

It’s not the only discrepancy between the two clubs and managers. 38-year-old Schwarz is a relative rookie in the middle of his first top-flight appointment, while 53-year-old Hecking has rarely been out of work since he took over at SC Verl in 2001. There is little doubt Hecking started this season at a significant advantage.

Hecking’s biggest success came at Wolfsburg with a second place in the Bundesliga in 2014/15 followed by victories in the DFB-Pokal and Super Cup. He couldn’t sustain that success however and was sacked in October 2016 with the Wolves in 14th place.

Managers can often be carried to victory by stellar individual performances which disguises the deficiencies in their managerial abilities. Luis Suarez at Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool was a glaring example, with more recent Bundesliga examples occurring with Mario Gomez at Wolfsburg under Jonker and Max Kruse at Werder Bremen under Nouri.

It’s not a radical assumption that Hecking’s success at Wolfsburg in 2014/15 was largely due to the sensational performances from Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian wizard amassed 10 goals and 20 assists that season and played important roles in both Cup finals.

Regardless of the merits of that assumption however, the fact is Wolfsburg slipped to eighth the following season and Hecking was sacked not long into the 2016/17 season with the Wolves languishing in 14th place.

Two months later Hecking replaced André Schubert at Borussia Monchengladbach with the Foals in 14th position. They improved to finish 9th despite one win in their final six games and lost the DFB-Pokal semi-final in extra time against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Last summer saw Andreas Christensen and Mahmoud Dahoud depart, but significant funds were spent on Matthias Ginter, Denis Zakaria and Vincenzo Grifo with Mickaël Cuisance adding to a squad expected to get back into Europe. Despite two embarrassing thrashings at Borussia Dortmund (6-1) and against Bayer Leverkusen (5-1), a 2-1 home win against Bayern Munich on Matchday 13 had Hecking’s side on target in fourth place.

Since then however the Foals have just two wins in ten games, were knocked out of the DFB-Pokal and have slipped down to 10th place. Hecking has been incredibly persistent in his use of the 4-4-2 formation this season, changing just once with a 3-4-2-1 in the recent 2-0 loss at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Lothar Matthäus questioned Hecking’s reliance on one system and there is little doubt it makes his side predictable and easy to counter. Hecking’s devotion to one formation is an obvious criticism, but one could also point out a lack of improvement with most of his players and an over reliance on Raffael for creative spark and goals.

Sporting Director Max Eberl dismissed the suggestion of a crisis after the 1-0 loss at Stuttgart last week, Gladbach’s third in a row without scoring, saying that the idea of a coaching change is total nonsense.

However, everyone involved in football knows that public support of a manager is worthless, results matter, and another thrashing at the hands of Dortmund on Sunday will trigger crisis talks in the Gladbach boardroom.

Hecking is the second oldest Bundesliga manager behind 72-year-old Juup Heynckes. With his tactics appearing increasingly outdated and inflexible, his side looking uninspired and slipping down the table, Eberl might be next in line to load up and pull that trigger.


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