Werder Bremen were founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963 and have only spent one season outside Germany’s top flight. A powerhouse in the 1980s and early 1990s, Bremen fell down the pecking order and have battled relegation during recent years. Alexander Nouri took over last September and rescued a faltering campaign, falling agonisingly short of the Europa League. Is this the season Bremen get back into Europe?
Sportverein Werder Bremen von 1899 e. V. have a proud history in German football having won four Bundesliga titles, six DFB Pokals and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Founded in Bremen in 1899, the northwest club are affectionately known as the Die Grün-Weißen (The Green-Whites) and play at the 42,100 capacity Weserstadion.
A charter member of the Bundesliga in 1963, Bremen won the title in the league’s second season but struggled in the 1970s where they eventually suffered their one and only relegation in 1979/80. Bouncing straight back up by winning the 2. Bundesliga, they have remained in Germany’s top flight ever since.
Bremen were transformed into one of the best teams in Germany from 1981-95 under the management of Otto Rehhagel. Bundesliga runners-up in 1983, 1985 and 1986, they won the title in 1988 and won the DFB Pokal final in 1991. Winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1992, Bremen won a third Bundesliga title in 1993 and another DFB Pokal in 1994.
Rehhagel’s departure in 1995 signalled an end to Bremen’s success, but under manager Thomas Schaaf from 1999-2013 Bremen regained relevance and won the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal double in 2004. In 2009 Bremen were defeated in the UEFA Cup final by Shakhtar Donetsk but ended the season by winning another DFB Pokal.
Schaaf left the club in bad shape in 2013 and the club would spend the next four seasons fighting relegation. Last season appeared to be more of the same, before 37-year-old Alexander Nouri rescued campaign and fell just short of an unlikely top six finish.
After narrowly avoiding relegation at the end of the 2015/16 season, Bremen replaced sporting director Thomas Eichin with former player and captain Frank Baumann. The 40-year-old spent over five years in various boardroom roles but left the club in 2015, stating on his return that he needed to “take a step back in the past year and reflect on my work so far, but also gather ideas and educate myself.”
Baumann soon had a big decision to make. With Eichin reportedly wanting to sack under fire Viktor Skrypnyk and several players unwilling to play for their manager, Baumann kept faith with the Ukrainian but was forced to sell the unhappy Jannik Vestergaard to Borussia Mönchengladbach. With Anthony Ujah departing, Bremen’s acquisitions did little to inspire confidence apart from Max Kruse who joined from Wolfsburg for €7.5 million.
Skrypnyk didn’t last long, sacked after crashing out of the DFB Pokal to third-tier side Sportfreunde Lotte and losing the first three Bundesliga games including a 6-0 opening day demolition job at Bayern Munich. Former player and youth team manager Alexander Nouri took over, the 37-year-old rookie switching to a three-man defence after the winter break which resulted in four straight defeats.
He refused to surrender and was rewarded with Bremen going on an incredible 11 match unbeaten run with the Green Whites picking up 29 points from an available 33. Striker Max Kruse returned from injury and was instrumental in the turnaround, scoring 12 goals and proving six assists in Bremen’s final 11 games. Serge Gnabry scored 11 goals with important contributions from the underrated Fin Bartels and January recruit Thomas Delaney.
Sitting in sixth position with three games remaining, Europa League qualification was thrown away as Bremen scored three goals in each match, but conceded 13 goals which contributed to the worst defence in the Bundesliga, an astonishing 64 goals conceded.
Alexander Nouri played professionally in the lower divisions for 14 years after spending his formative years at the Werder Bremen youth academy. Beginning his coaching career at VfB Oldenburg in 2013, Nouri returned to Bremen and took over the U23 team in 2014, succeeding Viktor Skrypnyk as first team manager in September 2016.
Under severe pressure in mid-February after four straight defeats with Bremen in 16th position, sporting director Frank Baumann stuck with Nouri, telling Bild: “We are convinced that we can get through this with Alex. There were no discussions and meetings with other coaches.”
Baumann’s faith was rewarded, Bremen climbing the table with the new look formation and the young manager rewarded with a contract extension. Despite losing some important players this summer and others rumoured to be leaving, Nouri will hope to hit the ground running and fight for a spot in Europe.
Out: Bremen lost some important players and received very little in return. Rising star Serge Gnabry was sold to Bayern Munich for a measly €8m and immediately loaned to Hoffenheim, while goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald joined Leeds for €500k.
Two players left on free transfers, promising 21-year-old central midfielder Florian Grillitsch to Hoffenheim and Santiago García to Mexican club Deportivo Toluca. Long serving central midfielder and captain Clemens Fritz retired.
Claudio Pizarro, the club’s all-time leading scorer with 104 goals in three spells at Bremen, was not offered a contract extension after a poor season. The 38-year-old Peruvian striker managed just one goal in 854 minutes of Bundesliga action.
In: The players acquired so far this summer have done little to inspire. Ludwig Augustinsson has been the most expensive purchase, the 23-year-old left-back joins from FC Copenhagen for €4.5m. Jiri Pavlenka will be first choice goalkeeper after the 25-year-old arrived from Slavia Prague for €3m.
Jérôme Gondorf joins from Darmstadt for €1.2m, the 29-year-old central midfielder a solid performer for the relegated side last season. China international striker Yuning Zhang joins on a two-year loan deal from West Bromwich Albion, the 20-year-old becomes just the fourth Chinese player to play in the Bundesliga.
Zlatko Junuzović – Signed from Austria Vienna for a paltry €800k in January 2012, the 29-year-old attacking midfielder has risen to become one of Bremen’s most important and consistent performers. With a total of 14 goals and 28 assists in the past three Bundesliga seasons, Junuzović’s creativity and threat from set-pieces are vital weapons in his arsenal.
Reportedly one of the players that voiced his displeasure about Viktor Skrypnyk, Junuzović was persuaded to stay at the club and has been rewarded this season with permanent captaincy, saying: “It’s a special honour for me. I’m aware of the responsibility which comes with this role and will give everything to carry out my duty to the best of my ability.”
U21 player to watch:
Maximilian Eggestein – Joining the Bremen youth academy in 2011, Eggestein has been slowly working his way up to the first team where he made 15 Bundesliga appearances last season. The 20-year-old converted defensive midfielder played 15 minutes in the opening 6-0 defeat at Bayern Munich last season and didn’t feature again until reinstated by Nouri in January.
Playing an important role in Bremen’s 11 match unbeaten run, Eggestein’s goal in the recent 3-0 DFB Pokal victory at third-tier Würzburger Kickers highlighted his versatility and ability playing in an advanced position. Expect to see a lot of Eggestein for Bremen in what shapes up to be a breakout season.
Werder Bremen paid the price for failing to sack Viktor Skrypnyk last summer which resulted in Alexander Nouri taking over a sinking ship in September. The inexperienced manager needed time to implement a new formation which eventually came to fruition, almost guiding the northern club into Europe which would have been a miraculous achievement.
Max Kruse was the standout performer but another lengthy injury or sale of their star striker could prove catastrophic. Bremen were the fifth highest Bundesliga scorers with 61 last season, but conceding a league high 64 goals is a huge cause for concern. The recruitment thus far appears underwhelming with the caliber of players arriving at the Weserstadion doing little to inspire confidence.
Nouri has intimate knowledge of the youngsters coming through the ranks however, and it would be no surprise to see talented Bremen youngsters such as brothers Maximilian and Johannes Eggestein develop into important players. Pushing for a European place should be the aim, but a mid-table finish is a realistic expectation.
Be sure to visit Get German Football News and download the full 2016/17 Bundesliga season preview.