Es geht mit dem FC St. Pauli nicht so gut. Recent events have shown a growing discord at the club and at the centre of it all is manager Jos Luhukay.
Since taking over last April he has constantly attacked his own players and baffled with his frequent tactical changes, and whilst this is all in the quest for perfection, results like the 4-0 defeat to Hannover 96 show his methods aren’t sticking.
There’s no question of the club axing him before the end of the season, even if they are still in a relegation battle, but the arguments for replacing him in the summer are increasingly overwhelming, even if he can’t be blamed for everything wrong with the club.
Veerman just the latest target
A feature of Luhukay’s reign has been his frequent and public criticism of his squad, taking aim at the squad as the whole and, all too often, individual players. Sometimes this is deserved, mostly it isn’t. A case in point of the latter was when he threatened Robin Himmelmann – in most people’s eyes the undisputable number one – with the bench earlier in the season.
More recently, Henk Veerman has been his prime target. His return of nine goals is impressive considered he started the season still out after an ACL tear, but further injuries during the corona break have stunted his good form and left him at the fury of his coach.
This peaked with the very public argument between the pair at half-time in the Erzgebirge Aue, with Luhukay blasting the striker for not taking responsibility for taking the penalty ultimately missed by Dimitris Diamantakos moments before. Although he’s softened his tone since, Luhukay made no apologies for his comments a few days later and, with his words, summed up his own attitude:
“Why should I regret it? I am who I am. Everyone, including Henk, knows what I mean by that.”Jos Luhukay
Veerman’s contract is set to expire next summer and talks over an extension, which looked close to an agreement, have stalled, with the suggestion that Veerman wants to leave. It’s possible his head has been turned elsewhere, but if he’s not happy at the club under the current coach, who could blame him?
It wouldn’t be a surprise if others wanted out. Diamantakos already has his ticket out of the club – he’s joining Hajduk Split, a move completed not long after being left out of the squad after catching the wrath of Luhukay – whilst nine other players are out of contact at the end of the month, with no extensions looking close to being confirmed.
The post-coronavirus realities are mainly responsible for that – St. Pauli are far from the only club who are holding off on new deals – but is Luhukay a coach they still want to play for if he remains? Waldemar Sobota and Johannes Flum, the most significant out-of-contract pair, could still do a job for a lot of 2. Bundesliga clubs. And that’s not to mention any other players who could seek transfers away.
Luhukay’s selection policy has been wild from the beginning. Established players can find themselves out of favour in a whim of the coach, youngsters are tried and discarded at a rapid pace and the 36 players used this season doesn’t even seem to be enough for Luhukay.
Only four players – Himmelmann, Daniel Buballa, Sebastian Ohlsson and Waldemar Sobota – have been anywhere near set for the Dutchman, otherwise everyone else is fair game. If you’re a senior player and have had a bad game, don’t be surprised to see a kid get a debut ahead of you in the next game.
The case with Christopher Buchtmann earlier in the season was the best early example. A player who has been one of St. Pauli’s stars in recent years could barely get a start. There may have been legitimate performance issues with the midfielder, but when kids like Niklas Hoffmann – sold to Würzburger Kickers in the winter – were getting games ahead of him, it just didn’t make sense.
Jan-Philipp Kalla is another. Again, with his 33 years potentially starting to catch up with him, there may be a legitimate reason for easing him out of the side. But he is a club icon, perhaps the club’s only remaining identification figure, has been unceremoniously dumped in the past few months and if another role at the club can’t be found for him, he will leave the club with barely a whimper. Not the way he deserved to go.
As many younger players as Luhukay has played instead, there doesn’t seem to be any strategy other than to shake things up in the team. Hoffmann is patient zero here, whilst even Finn Ole Becker hasn’t had the chance to build on his potential. Christian Viet and Marvin Senger have been thrown in more recently, seemingly to blood them, even though the club’s still technically in a relegation battle. As one local source had said, it’s ‘not time for experiments’.
Ultimately, the constant changes don’t create a culture of safety for the players, making performances and results more erratic, only for the coach to change even more when they play badly. Whilst the team’s form hasn’t actually been that bad – they’d be ninth if the season started after the corona break – two heavy 4-0 defeats and some insipid displays in between aren’t cause for optimism.
Is Luhukay really to blame?
The frustrating thing about Luhukay’s St. Pauli is that sometimes they have been brilliant. Never more so than in doing the double over Hamburger SV and in other results, like the win against eventual champions Arminia Bielefeld before Christmas, that have shown the best of the team.
This though is typical St. Pauli. Rise to the big occasion, beat the teams you should lose against and then find ever more disastrous ways to collapse against everyone else. It’s been this way for years and it’s the culture that Luhukay, ultimately, is trying to fight again. He was, after all, brought in given his record of three promotions from this league.
In recent weeks though, the criticism has been piling up on the Dutchman, and it’s perhaps understandable that he’s fighting back, accusing the media of “double standards” in criticising him but, largely, going easy on his players. Isn’t it the job of managers though to protect the players and deflect the criticism, rather than dish it out? It’s everyone’s fault but his own, it seems.
There have been some positives – whether or not Luhukay can truly claim responsibility for them, which he has appeared to: “retraining” Buballa as a centre-back, the performances of young Brighton & Hove Albion loanee Leo Østigård – his slip against Hannover 96 aside – and possibly Ryo Miyaichi’s best season at the club. And there’ll always be the ’Stadtmeisterschaft’. Plus let’s not forget his hand being weakened by losing Mats Møller Dæhli in January, with no external replacement.
Ultimately though, the blotches on his record are just too much. No St. Pauli manager who has had more than 20 games in charge has a worse points-per-game ratio, and the team have collected just nine points away from home all season. When you put it all into one sentence, as one local journalist has, it’s hard to justify another season with with him:
“If… you are the most unsuccessful coach in club history, if you don’t even come close to finding a regular formation in a full season, if you disassemble almost every supposed leading player at least once, if you have a catastrophic away record, if you only narrowly avoid relegation with a record number of players used, if you are the only psychological concept that has pressure on the pros… then you should pause and think: Maybe I’m doing something wrong?”Stefan Krause, Hamburger Morgenpost
A better future is possible
The club’s hierarchy are sticking by him, but with 89% of fans saying he is no longer the right man for the club, and with the arguments above, it’s little wonder that it looks increasingly likely he will soon be gone. What comes next could be just as bad – but it doesn’t have to be.
A lot of Luhukay’s attitude is down to the fact that he sees the club as stagnating and mediocre at best, and after nine seasons back in the second tier where they have been more relegation battles then promotion challenges, he’s not wrong.
In the time since the relegation from the Bundesliga and the departure of the man who took them up, Holger Stanislawski, only Ewald Lienen has left any mark on the club as a coach. In fact, many would take him back from his backroom responsibilities in a heartbeat.
St. Pauli’s coaching appointments have rarely excited, but by getting rid of Luhukay, this summer would be a big opportunity. Now could be the time to follow the trend of appointing a young, exciting coach who could completely refresh the atmosphere of the team.
Darmstadt coach Dimitrios Grammozis leaves there in the summer and seems to be a perfect contender for such a reboot, whilst VfL Osnabrück’s Daniel Thioune would be an incredible fit as well. Timo Schultz and Florian Bruns are lesser-known names who have been tipped by B*ld – as well as St. Pauli legend, and current Holstein Kiel assistant coach, Fabian Boll. There would be no dissenting voices amongst the club faithful if he was appointed.
The arguments for change are undeniable, even if a new coach won’t solve everything. All that Luhukay has left to do now is salvage enough points from the final two games before he can takes his grumps and idiosyncrasies elsewhere.