There’s little doubting that Würzburger Kickers have been the basket case of the 2. Bundesliga this season, and that was confirmed on Good Friday when, out of nowhere, they sacked a third coach this season, with Bernhard Trares surprisingly given his marching orders.
It was surprising for three reasons. First, the timing. If sacking their coach two days before the huge bottom-of-the-table clash with SV Sandhausen was curious, the fact they had two weeks without a game beforehand to make a change makes it even stranger. Trares had even taken the pre-match press conference the day before being given his marching orders.
The second is that Felix Magath, the club’s ‘advisor’, apparently had nothing to do with the decision. He had very much been the driving force in getting rid of Michael Schiele after just two league games and in sacking Marco Antwerpen he was correcting a mistake he was honest enough to admit to. Having already stepped back from Admira Wacker Mödling, the other club in the Flyeralarm group, his days at Würzburg are also numbered.
The third, and most important reason, is that Trares has done more than anyone to stabilise the team this season. Whilst they haven’t looked close to clawing their way off the bottom, performances had been promising and they managed to get six points in a five-game period that saw them playing Bundesliga-relegated side Fortuna Düsseldorf and all of the current top four.
There is surely more to it, and a suggestion from the club that they would only clarify the reasons for the decision after the Sandhausen game seem to confirm it – although that’s still forthcoming at the time of writing. Academy boss Ralf Santelli and Director of Sport Sebastian Schuppan – who score the penalty to send them up last summer – have been put in charge for the time being, but no one is expecting any miracles.
In this context, it was little surprise they came away from Sandhausen with nothing. In fact, for two sides at the bottom of the table, it was surprisingly comfortable for the hosts, even if they were dependant on a first-half penalty from Kevin Behrens, with a handball from Frank Ronstadt that hit him too high on the arm to convince it was the right decision. Würzburg barely posed a threat at the other end though, with only two or three real chances all match.
Compare Würzburg with Sandhausen. They may have burned through two coaches themselves this season – they were a little hasty in sacking Uwe Koschinat and made a misstep in appointing Würzburg-reject Schiele. Yet they come into the run-in with a clear plan, their interim coachers Gerhard Kleppinger and Stefan Kulovits being confirmed in place for the remainder of the season.
On the pitch, the two men clearly have a plan too – essentially playing the gritty football that has always been their trademark in recent years, and a 3-4-1-2 system that suits this team best. Schiele himself hadn’t changed much either on the field.
In Sandhausen they are following a clear path, but you are left to wonder whether Würzburg can even remember what they set out to do at the start of the season or whether the work that they put in under Trares, including during a productive January transfer window, was even worth it in the end.
It may have only been Sandhausen’s second win in nine matches on Easter Sunday, but their chances of survival are still high and the direction they are going in is clear. The only direction Würzburg have is head first back into the 3. Liga.
And they know it. When asked about the fact they are now ten points adrift on the play-off spot, Santelli simply said “that’s not the point.” Perhaps this is the reason for the decision to change coach – they have lost hope in survival and have risen the white flag, with only pride left to play for now.