Losing to leaders and Bundesliga-bound Bochum on Sunday is no shame for Hannover 96, even less so the manner of it, yet the defeat leaves coach Kenan Kocak on the brink of losing his job after a disastrous run of form that has now seen them go eight games without a win.
The performance in Bochum was certainly not one that would normally see managers sacked. Hannover had taken a deserving lead, and despite going 3-1 down, a late deflected shot from Philipp Ochs got them back to 3-3, like against Hamburg a couple of weeks ago, only for an even later Robert Tesche header to earn the three points for Bochum.
But if media reports before the game are to be believed, the former Sandhausen coach is on the brink, and if he does end up losing his job at some point in this English week, he will have paid a price for not getting this team to live up to expectations of such an illustrious club.
The only time they’ve ever put a good run of form under him has been at the end of last season, when they fooled many into thinking they would be promotion contenders this season. Kocak has tried to mould the side he inherited into one capable of a promotion push, but for various reasons he simply wasn’t able to achieve it.
The breaking up of the squad last summer was badly handled, even if some of it – like dealing with Rob-Robert Zieler and swallowing their pride to bring back Michael Esser – was simply correcting errors that had been made a year earlier. Getting rid of Edgar Prib, who is probably past his prime but was in excellent form at the back of last season, also felt premature.
Bringing players in has been an issue too. They have felt understocked in areas this season, most notably at full-back, where Sei Muroya and Niklas Hult are the only specialists they have there. New signings like Patrick Twumasi and particularly Kingsley Schindler have disappointed, whilst others, especially Franck Evina, have been unfortunate with injures.
Then there was January, when despite wanting and needing reinforcements they signed nobody. Kocak and Gerhadt Zuber, the sporting director brought back to the club in the aftermath of a legal dispute with them, certainly tried but the pair apparently vetoed anything that each other put forward.
Discipline has been a big issue as well – there was Simon Falette’s meltdown in training, which could have ended his Hannover career, whilst Marvin Ducksch had a spat with Moussa Doumbouya after the defeat to Heidenheim last weekend.
Ducksch himself has been symbolic of another issue – big players not performing consistently enough. Ducksch has scored 12 goals this season, including the second against Bochum, and when he’s hot, he’s hot, but when he’s cold, he’s freezing. At least Genki Haraguchi has frequently delivered – without him Hannover could have been in even deeper trouble right now.
When you throw in the constant presence and meddling of Martin Kind and the difficulties created by the pandemic, not to mention his relative lack of experience at a club this side, Kocak has done well to keep his head above water up to now, but this season is sinking fast, even if relegation realistically is unlikely.
Kocak would no doubt have benefited from a more stable environment, where everyone is signing from the same hymn sheet, and is far from the only one at fault for Hannover’s malice. But if heads are about to roll, as coach he is in the most vulnerable position, and the case for him to go might just be too strong.