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Hamburg's winning start gives under-fire coach breathing space

Hamburg's Armin Veh still belongs to the small circle of elite Bundesliga coaches with a job at a top team and is battling to stay there. But as Deutsche Welle found out, there are certain questions he hates answering.

Armin Veh

Veh won the Bundesliga in 2007

Armin Veh has one of the better resumes in the Bundesliga. He's coached three different lower-league teams to promotion and is one of only five currently active coaches to have won the first division title.

But among the elite, he's also an outsider who gets comparatively little respect. Whereas Thomas Schaaf, Lousis van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes and Felix Magath can all feel relatively secure in their jobs, Veh is anything but a sure bet to survive this season at Hamburg.

Hamburg got off to fine start, beating Magath's Schalke in round one. But the team has also run through nine coaches in as many years, and Veh knows that loyalty is a rare commodity these days.

"Coaches get fired more quickly than used to be the case," Veh told Deutsche Welle. "If you don't reach your short-term goals, it's pretty much impossible to do any medium- or long-term work."

Veh's career has been a roller-coaster in recent years. Appointed on an interim basis at Stuttgart in the midst of the 2005-6 campaign, he won the title with the team the following season - only to be unceremoniously axed the year after.

The title established Veh's credentials, but he used up almost all of that capital in his next assignment.

Don't mention the Magath

Armin Veh on the sidelines

Veh's time at Wolfsburg was characterized by frustration

Veh visibly bristles, evading questions, when asked to comment on his short-lived tenure as Felix Magath's successor at Wolfsburg last season.

In retrospect, it was a very difficult task. Magath had won the title in 2008-9, and Veh had to try to sustain that success while putting his own stamp on the team.

He sought to change the Wolves' style of play and frantically rotated players as their defense revealed unexpected gaping holes. He was fired last January after a nine-game winless streak and Wolfsburg ended the season in eighth place.

That experience doesn't seem to have affected Veh as much as one might expect. At Hamburg, he's continued to do things his way. His controversial decisions include moving the team's most productive striker, Mladen Petric, out to the wing, and nominating newly acquired defender Heiko Westermann as team captain.

"I wanted to give the team a different accent, a new accent," Veh said. "That was the logic behind Heiko Westermann as captain."

That initiative may be more suitable for Hamburg than Wolfsburg. Unlike Wolfsburg, Hamburg are not coming off the back of a triumph. In fact, despite acquiring superstar Ruud van Nistelrooy and highly touted youngster Eljero Elia, the northern German side resolutely disappointed last season, coming in seventh.

One of Veh's first tasks is to win the support of those who were most disappointed - the fans.

Overcoming skepticism

Hamburg's Ruud van Nistelrooy of the Netherlands, left, celebrates

The opening day win over Schalke showed Hamburg's renewed team spirit

The relationship between Hamburg players and supporters totally deteriorated last season, with fans booing what they viewed as over-paid prima donnas and striker Paolo Guerrero retaliating by beaning one of them with a full water bottle.

It may be just diplomacy, but Veh says he hasn't encountered any major personality issues in the squad far.

"I haven't been able to see any signs that the team is difficult," Veh said. "They haven't made that impression on me - although difficulties usually only arise when you don't have success."

Truer words were never spoken. When Veh's appointment was announced last May, the overwhelming reaction among fans was dismay.

"Mediocre coach for a mediocre team," wrote one blogger succinctly when the news broke.

"Armin Veh - is this a joke?" opined another. "But mostly likely no real coach wanted to come to Hamburg, which is no wonder given how chaotic the club is."

Veh's challenge will to be to earn the support of skeptics like these, and there's a lot on the line. Having bombed in Wolfsburg after succeeding in Stuttgart, Veh is unlikely ever to get another chance to coach a top Bundesliga club, if he fails to attain his goals in Hamburg.

Veh is known as a players' coach, and perhaps the initial win against Schalke was a sign that he's got the squad behind him.

Or in could be a blip on the radar screen, and as Veh knows only too well, fans of the league's biggest and richest clubs are never content with blips. Even if they have a past Bundesliga title to their credit.

Armin Veh was interviewed by Jana Schaefer for DW-TV's Bundesliga Kick Off. The program airs every Tuesday.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner

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