Nuremberg′s Fairy-Tale Season Turns to Nightmare | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.03.2008
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Nuremberg's Fairy-Tale Season Turns to Nightmare

So you want to take a promising team coming off a dream year and get it relegated? Nuremberg has written a play book on how it's done. They're teetering on the edge of the second division.

Koller

For Jan Koller and Nuremberg, it's been a season of grimaces

Last fall, no one expected Nuremberg to be down at the bottom of table, battling it out with the likes of Duisburg and Cottbus. The team, known as simply "the Club" to German soccer fans, was coming off its 2007 victory in the German Cup -- its first major title in 39 years -- and playing some of the most positive soccer in the Bundesliga.

Fast forward to late March 2008, and Nuremberg find themselves in second-to-last in the standings and winless in their last nine matches. The precipitous fall of one of last season's overachievers is an object lesson in how not to build on success.

Lose focus on the league

Thomas von Heesen

Coach von Heesen has yet to record a win

Nuremberg's German Cup win not only meant a new addition to the club's trophy case. It also qualified them for the 2007-08 UEFA Cup.

Playing internationally is every team's ultimate goal, but as so often is the case for smaller teams, the double burden of European and domestic contests has been anything but a blessing for Nuremberg.

The Club performed quite well in the competition, reaching the knock-out round before losing a heartbreaking tie in late February to Portuguese side, Benfica Lisbon, on two last-minute goals.

But Nuremberg's relatively good UEFA performances distracted players' attention away from the fact that they had fallen into the relegation zone at home.

"It started perhaps with a too-relaxed attitude at the start of the season," Nuremberg goalkeeper Daniel Klewer told DW's Bundesliga Kick-Off. "We said to ourselves that we had the best team ever at Nuremberg. But hard work and constant concentration are part of the game, and we forgot that. And at some point you're left standing there and nothing works. That's our situation now."

With only four league victories to date, no squad in the Bundesliga has won less often this season.

Have a lot of personality clashes

Misimovic and Guerrero

The Club is now chasing the rest of the league

To their credit, Nuremberg's management tried to address their precipitous slide earlier in February. Unfortunately for them, they chose exactly the wrong route, replacing veteran coach Hans Meyer with Thomas von Heesen.

The popular Meyer was reportedly given the ax because of personality conflicts with Nuremberg's front office, in particular sport director Martin Bader. Indeed, this seems the only plausible explanation for a decision that, from a soccer perspective, is like a slumping sprinter chopping off one of his legs.

The 65-year-old Meyer from the communist former East Germany not only led the Club to its biggest triumph in almost four decades. He also saved the team from relegation in 2005-06, after having previously achieved comparable feats for Moenchengladbach and Hertha Berlin.

The 46-year-old von Heesen, by contrast, has a relatively brief Bundesliga resume, his only other top-flight coaching experience coming at lowly Bielefeld.

Whatever van Heesen's merits as a tactician, he's gotten off to the worst start ever of any Nuremberg coach and hasn't shown any signs of solving the team's main problem.

Buy players who don't fit

Game scene

Nuremberg expended huge energy on the UEFA Cup

Nuremberg have only scored 26 times in the league despite being among the Bundesliga's best at creating goal chances. That would suggest that the team's strikers are most at fault for its demise.

But that's not the whole story. Nuremberg signed two solid scorers after their German Cup triumph -- reigning European Champion Angelos Charisteas of Greece and Czech Jan Koller, who notched up 59 goals in five seasons with Borussia Dortmund.

The problem is that neither of these classic big center forwards fits the successful style of play Nuremberg showed in 2006-07, which emphasized quick combinations rather than long balls into the box.

Moreover, Nuremberg's inefficiency up front is compounded by shakiness at the back. Neither Klewer nor Jaromir Blazek has proved a completely satisfactory replacement for former keeper Rafael Schaefer, who departed for Stuttgart in the off-season.

The result is that Nuremberg have conceded 18 goals in the final 30 minutes of games -- second worst in the league. That's converted potential wins into draws, and draws into losses, costing the Club some much-needed points.

Get yourself in must-win situations

Hans Meyer

Ex-coach Hans Meyer could have the last laugh

With five teams either in or near the drop zone, Nuremberg's fate is by no means sealed.

Whether the Club can save itself from its fifth top-flight free-fall in 25 years will probably depend on how it fares in its upcoming matches against fellow relegation candidates Bielefeld and Duisburg.

But as a team no one expected to be in such dire straits this late in the season, Nuremberg will be under additional pressure to produce results.

"The most important criterium is that the team believes in itself and performs," von Heesen told Kick-Off. "It's a question of self-confidence, of what sort attitude one takes into matches -- although I don't want highlight a situation that puts lots of pressure on the players."

But is Nuremberg fail to withstand the heat and end up in the second division again, they may find a quip by their loquacious ex-coach Hans Meyer ringing bitterly in their ears.

"In soccer, people are very quick to erect a monument to you," Meyer once informed a curious journalist. "But they're just as quick to urinate on it."

The March 27 edition of Bundesliga Kick-Off features an in-depth look at the problems in Nuremberg.

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