Eintracht Frankfurt's battle against relegation has taken a major turn for the worse. Mistakes made at the top levels of the club's management are coming home to roost, writes DW's Stefan Nestler.
Eintracht Frankfurt have not been relegated - at least not yet. But there is now little chance that they will be able to avoid the drop to the second division for the fifth time in the club's history. The venerable club are now four points behind Werder Bremen, who are in 16th, the position in the standings that gives a club one last chance to avoid the drop - through a playoff at the end of the season. At first glance, with four games to go in the campaign, this appears to be a doable task. But look a little more carefully and it quickly becomes evident that the chances of Niko Kovac's side surviving to fight another Bundesliga campaign next season are very slight indeed.
This is, at least, in part because Frankfurt's final four games - at home against Mainz, away to Darmstadt, at home to Dortmund and away to Bremen - don't promise to be easy. Mainz have had a really strong season and have their sights set on European competition. Newly promoted Darmstadt, geographically Eintracht's closest neighbors, are also in the battle against the drop, but they have gone undefeated in their last six games. With their 2-0 victory over Ingolstadt, they took another big step towards securing first-division football next season. The way they have been playing this season, Dortmund are simply too good for Frankfurt. As for Bremen, Eintracht's final opponent; their 3-2 win over Wolfsburg demonstrated that despite their precarious place in the standings, their fighting spirit is still very much intact.
Injury-prone cult figure
The same thing can't be said about Frankfurt - their fighting spirit remains intact until they concede a goal, as we saw in their 3-0 defeat in Leverkusen on Saturday. Frankfurt battled hard for the first 70 minutes, but as usual failed to find the net.
This is by far their biggest problem. Two goals in their last nine games - and just one in the five games since Kovac took over from the hapless Armin Veh - is simply not enough to avoid relegation.
Without Alexander Meier in the lineup, the man who won last season's scoring title, Frankfurt's attack is utterly toothless. Meier, who has been at the club for 12 seasons, may be a cult figure among Eintracht's fans, but he is also injury prone. Just like last season, he is out with an injury in the crucial closing weeks of the campaign. Kovac has said Meier could return in as soon as two weeks' time, but this is far from a certainty.
Unfortunate personnel decisions
It pretty much goes without saying that it is a clear failure of management, when they allow the fate of a team to be so reliant on a single player. It is their responsibility to put together a squad in such a way that the team doesn't fall apart when its star player goes down with an injury. The players Eintracht bought in the January transfer window simply haven't worked out. This is the responsibility of sporting director Bruno Hübner and outgoing chairman Heribert Bruchhagen.
Generally speaking, their recent hiring record has been disappointing at best. Former coach Thomas Schaaf struggled to live up to the high expectations placed in him, and then the wheels really fell off the apple cart in Veh's second spell at the club. Had management been quicker to pull the trigger on Veh's sacking, maybe his successor (assuming better purchases had been made in January) would have had sufficient time to steady the ship. There's not been a lot that Niko Kovac could have done. He was brought in late in the season and has made some changes, which have led to some modest improvement in Eintracht's play. At the end of the day, though, Eintracht's pricey lineup is showing that it's not good enough for the Bundesliga.
Hitting the reset button
Bruchhagen announced long ago that this would be his last season as CEO, but a successor is yet to be found. It seems like nobody wants to captain this sinking ship. This goes to show how important it will be for the club to make major changes, starting with the top levels of management. Relegation could even help this process along, because it often has a way of focusing the minds of all involved on the urgent task at hand.