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St. Pauli seek new coach, new direction as drop looms

Traditionally, St. Pauli take the field for home matches to the strains of AC/DC's "Hell's Bells." But they might want to switch to country and western in a season that's become a tale of tears and beers.

St. PAuli player being sent off

St. Pauli are edging toward division two

Everything fell into place for St. Pauli in Wolfsburg on Saturday. Their opponents lived up to their reputation as a dispirited troupe of mercenaries, their strikers rediscovered what that thing with the aluminum and the netting is for and the squad was playing as if their top-flight survival was in the balance - which it was.

And they still couldn't get three points.

"It feels like a defeat," admitted St. Pauli coach Holger Stanislawski after watching his side concede a last-second equalizer in the 2-2 draw.

The result broke a seven-game losing streak for the smaller of Hamburg's two first-division clubs. But it also represented a huge blown chance for St. Pauli, who need to take all of their opportunities if they are to stay in the first division.

Pauli defender heads away the ball

Pauli's performance against Wolfsburg was good, but not good enough

Pauli has had the typical problems of newly promoted teams. Their attack, which lit up division two in 2009-10 for 72 goals, has been toothless. Former Germany international Gerald Asamoah and journeyman Marius Ebbers have been too old and slow for the top flight - with only 32 goals scored, Pauli's attack is the second worst in division one.

Injuries and suspensions have also revealed the thinness of the squad. On those rare occasions in the second-half of the season when Pauli have managed to take the lead they’ve had difficulty holding it.

Viewed in the long-term, relegation does not automatically entail catastrophe for the club, whose unofficial emblem is a pirate’s skull-and-crossbones. The team has bounced between the first, second and even third divisions in the past decade.

What's more disturbing than Pauli's current standing near the bottom of the table is the loss of elements as central to the club's culture as the Jolly Roger. And the list starts with coach Stanislawski.

So long Stani

Stanislawski surprised and disappointed supporters last week by breaking the news that he would leave after this season.

The Hamburg native has been with St. Pauli since 1993 as player, sporting director and coach and has come more than any single figure to personify the club.

St. Pauli coach Holger Stanislawski

Stanislawski is taking his smile elsewhere

"As a true Hamburger, there's only one thing I can say: so long," a teary-eyed Stanislawski told reporters after a long preamble in which he rhapsodized about the club. "This can be an opportunity for both sides."

The press conference was a strange spectacle, akin to a husband announcing that he was ending an affair for the good of his kids, only to end up suggesting that he and his lover jump back into the sack for old times' sake.

Stanislawski is rumored - in the sense that everybody knows but no one's telling - to be headed for Hoffenheim, a club whose tradition in the top two tiers of German football stretches back a grand total of four years.

The fact that a traditionalist from northern Germany would voluntarily depart for a soccer epigone from the south speaks volumes about Stanislawski's faith in the prospects of Pauli with its aging squad and financial limitations.

The club nearly went bankrupt early in the new millennium. It was saved in part due to supporters' actions, including a voluntary 50-cent "St. Pauli surcharge" on beer sold in bars near Millerntor stadium.

But this season, the mood among supporters too has sometimes gone off.

Let's get drunk and be somebody

St. Pauli's half-rebel, half-old-school image has won them fans throughout Germany. They're the soccer equivalent of the scuffed leather jacket a middle-age yuppie likes to take out of the closet occasionally.

But this year the fans have been ill-tempered - and divided.

St. Pauli fan

St. Pauli's fans want things that may be mutually exclusive

Pauli may be sponsored by Mini and not BMW, but for many long-term supporters, the club has become too commercialized. Some fan groups have called upon the team to reduce the amount of stadium advertising and to get rid of business seats and the VIP lounge.

Others are demanding that the club do whatever is necessary to establish itself in the first division. The frustration came to head two weeks ago when a fan pelted a linesman with a cup of beer when Pauli were on the verge of losing at home to Schalke. The match was abandoned, and Pauli narrowly escaped a spectator ban.

It's going to take a special coach to help square the demands of authenticity and success in the big-bucks Bundesliga. Mike Büskens, coach of second-division Greuter Fürth, has already said no to the prospect of succeeding Stanislawski.

St. Pauli have been relegated more often in the past than anyone can remember and have always taken the drop with a hardcore partier's sense of humor.

But if they go down this May, few people will be laughing. With the cult club in a period of transition, and many of the ultras worried about its soul, it could be years before the Jolly Roger flies again in division one.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Matt Hermann

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