In the first half of this season, Werder Bremen went from force to farce. But can the club march back to success in the new year? Deutsche Welle spoke with Bremen General Manager Klaus Allofs about the team's future.
Allofs and co. have a lot of work ahead to redeem their season
There are two ways of looking at Bremen's last-gasp victory over Hoffenheim on Saturday, which saw Torsten Frings scoring in the final seconds with what looked to be a very saveable mid-range strike.
From a negative perspective, it could be seen as a lucky win over an opponent hampered by personnel issues and trying to adjust on the fly to a coaching change - hardly a vintage result for Germany's second best team over the past decade.
Not surprisingly, Werder’s general manager Klaus Allofs had a more positive take on the outcome.
"Results like this help a lot, particularly when they come about as this one did," he told Deutsche Welle. "To concede an equalizer in the 87th minute and then score the winning goal in extra time, because you pulled yourself together and didn't give up...it was really dramatic and came as a great relief to everyone concerned."
First and foremost among those concerned were Allofs himself and his coach Thomas Schaaf. For the past eleven years they've been in charge in Bremen, making them, by far, the longest standing managerial-coaching duo in the Bundesliga.
But a run of poor results and lackluster, at times even slapstick performances by this year's squad had some fans wondering whether Allofs and Schaaf are still up to the job. So it's important for Allofs to show that he has a plan to get Werder back on track.
The mental aspect
Allofs, right, and Schaaf are facing an unfamiliar challenge
One strategy for improving a team is to bring in new players, and Allofs freely admits that in the first half of the season Bremen were unable to compensate for injuries to striker Claudio Pizarro and defender Naldo, as well as the departure of playmaker Mesut Özil to Real Madrid.
But it's tough to land true quality in mid-season, and without a huge war chest at their disposal, Bremen have yet to land a major new signing.
Instead, Allofs is hoping that a change of mentality will turn the tide.
"One running theme of our matches was that we didn't show that sort of absolute will and readiness to push ourselves to the limit," Allofs said. "For all the skill a team like Dortmund is showing right now, they live primarily from their boundless hustle and their willingness to help one another out. We have lacked that in a lot of games."
One player whom Allofs likely has in mind is offensive midfielder Marko Arnautovic. So far, the Austrian international with Serbian roots has lived up to his reputation as gifted but temperamental, whose poor attitude undermines his prodigious talents.
Against Hoffenheim, he showed marginal improvement, providing the assist for a goal by Pizarro that gave Bremen a first-half lead. But he also blew a couple of opportunities that could have sealed the win far earlier and spared Allofs a few additional grey hairs.
And that begs the question of how much attitude adjustment automatically yields better team play.
Arnautovic, right, has been a disappointment
As a lethal striker and a former German national team captain in his playing days, Allofs knows an enormous amount about how goals are produced. And it's interesting to hear his take on why Bremen's once well-oiled offensive machine has stalled this season.
"For example, the ball comes, and one player looks at the other to say: Are you going to get it? And then they both go for it. Or no one does," Allofs said. "Ideally, you don't have to look. Both players would run. Those are the little things that keep play flowing, lead to nice combinations and make you into a functioning unit."
In other words, Bremen's current squad - however great the individual talent - lacks chemistry. Allofs is banking on veterans like Frings and Pizarro to get everyone working from the same play book.
What they are working toward is another question, and this could be the key issue in the rest of Bremen's season.
Bremen need leadership from Frings, right
Amidst all the relief of getting 2011 off on a winning note, in his post-match remarks to reporters Allofs stressed that Werder's short-term goal was to avoid getting dragged down into the thick of a relegation fight.
That's a healthy bit of realism, given that Bremen are currently thirteenth in the table and just six points above the drop zone.
However, few of Werder's players have much experience with battling it out at the bottom, and the new signings, who are key if chemistry is to improve, hardly came to Bremen to try to eke out points against the likes of Kaiserslautern and Cologne.
Ironically, getting the squad into a relegation-battle frame-of-mind is crucial to avoid having to engage in a desperation struggle for survival - and to easing the pressure from disappointed fans on Allofs and Schaaf. With only eight points separating them from fifth place, it's not even inconceivable that Bremen could get back in the hunt for a spot in international competition.
But there's definitely risk involved as well. If Allofs and Schaaf fail to convince their gifted charges about the virtues of hustle and grit, there could be a major shuffle in the offing at what has recently been one of Germany's most stable clubs.
Klaus Allofs was interviewed by Jana Schaefer for DW-TV's Bundesliga Kick Off. The program is broadcast Monday and Tuesday.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Rob Turner