Bayer Leverkusen have parted ways with head coach Sami Hyypia. The announcement follows the Bundesliga club's defeat to Hamburg, capping what has been a dismal second half of the season.
Friday night's 2-1 loss to Hamburg appeared to be the final nail in the coffin for Sami Hyypia. Early on Saturday, the club fired the Finn and named Sascha Lewandowski as his replacement until the end of the season. Lewandowski was formerly co-head coach with Hyypia during last season's campaign.
"Following yesterday’s 2-1 away defeat in the Bundesliga at Hamburg SV it was clear there was no longer any certainty that qualification for next season’s European competitions could be guaranteed with the Finn in charge of first team affairs," the club said in a statement on its website.
Media reports tip former longtime Werder Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf as the favorite to take over for the Pharmaceuticals.
Strong beginnings, poor finish
After beginning the season in strong form, Hyypia looked set to build on the success he'd achieved at Leverkusen the previous season, when he guided the club back to the Champions League.
Wins over Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg had propelled Leverkusen to second place in the league by Christmas, while a respectable performance in the Champions League had seen the club qualify for the knockout stages. But the consecutive defeats to Eintracht Frankfurt and Bremen just before the winter break were a sign of things to come.
The year 2014 began poorly for Hyypia, with a 3-2 defeat to relegation battlers Freiburg. By March, Leverkusen had lost four of six matches. In Europe, the club were embarrassed 4-0 at home by Paris St. Germain, eventually dropping out of the competition 6-1 on aggregate. A 1-0 extra time defeat to second-tier Kaiserslautern on February 12 in the German Cup simply added insult to injury, and wiped out any hopes of the club capturing silverware this season.
The 3-1 win over Augsburg on March 26 may have bought Hyypia some time, but the 1-1 draw with bumbling Eintracht Braunschweig last week, coupled with Friday's loss to Hamburg, finally brought an end to the Finn's two-year reign at the club after first arriving as a player in 2009.
"This was a really difficult decision for us as Sami has done a great job in the past two years," said sporting director Rudi Völler. "What he and his fellow coaches achieved with the team in the first half of the season far exceeded expectations and earned great praise from all sides."
"That makes this even more painful," he added. "The dramatic developments over the past few weeks leave us no other choice but to part company. We want and have to do all we can to save our season."
Lewandowski is taking over a team that is certainly in a free-fall, but not unrecoverable. Despite just three wins in their last 14 league matches, Leverkusen are still clinging to the Bundesliga's fourth and final Champions League qualification spot.
The Werkself face a relatively straightforward end to the season. With five matches remaining, Borussia Dortmund are the only club they play currently in the top 10. After a 1-0 away win at the Westfalenstadion last December, a result at home to BVB certainly isn't out of the question.
"It’s not easy for me to take over from Sami," said Lewandowski. "We were jointly in charge of this team for a whole year. And it is a pity when your former partner is unable to achieve his targets. However, as an employee of this club I also have a responsibility to meet the current challenge. We will do everything we can to end this season on a high."