Bundesliga relegation candidates Cologne have sacked coach Stale Solbakken less than 48 hours after a 4-0 drubbing in Mainz. Frank Schäfer will take over as interim Cologne coach, for the second time in his career.
FC Cologne announced on Thursday that the club would put coach Stale Solbakken on leave of absence, temporarily replacing him with long-standing youth coach Frank Schäfer, who has served as interim Cologne boss before.
The "Billy Goats" lost 4-0 in Mainz on Tuesday, sit 16th in the Bundesliga table, and have just one win and two draws to their name from their last 10 league matches.
"Remaining in the top division is now our top priority in this final push in the league season," Werner Wolf, the chairman of Cologne's board of directors, told reporters. "We now need to focus every decision on this goal, without any if's or but's. After the game against Mainz putting Stale Solbakken on a leave of absence became a regrettable, but at this point unavoidable step."
Four rounds of fixtures remain in the Bundesliga season, should Cologne stay where they are in the table, they would face a relegation playoff encounter with the third-placed team from the German second division. The team is just two points clear of Hertha Berlin in 17th place, however, with the outfit occupying that position facing automatic relegation at the end of the season.
"Our team now needs a recognizably fresh impulse for the fight against relegation. We thank Frank Schäfer for his readiness to take over responsibility at such short notice in this difficult time," Wolf said.
First Finke, now Solbakken too
The Norwegian Solbakken, who joined from Danish champions FC Copenhagen in the summer, had appeared to enjoy the club's backroom support in recent weeks, even as the team struggled. Cologne mutually terminated its contract with sporting director Volker Finke on March 10, with personal difficulties between Finke and Solbakken thought to be at the root of the decision.
Rumors from the club based in the media capital of Germany, and subject therefore to a disproportionate amount of such reporting, suggested in recent weeks that the players had lost faith in Solbakken and his coaching regime. One player reportedly told Kicker magazine on Wednesday that "we're training just like we're playing," an apparent reference to the demoralized performances the team has delivered on several occasions this season - not least after falling behind in a game.
Tuesday's 4-0 loss in Mainz was such a game. Cologne started strongly, were unlucky to go a goal down from a rather dubious 19th minute penalty, and then appeared to give up - conceding two more before Solbakken could even issue a half-time rallying cry. The coach, who himself appeared increasingly disgruntled in recent interviews, stormed quickly off the pitch when the final whistle blew - not halting to talk with his players.
Solbakken's temporary replacement Schäfer has been with Cologne as a youth player and then youth coach for almost his entire career. Schäfer spent 21 league games in charge last season after the early dismissal of Zvonimir Soldo, recording nine wins, three draws and 10 defeats in that time. Solbakken has eight league wins, five draws and 17 defeats on his tally for this season.
"Frank Schäfer already showed last season that he can motivate the team to deliver their best performances," Claus Horstmann, another senior Cologne official, said on Thursday. "He knows the players and can start tomorrow. Frank Schäfer now has the task of mobilizing everything we have, in order to secure the requisite points for survivial along with the team."
Club top scorer and captain Lukas Podoslki, who under Soblakken had finally started delivering the kind of performances fans expected after his return from Bayern Munich, is also the subject of persistent transfer rumors, with a summer move to Premiership club Arsenal in London widely reported as a done deal.
Stale Solbakken is the ninth Bundesliga coach this season to either be sacked, put on leave of absence or to have resigned. He was signed amid much fanfare on a long-term contract in the summer, meaning that the Billy Goats will probably have to pay him a hefty settlement.
msh/sej (dpa, SID)