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ISSUE #26: The Subscriber Q&A
Over the past week I've been compiling questions on German football all across Twitter, substack, & reddit. Today, we feature an in-depth look at 4 of them!
With less than a 1/3rd of the Bundesliga season remaining we are well and truly cruising into crunch time. The race for top four is heating up, the relegation battle is coming to a tense conclusion, and the title race, well, that's petering out as it so often does.
To switch it up a bit in this week's newsletter, I’ve strayed away from the normal format and brought you guys into the mix!
Across Twitter, Reddit, and the Substack comment section, we compiled more than two dozen questions for the German Football Weekly’s first ever Q&A. Thank you for getting involved!
In this Friday's issue we'll look at 4 of them, ranging from managers lighting up the Zweite Bundesliga, to finding a suitable replacement for Erling Haaland. If you enjoy this format and want to see it used again, make sure to comment below with a question of your own, or place it at the bottom of this tweet.
Which manager in the 2. Bundesliga do you expect to be talked up for a move to one of the top 4 teams in the Bundesliga in the next 5 years?
Given the fact that 6 of the 18 clubs began the season with a manager under the age of 40, quite a few candidates could be up for this position. In reality, though, there really is only one answer.
Ole Werner, former Holstein Kiel and current Werder Bremen boss, has worked wonders in the Zweite Bundesliga over the past two years.
Last season, a 32-year old Werner made it all the way to a promotion playoff, knocked out FC Bayern in the DFB-Pokal, and held the Bundesliga 2’s best defensive record with a squad which, at best, boasted a mid-table wage bill. After a slow start to the current campaign - inevitably caused by significant off-season departures and the lingering heartache of coming one step short of a first ever Bundesliga promotion - Ole Werner opted to step away from Holstein Kiel in late September.
It wasn’t long though before he would be back in the Zweite Liga dugout, brought into a shattered Bremen side who sat 10th in the table and had just lost their manager to a fake vaccination scandal.
In such a precarious situation, with a squad all but gutted over the summer, one could be forgiven for requiring time to salvage a sinking ship. However, within days of his arrival, Bremen was starting to churn their way back up the table.
Since his debut on the 3rd of December, Bremen have still yet to lose a competitive fixture, going unbeaten in eleven matches to now sit top of the table in early March. Though he still has a long way to go to equal Otto Rehhagel’s 26-game unbeaten streak from the 1980/81 title winning campaign, the performances and point-tally is astounding given the precarious situation he joined the club in.
As for a look to the future, it’s hard to imagine Werner up and leaving in the summer if Bremen stay consistent and achieve promotion.
A sleeping giant who can regularly entertain crowds of 40,000, bringing Werder back to Bundesliga prominence could cement his status as an iconic manager in the club’s more than illustrious history.
If Bremen fall short of returning to the topflight though, there are other exciting opportunities which could potentially tempt him away. Werner’s deal only runs until 2023, so should clubs like the-always-looking Borussia Dortmund, the faltering Borussia Mönchengladbach, or the insecure VFL Wolfsburg come in with a lucrative offer over the summer, perhaps Bremen could be enticed to let Germany’s next managerial starlet leave on a hefty fee.
What is the main reason for German Football’s decline in Europe this season?
For the first since 2017 only one German club qualified for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League.
With Germany picking up just the 6th most coefficient points this season - behind England, France, Italy, Spain, and even the Netherlands - clearly something is not right at the top of the Bundesliga. Putting the finger on just one aspect of the equation fails to sum up the full scale of the problem, so to get us closer to a satisfactory answer I've taken into account a wide range of factors.
A Summer of Change
Probably the most glaring aspect which has hampered Germany’s progress this season is the managerial overhaul which took hold over the summer.
Of the 6 German teams who qualified for this year’s Europa or Champions league, not a single one opted to hold onto their manager from the previous campaign. Comparatively, the other 24 clubs from Europe’s top 5 leagues combined for just 7 new appointments.
With all 6 clubs undergoing intensive rebuilds, international form has notably suffered.
RB Leipzig and VFL Wolfsburg are the most obvious examples, bowing out of the UCL group stage, and ending the Bundesliga Hinrunde with up to 13 fewer points than they had at the same stage last season, but even Borussia Dortmund has notably struggled to adapt to the demands of Marco Rose's style.
After dropping down from the Champions League, Rose's side crashed out of Europe altogether after failing to overcome a Rangers side whose combined value was almost €20m less than that of Erling Haaland.
One can only imagine the different prospects these three clubs would have had, had they entered the UEFA Champions League with their previous manager, or been afforded more time to gel with the demands of an entirely new system.
A Crisis of Identity
Whereas all the other European Leagues have had different champions in each of the last two seasons, one needs to go all the way back to 2012 to find the last time another German side pipped Bayern to the title.
Inevitably, it’s created a crisis of identity for German clubs, with the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, and RB Leipzig uninterested in spending exorbitant fees on established stars who are unlikely to shift the power dynamic, and present little resale value in 2-3 years.
This complete monopoly on the domestic honors has seen the Bundesliga’s other 17 clubs focus more on providing a platform for young talent. It's a lucrative model for long-term progression, but also one which, in the short-term, has made Germany less competitive on the international circuit.
In a recent interview with The Athletic, Borussia Dortmund's managing director Carsten Cramer hit the nail on the head,
“It’s part of our DNA. We won’t be able to sign the big stars, but we will educate them. Everyone knows that it’s the only alternative to be competitive. We don’t have much money, we are not owned by an investor or a government like some Premier League clubs. So we have to be creative.”
Only when a club like Dortmund combines their astute talent identification with an attractive model for players entering their prime will we see Germany make the next step as an international force.
The Plight of the Established Elite
There’s a reason I’ve heralded the Zweite Bundesliga as the greatest second division of all time. With Schalke 04, Werder Bremen, and Hamburger SV, German football fans are getting to see some of the most historic clubs in the country battle it out for topflight promotion.
It’s pure, unmatched, excitement, but it’s also undoubtedly hurting the nation’s European performance to see clubs of such a strong status wallowing away in the lower tiers. Without exorbitant ownership models which Premier League clubs can fall back on in hard times, even the biggest clubs in German football can find themselves spiraling from the European places to a relegation battle within a couple of years of boardroom mismanagement.
The likes of Union Berlin, SC Freiburg, or Mainz 05 all deserve a spot in the sun for their smart management, and long-term planning, but one can only imagine what a club of Bremen or Schalke’s stature could become if they married their impressive fan base and strong regional sponsorship, with the intelligent decision-making often exclusively found in some of Germany’s smallest topflight outfits.
How will Dortmund replace Erling Haaland?
It’s almost impossible to conceive of a world where Erling Haaland remains at Dortmund next season. In July, the Norwegian superstar will be entering the final 12-months of his contract, and with the second largest market value on the planet, Dortmund will do anything in their power to make sure he doesn’t leave on a free in 2023.
Hans-Joachim Watzke, Borussia Dortmunds CEO, has hinted at the fact they would like Haaland to determine his future in the next few weeks, so in the meantime, it’s only reasonable to think that BVB have begun lining up some potential options as replacement in his absence.
Here are 3 of my picks for the position.
Amongst a whole host of talented German forwards, Adeyemi is probably the one who has seen his stock rise the most in the past 8 months. I wrote extensively about the 20-year old for Jacek Kulig’s Football Talent Scout, and it’s clear to see why the forward could be a perfect fit for a new-look BVB.
His raw pace and dynamism would benefit a squad still searching for a 1v1 specialist since Sancho’s departure, whilst his propensity to flirt between the middle and wide channels would suit Donyell Malen’s equally flexible playstyle.
The price-tag and competition is obviously a factor which BVB will need to consider though.
Reports earlier this week mentioned that both clubs are still far away from agreeing a fee, but given the massive payday from Erling Haaland’s departure, not to mention Adeyemi's future resale value, the deal should be more than fundable if Dortmund are determined to get it over the line.
VFB Stuttgart earned an invaluable win in their bid for survival over the weekend, but with only 9 matches remaining, the prospects of seeing Die Schwaben in the Zweite Bundesliga next season are growing in likelihood.
As such, multiple talented assets could leave the Mercedes-Benz Arena over the summer, chief amongst them the towering Austrian forward, Saša Kalajdžić.
Standing at 2,00m, Kalajdžić is the tallest player in the 2021-22 Bundesliga, and were it not for a shoulder injury which has seen him miss 17 topflight matches, he could easily be the crucial link smashing in the goals to propel Stuttgart to safety.
With the club’s top-goalscorer coming in the form of Greek center half Konstantinos Mavropanos (4), Kalajdžić’s 16 goals from last season are duly missed.
Dortmund will receive plenty of competition from clubs around the continent for Kalajdžić, notably amongst the Premier League who seem drawn to the youngsters aerial presence, but the Austrian could favor BVB for a variety of reasons.
He is familiar with the league and language, and has considerable prospects to play routine Champions League football.
Whether Dortmund’s style suits the forward’s strengths is unclear - BVB complete just the 14th most crosses in the 2021/22 Bundesliga - but Kalajdžić is far more than just an aerial target, and his malleable age (24) and versatile skill set make him a perfect alternative in a Dortmund attack routinely questioned for its one-dimensional nature.
The Euro 2020 top goalscorer who now has a goal every 78 minutes in the 2021/22 Bundesliga.
Patrik Schick is most definitely playing at the peak of his powers, and there isn’t a defense in Europe which seems to have the answers.
With an almost identical goals per shot, and distance per shot ratio to Erling Haaland, Dortmund wouldn't need to do much to accommodate the Czechian forward, whilst the similar stylistic outlook of BVB and Bayer Leverkusen should also help the 26-year old translate his spectacular form to the Westfalenstadion.
The price tag could be the steepest of all the options we’ve presented, however with the signing of Patrick Schick, Dortmund would be sending another clear signal to FC Bayern that they are ready to compete for a title. Alongside Niklas Süle, the Leverkusen forward would be the next eye-catching arrival entering the prime of his career in black & yellow.
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What would be your starting line-up for die Mannschaft at the WC?
A really interesting question from Dieter, and something I don’t necessarily have a definitive answer to. With a wealth of talent across the pitch, I can imagine Hansi Flick rotating throughout the tournament to both sustain fitness and adjust to the various strengths and weaknesses of that day's opponent.
Let’s not forget that, despite the World Cup being played in November, the average daytime temperatures should exceed 40 °C (104 °F), and generally provide an unbearable atmosphere for a German squad accustomed to the European climate.
Nevertheless, here is how I would set up the squad with the presumption that we are not taking into account any external factors like injury, fitness, or potential opposition.
As we’ve seen from multiple top sides this season, a formation can often be little more than a blueprint to be displayed on TV and then modified upon the first whistle.
The flexibility of the 3-4-3 should suit Germany’s attacking entourage. It will allow for fluid positional interchange, whilst still retaining the clear defensive structure from a settled centerback partnership and a defined holding midfielder.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
A recurring knee injury, and an impressive 2022 from Marc-André ter Stegen may pose doubts, but as the captain of the side Manuel Neuer should be back between the sticks for his 4th World Cup in November.
Right Wingback: Jonas Hofmann
Since Philipp Lahm announced his international retirement in 2018, right fullback position has been a recurring issue for the German National team. Joshua Kimmich would be exceptional, however his qualities are needed elsewhere, whilst Ridle Baku shows glimpses, but lacks the consistency, to be a viable option in a World Cup fixture. Thus, I’ve gone for Hofmann, out of position, but by no means out of his depth in the few outings he’s had under Flick so far.
Right Centerback: Lukas Klostermann
Right centerback was arguably the most difficult position to select. Matthias Ginter would have been a shoe-in last campaign, however he has taken a nosedive at Borussia Mönchengladbach this season. As has Mats Hummels, an impressive performer at EURO 2020, but looking not a day younger than 33 as injury issues and startling errors have plagued his campaign.
Thilo Kehrer doesn’t play enough competitive football in Paris, Jonathan Tah doesn’t convince me as a top-level centerback, so ultimately I’ve gone for a rogue shout in Lukas Klostermann. The Leipzig defender has remarkable athleticism, and his versatility as a right back means he can easily make up for some of Hofmann’s defensive deficiencies.
Middle & Left Centerback: Niklas Süle & Antonio Rüdiger
The next two positions write themselves. Süle and Rüdiger have been Germany's best defenders over the last 12 months, and alongside Manuel Neuer they should be set in their position as defensive starters.
Rüdiger will likely occupy the left channel with his exceptional pace and power, whilst Süle could perform a more conservative role in which he looks to break lines with passes between, or over, an opponent’s midfield.
Left Wingback: David Raum
A rogue shout given the performances of Robin Gosens in a Germany jersey, but David Raum has taken advantage of his adversaries injury and could end up marshaling the left flank in Qatar. Not a single defender in world football contributed more assists than Raum in the calendar year of 2021, whilst his 10 goal contributions for TSG Hoffenheim are second only to teammate Andrej Kramaric.
Central Midfield: Joshua Kimmich & Leon Goretzka
With Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka Germany have two world-class midfielders occupying central areas. The pair have formed a fabulous connection at club level, won 7 titles under Hansi Flick, and offer a perfect balance between defensive edge and attacking prowess.
The only worry: Leon Goretzka’s fitness.
The Bayern midfielder has been out since December with a hip problem, the 17th different injury he has sustained since joining Der Rekordmeister in 2018. If he were to drop out at any point İlkay Gündoğan would likely come into the fray, 31-years old, but with less than an hour of World Cup experience under his belt.
Right Forward: Thomas Müller
An own goal last weekend may still be weighing heavily on Müller’s mind, but all in all it’s been another fantastic season for Der Raumdeuter.
With 19 assists he is on course to break his own Bundesliga record, and at 32-years old he looks as fit as ever, starting all but two competitive fixtures this season.
With so much inexperience amongst Hansi Flick’s front line, calling upon Müller’s leadership, and game changing ability, will be crucial in ensuring a deep run in the competition.
Center Forward: Kai Havertz
Not everybody on the national team exited Euro 2020 with their reputation intact, but Kai Havertz showed more than a glimpse of why he is considered both the future and present of German football.
With goals against Portugal and Hungary Havertz ensured Germany’s groupstage progression, adding to his reputation for providing the goods in high pressure situations.
Just weeks earlier Chelsea’s marquee summer arrival went some way to repaying his €80m price tag by scoring the deciding goals in the UEFA Champions League final.
As a fluid number nine who provides both creative and goal scoring stimulus, Havertz is the ideal candidate to lead the line for Hansi Flick in the upcoming World Championship.
Left Forward: Leroy Sané
From Euro 2020 scapegoat to an irreplaceable figurehead of a new-look national team, the 2021/22 season has been marked by the meteoric resurgence from the FC Bayern forward.
As early as mid-December Sané already equaled his goal and assist tally from last season, and in Hansi Flick’s national team tenure no player has featured more often than Bayern’s number 10.
With a propensity to drift into central areas and operate almost like a makeshift midfielder, Sané could offer the perfect stylistic fit for David Raum’s deep, overlapping, runs.
Any changes you would make to this side? Let me know on twitter using #BUNDESLETTER!
Title Image: Gabriel Foligno