The end of another fantastic Bundesliga season seems an apt juncture for a re-release of the the third major comprehensive scorecard column of the season. After checking in with the entire league after the extended Summer transfer deadline slammed shut and reappraising the state of all 18 clubs just before the January window opened up, the time came to put together administrative grades for all the teams in Germany’s top footballing flight.
This column initially appeared on Bulinews.com in late March. The piece was so long that it couldn’t be published in a single post. One had to break up the league into those organizations receiving European-scale grades of “1” and “2”, then cover the remaining clubs assigned grades “3”, “4” and “5”.
Explanations for how the grades were derived can be found in the introduction to the original posts. Here, a writer is very pleased to re-post it as one in a farewell to the latest top-flight German footballing campaign.
-1. FC Union Berlin
Three Bundesliga clubs earn top-level marks for vastly exceeding expectations this year. The league’s three best administered footballing organizations still have work to do if they are to properly christen their campaigns by qualifying for Europe. Whether the trio of cities get their deserved tournament football next year or not, they’ve already entitled to accolades for rendering this year’s Bundesliga interesting and exciting. Our first group pays tribute to the clubs that pushed beyond their initial objectives.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 1,31
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 1+
In = (None)
Out = Yunus Malli (ATTM), William Furtado (RB), Felix Klaus (RW), Omar Marmoush (LS)
When it comes to football administrators, Jörg Schmadtke is about as good as it gets. Another productive window saw him trim his roster, and thereby his payroll, down to a manageable size. Germany’s green company team stand lean and mean with a 25-man-roster; the smallest of all Bundesliga clubs currently contesting the 2020/21 campaign. As tempting as it is to dock Schmadtke somewhat for not parking the likes of Jeffery Bruma and Daniel Ginczek on loans, one simply has to admit that he did an outstanding job.
Roster size remains a hugely important factor in all of football, sometimes overlooked amid the scenes of “sugar daddy” supported clubs who can pay an exorbitant wage bill without so much as a second thought. It’s also immensely important to get idle players off to a destination where they can continue to play, develop, and improve. Schmadtke consistently demonstrates a the right sense of urgency in keeping players either on the pitch or off the payroll and on the move. This is why Wolfsburg paid so much to Köln to negate off his non-compete clause.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 1,94
Ridle Baku (1+)
Maxence Lacroix (1,25)
Maximilian Philipp (2,75)
Bartosz Bialek (2,75)
There just weren’t any misses this year. Maximilian Philipp may not have gotten the playing time many of us expected, but one can’t really argue with the results when he did get his turn. Bartosz Bialek’s team integration appears to have stalled for some reason, but he too has delivered as an effectively placed late match addition. Ridle Baku and Maxence Lacroix currently compete for the title of the most effective summer 2020 transfer.
The “age of Ridle Baku” shouldn’t be far away. There’s plenty of room on the German national team for a highly creative midfielder/fullback hybrid. If the spry youngster from Mainz doesn’t join us this summer, he should be linking up with the Nationalmannschaft in Qatar. Provided things go as expected, German football fans will have Schmadtke to thank for one of their new heroes.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 1+
Two components influence this grade. First, we’ll need to credit both Schmadtke and his head-coach for retaining most of the players on their perceived Dead Weight Ledger back in January. Actors not playing a role in the first half of the season who then went on to unpredictably thrive include Renato Steffen, Yannick Gerhardt, Admir Mehmedi, and Paulo Otavio. The unchanged Oliver Glasner sides that went eight games without conceding a goal were built with many players on wouldn’t have expected.
Glasner’s selections showed what an attentive trainer he is. The 46-year-old Austrian transformed a few sparks on the training pitch into a wholly unanticipated “bulldozer” XI. This provides us a segue into the second point. As everyone recalls, this club’s manager and coach endured a very public spat this past November. Virtually all football journalists expected a parting of company. Instead, the pair opted to acknowledge their disagreements and continue traversing their professional path together.
In the business of football, one rarely sees something much more commonplace in the layman’s trades. Not to wax to philosophical, but colleagues possessing separate opinions tend to find a way to put aside their differences work together in the world of the everyman. This occurs less in an employment field where hundreds of candidates gladly line up for the worst of the jobs. A football club can always find another head-coach. Even Schalke.
That’s what makes this mature handling of the situation by both parties all the more impressive. One really likes to see something like this, particularly when it leads to a successful outcome. Both sides accept their role. Glasner made the most of the players he had at his disposal whilst Schmadtke didn’t allow a light dig at his ego to rattle him. Bravo for being mature about it, gentleman. See you both in the Champions’ league next season.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 1,53
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 1+
In = Luka Jovic (LS)
Out = Bas Dost (CF), Danny da Costa (RB), Dominik Kohr (CM), Marijan Cavar (CM)
Fredi Bobic wasn’t always the Bundesliga’s hottest administrative commodity. Those of us who recall his time in charge of VfB Stuttgart remember a time during which his future in the business stood very much in peril. To Bobic’s immense credit, he appears to have learned from his mistakes. In particular, the 49-year-old has become one of the cleverest balance-sheet masters in the entire league. Signing and then flipping Luka Jovic in 2019 netted his club an estimated €60 million. Now the Serbian sensation is back on a low-cost loan; a gift that keeps on giving.
Selling off overachievers and obtaining lower-cost players of promise requires both a solid footballing intuition and genuine fortitude. Bobic deliberately placed himself in the way of obvious criticism whilst building up arguably the Bundesliga’s most improved club. The sale of Bas Dost in late December raised its fair share of eyebrows. The SGE’s sporting CEO identified a lucrative opportunity and then proceeded to take a massive leap of faith. Bayern’s Joshua Zirkzee was the only other viable striker available at the time. Bobic again made the right move by not desperately opting for the first option. A better one came round in time.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 2,59
Amin Younes (1,5)
Luka Jovic (1,75)
Aymen Barkok (2,0)
Lucas Silva Melo “Tuta” (2,75)
Steven Zuber (3,0)
Adjin Hrustic (4,5)
Ragnar Ache (N/A)
Markus Schubert (N/A)
Even had Jovic not become available, this team is well built on the flanks and in the ten-spot. While it’s true that Adi Hütter’s double-ten often elicited justifiable criticism, it counted as a serviceable enough bridge until more attacking support could be procured. Furthermore, players like Amin Younes and Daichi Kamada eventually blossomed after getting some practice working as axial partners.
The team we’re now looking forward to watching in the UCL next year occupied eighth place in the table at Christmas. It was against this backdrop that Bobic cashed in on Bas Dost; at the time the squad’s second leading goalscorer. André Silva had ten tallies to his name. Amin Younes was in suspect form. Lucas Silva “Tuta” Melo had barely had any time to prepare as David Abraham’s supposed replacement.
As the shift in grades shows, nearly every new actor has significantly stepped up their game. The much improved German Eagles owe their surge not to Jovic, but to other emerging standouts. Aymen Barkok and Steven Zuber have seen much less playing time, but still serve as positive influences on this campaign.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 1+
One misses the sporting duo of Bobic and the retiring Bruno Hübner already. It’s worth noting, however, that these two partners have by no means left a mess behind them. Three highly gifted young attackers await in the wings. Union Berlin’s Christopher Lenz also heads to the country’s commercial capital in a few short weeks. Thanks to several years of qualified stewardship, this team appears well calibrated for the immediate future and possibly several years beyond.
Credit Bobic with still dutifully working his job even with one eye fixated on his future appointment at Hertha BSC. This spring’s Makoto Hasebe signing ensured that the squad will have a captain next season. Earlier in the year, Hübner and Bobic made certain that head-coach Adi Hütter and the side’s best developmental player–Kamada–were inked to longer term deals. The Filip Kostic matter is a bit more complicated. Given the fluctuating nature of the Serbian’s worth and some of the recent injuries, one should say that the tandem handled that issue about as aptly as possible.
1. FC Union Berlin
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 1,73
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 1,5
In = Petar Musa (LS), Leon Dajaku (AM)
Out = Tim Maciejewski (RW), Lennart Moser (GK)
There’s still more gushing to be meted out for the Bundesliga’s great surprise of the 2020/21 campaign. We might as well lavish some praise on the Köpenickers while we still can. The audacious acquisitions of the January window may depart without having made a huge impact and losses of Marvin Friedrich and Christopher Lenz over the summer shall prove difficult to compensate for. A much tougher road lies ahead. For now, it’s worth speaking with overwhelming enthusiasm about the forgotten East German club that could.
Lifelong German football zealots will have surely made a pilgrimage to the Stadion An der Alten Försterei back when the team scraped the bottom of the (at the time) semi-professional third regional tier. Even when die Eisernen were supported by a ragtag motley group of punks and skins, the proper kind of nostalgic football passion rang out through the bleachers. A pandemic that could have easily blasted this team out of the league before their most awesome fans could even enjoy a full season seemed a horribly cruel fate.
Sporting director Oliver Runhnert ensured that the team would be fit for it’s second season with the transfer class we’ll discuss below. Petar Musa and Leon Dajaku may not have been the best gems, but they were very much well-intentioned extensions of how Ruhnert organized the summer class.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 2,71
Robin Knoche (1,5)
Max Kruse (1,75)
Cedric Teuchert (2,0)
Andreas Luthe (2,25)
Nico Schlotterbeck (2,25)
Taiwo Awoniyi (2,5)
Sebastian Griesbeck (2,75)
Keita Endo (2,75)
Loris Karius (3,0)
Niko Gießelmann (3,0)
Joel Pohjanpalo (3,0)
Petar Musa (4,25)
Leon Dajaku (4,25)
Almost every transfer has contributed in some way. Ruhnert and associates pocketed a cool €6.5 million by selling leading goal-scorer Sebastian Andersson to Köln. The Swedish international never had a direct replacement. Instead, the front office pulled five separate attackers in on loans and frees. The new players, deployed at various stages during the season, have together amassed 22 goals; ten more than Andersson pulled last year.
On the defensive end, new additions Robin Knoche and Sebastian Griesbeck are regular stalwarts. Nico Schlotterbeck and Niko Gießelmann have filled in well when deputized. Ruhnert also upgraded his keeper and, through the use of good complements, gotten a much improved season out of defensive linchpins Robert Andrich and Marvin Friedrich.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 1+
Ruhnert’s work should be studied as a textbook example of how clubs can upgrade economically for their second season in the top flight. Union remain the second-least valued team in the Bundesliga in terms of composite player worth. Only Arminia Bielefeld field a team of cheaper appraised players. Yet, here they are fighting for Europe. Though they may not quite get there, the fact that they never factored into this campaign’s relegation race is astounding.
For whatever it’s worth, the writer gladly accords Union President Dirk Zingler extra credit. The feisty executive may not have always been sensible in his goals, but the fact remains that he never stopped fighting for his fans. Whatever one’s opinions on public policy in the COVID Era, the German footballing public at a bare minimum merited a seat at the table and a voice in the room. Debate is among the finest of things when more are present. Winning or losing a debate doesn’t matter so long as those affected can participate.
-FSV Mainz 05
-Bayer 04 Leverkusen
-SV Werder Bremen
An eclectic bunch occupy what is by far our largest group. In this bracketing, we’ve relegation candidates, the main title contender, and a few teams that don’t often get the amount of attention they deserve. An analysis striving to be critical without being overly vindictive and laudatory without being overly obsequious finds that a full seven clubs are managed fairly well. It’s interesting to delve into the second-level of marks and assess a wide-variety of teams for whom a most varied fate awaits.
FSV Mainz 05
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,08
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 1+
In = Robert Glatzel (CF), Dominik Kohr (CM), Danny da Costa (RB)
Out = Jean-Philippe Mateta (LS), Dong-won Ji (CF), Issah Abass (CF), Dmitri Lavaleé (CB), Aaron Martin (LB)
Executive Christian Heidel shoulders his fair share of the blame for the dumpster fire that is FC Schalke 04. Somehow, upon his return to the Pfalz, the 57-year-old managed to immediately rediscover his managerial competence. Take a moment to consider just how intelligent this set of moves was. The loan-out of leading goalscorer Jean-Philippe Mateta shocked many. At that time, the Rheinhessen had only 17 points in the table. Off went the lead striker who, still, leads the team with seven 2020/21 goals.
Heidel secured a reported €3,5 million in loan fees for the Frenchman. This constituted a much-needed windfall for a club so desperately in need of an immediate cash flow. That amount offset much of the money the Nullfünfter had been deprived in gate receipts and easily covered the outlays they had to pay FC Liefering to purchase the contract of Bo Svennson. In terms of the salary budget freed up, bringing in teammates Dominik Kohr and Danny da Costa from Frankfurt was surely easy. Snagging players with some existing chemistry eager to prove themselves was also incredibly smart.
When one takes into account the legwork it took to park a further four of their players at clubs where they would receive more playing time, one simply must stand up and applaud Heidel, Svensson’s coaching team, and newly appointed sporting director Martin Schmidt for getting it done. This is how personnel matters should be handled. It never fails to surprise how experienced and capable executives routinely fall down when it comes to cutting down dead weight on the roster via loans.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,25
Kevin Stöger (2,5)
Dominik Kohr (2,5)
Robert Glatzel (2,75)
Danny da Costa (3,0)
Luca Kilian (5,5)
At this particular snapshot in time, one can anticipate that Kohr, and Robert Glatzel will continue to improve. Danny da Costa improved at a rapid clip before the latest injury. Note that Stöger’s grade at the turn of the calendar year stood at 3,75. Two goals in two crucial matches since that snapshot assessment demonstrate how an acquisition often pays off long term. With Glatzel capturing his first Bundesliga goal seconds into his first start and Mr. Dominik “hard” Kohr already proving vital enough to his time to break into the Bulinews Team-of-the-Week, we’re headed in the right direction.
Svennson and the team garnered some criticism for plugging in Kohr and da Costa immediately whilst taking it agonizingly slow with Glatzel. As it turned out, everything appeared to be based on deft observations in training. A well-practiced striking duo featuring Glatzel and young German talent Jonathan Burkardt can carry this team far. It looks as if disaffected veteran Adam Szalai and departing team captain Danny Latza were used as placeholders until something more appropriate to the team’s new culture could be built. Well played.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 2,0
Before lavishing too much praise on Heidel, Schmidt, and Svensson for what would be the greatest relegation escape in Bundesliga history, we’ll need to emphasize that no such escape has been completed yet. In fact, the Pfälzer face the most brutal stretch of final four fixtures than any other team in the league. Bayern, Frankfurt, Dortmund, and Wolfsburg await in the last four weeks of the season. It’s entirely possible that this club won’t survive.
It nevertheless seems as if the side has been preemptively built for a campaign in the second division. There are enough actors either on the roster or parked abroad to render Mainz competitive in the lower flight. Contrasting this with fellow relegation-rivals Schalke (also on 7 points at the conclusion of the Hin-runde), this organization’s board look like geniuses for not pressing the panic button and forcing their players to deal with five separate coaching regimes.
The board wisely bided their time until preferable administrative candidates could be procured. This counts for much in a business prone to disastrously impetuous decisions. The Nullfünfter stand a much better chance of avoiding prolonged obscurity than the Gelsenkircheners.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,16
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,75
In = (None)
Out = Amir Abrashi (DM), Luca Itter (LB)
The Breisgauer not only boast the league’s longest serving trainer, but have also had top sporting manager Jochen Saier in place since 2013. Saier’s name isn’t one that pops up in the press often as he’s more of a reserved leader. Appointed at the age of 35, Saier quietly goes about his work whilst working in close conjunction with head-coach Christian Streich. Every year they rebuild on a shoestring budget. Every year it works.
Insofar as the January transfer window is concerned, a self-confessed Freiburg enthusiast may be a tad harsh in assigning the grade. It’s not so certain that getting Amir Abrashi off the roster was the right move. Additionally, Yannick Keitel could have been moved while Janick Haberer might have been sold. These criticisms are a tad nitpicky. It’s probably for the best that Streich and Saier minimized their efforts. For that they receive a solid grade.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 2,25
Keven Schotterbeck (2,0)
Florian Müller (2,0)
Woo-Yeong Jeong (2,25)
Ermedin Demirovic (2,25)
Baptiste Santamaria (2,75)
Benjamin Uphoff (N/A)
Guds Til (N/A)
The right additions count for so much. Note that Streich and Saier made no overt attempt to replace the main player who departed for greener pastures over the summer directly. Luca Waldschmidt functioned primary as a ten. Instead of seeking a similar positional actor, the club re-tooled with a defensive anchor in Baptiste Santamaria and a natural nine in Ermedin Demirovic. The first priority did not involve simply plugging a gap.
The only direct replacement came, obviously, at keeper. The administrative team snagged a practical upgrade for €7 million Alexander Schwolow with a cheap €200,000 loan fee in capturing Florian Müller as the deadline neared. The solution to Robin Koch’s absence was more of a rotating central defense by committee, but it’s worked well enough once the various players adjusted to the rotations by December.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 1,5
The long-predicted unravelling of this club could, as always, be just around the corner. Fritz Keller’s departure for the DFB leaves a leadership vacuum. Luckily, the board appears in no rush to fill the Presidential post for it’s own sake. Surely, there must be some debts involved with the new stadium. A careful walk on the financial balancing beam awaits.
Somehow, one trusts the local stakeholders involved with this club to ensure that it’s properly steered though the next precarious path. Next year shapes up to be even easier as none of the squad’s current talent are actively being head-hunted. Saier has only three reliable candidates for what will have to be a much larger roster next year returning from loan. That tasks him with some urgent, yet easily manageable, work in the coming months.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,70
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 3,5
In = Dominik Szoboszlai (LW)
Out = Tim Schreiber (GK), Dennis Borkowski (CF)
Beyond the rising star who looks to be unable to contribute this year, there’s been quite a lot of praiseworthy activities in the days since the window closed. The Saxons have their replacement for Dayot Upamecano in the form of Mohamed Simikan. There’s also a promising young striker on the way in the form Brian Brobbey. Lest we forget, the decision to defer on Josko Gvardiol merely delays the arrival of another helpful reinforcement. RB don’t deserve to be pilloried for not going all in on a title challenge this year, particularly when they’re still technically in it.
There remains little choice but to accord a below average grade in this case as the Szoboszlai signed proved a total flop. Note that there still exists a subtle distinction between a situation like that of Szoboszlai and, say, Schalke’s obtainment of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. There are ill advised moves that end up affecting a team’s campaign and then there are those which deserve to be treated as a non-factor. Hence, Huntelaar gets a “6,0” grade whilst Szoboszlai sits out the calculus on an “N/A”.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,60
Justin Kluivert (2,25)
Alexander Sørloth (2,5)
Hee-Chan Hwang (3,0)
Benjamin Henrichs (4,75)
Lazar Samardzic (5,5)
Josep Martinez (N/A)
Dominik Szoboszlai (N/A)
What a difference from January. Alexander Sørloth has emerged as an effective signing after all. Hee-Chan Hwang, though still waiting for his first Bundesliga goal, also improved markedly. Justin Kluivert continues to impress; something few of us doubted the football family scion would do. It’s most unfortunate to see Benjamin Henrichs’ relevance decline further due to persistent injury. Alas, he’s not matched the spectacular comeback story of former national team colleague Amin Younes.
Steadily improving form doesn’t necessarily make the German Red Bulls ironclad title contenders. We’re still looking at an uneven squad absent a true anchor. Goal contributions from 15 separate players carry this team up to second place. If Nagelsmann’s crew were to knock off Bayern, it would count as a legitimate surprise. That isn’t to say that their innovative young trainer doesn’t deserve credit for his well designed match-specific tactics. A case of “small ball” outmaneuvering a behemoth just seems an improbable story.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 1+
Here we must again face one of those inconvenient truths. The type of scouting networks developed by transnational giants like the Red Bull GmBH and City Football Group are the wave of the footballing future. The names of several players due to arrive this summer are listed above. To this we can probably add three to five more actors from feeder clubs like Salzburg, Campinas New York. Specific names include Caden Clark and Claudinho. There will be more.
Should sporting director Markus Krösche depart over the summer, it will ultimately prove immaterial. The front office manager of an MNC-football-model gets players directly delivered. That may not be what football lovers wish to hear, but it is the truth. All the talk of Krösche not being proactive enough in locking down some of his current talent also doesn’t amount to much. RB have their replacements lined up and plenty of cash on hand. It would take an industrial-scale disaster to wrench this administrative engine.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,79
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,75
In = Laszlo Benes (CM)
Out = Felix Götze (CB)
It’s been another quiet, unassuming season of mid-table mediocrity for the town that combines the most quiet and unassuming aspects of both Bavaria and Swabia. For the tenth consecutive Bundesliga campaign, the Fuggerstädter appear safe from relegation. This happens every year in spite of the fact that they are regularly tipped as relegation favorites by the pre-season handicappers. Augsburg and Freiburg remain the two clubs that stubbornly defy easy categorization. Depending on which region one is from, a typical German holds a romanticized fascination with one or the other.
This writer’s regional proclivities lead him towards Breisgau. Baroque music beats out banking. That doesn’t mean he won’t, quasi-begrudgingly, accord the FCA deserved respect. One must bear in mind that Augsburg remained above the relegation fray this year without lead strikers Alfred Finnbogason and Florian Niederlechner. The requisite goals have come from a solid variety of sources. In the past 18 months, managing director Stefan Reuter has specialized in plucking “pair” acquisitions; bringing in teammates from clubs like Schalke 04 and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Laszlo Benes (to complement Tobias Strobl) is the latest shrewd move. It’s also already paid dividends. As is often the case for the descendants of a prudent and forward-looking set of Bavarian-Swabian bankers, it’s the non-active hedge-betting that counts. Reuter and the execs resisted clash flashes for players like Marc Richter and Felix Udoukhai. They also decided against releasing the likes of Rani Khedira or flash-cashing Robert Gumny.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 2,63
Daniel Caligiuri (1+)
Rafal Gikiewicz (2,0)
Felix Udoukhai (2,25)
Laszlo Benes (2,5)
Michael Gregoritsch (2,75)
Tobias Strobl (3,25)
Mads Pedersen (3,25)
Robert Gumny (4,0)
Thirty-three-year-old Daniel Caligiuri secures “1+” status for being the unequivocal MVP of this team. Former Schalke short-term Schalke teammate Michael Gregoritsch constitutes the other half of the second “pair pluck” alluded to above. Finding a solid keeper and reliable fullback aren’t easy tasks when it comes to the transfer market. Hence, Udoukhai and Rafal Gikiewicz receive higher marks than their base match performance levels might suggest.
With the FCA flying under the radar of so many, some will have doubtlessly missed that Reuther put together one of the league’s better transfer classes. Augsburg frustrate some with their maddeningly consistent mid-table commonplaceness. As quick as supporters of more volatile clubs are to quixotically claim that they would give anything for boring stability, football fans readily denounce the organizations that actually supply it.
Assuming that players like Mads Pedersen continue to improve upon their current trajectory, not to mention the arrival of the eminently interesting Frederick Winther this summer, it could be the case that this club actually pushes higher up the table next year. That would play a huge role in silencing some of the FCA-detractors.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 3,0
Having spoken about how the team has been carefully calibrated for the future, it’s fair to note that the present could be significantly better. Head-coach Heiko Herrlich, perhaps infected by the club’s conservative spirit, plays his tactics considerably much more cagey than in previous appointments at Regensburg and Leverkusen. The midfield diamond-box gets deployed even when it’s completely unnecessary.
Once the Fuggers clog their way through a weak final field of opponents, Reuther should consider starting afresh with a new staff over the summer. It seems that the top exec was certainly right to stick with Herrlich through this scratch of a season, if only because it’s extremely hard to attract someone glitzier to this region. For this reason, a club openly aiming to be average gets the average grade it desires.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,80
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,75
In = Demarai Gray (LW), Jeremie Frimpong (RB), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (RB)
Out = (none)
The active of administrators to address a team’s deficiencies must be separated from the injuries that can’t be foreseen. Rudi Völler and company did what they could to solidify the roster in two key areas on both ends of the pitch. In the cases of Demarai Gray and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, they successfully underbid on players despite the fact that their clubs knew full well the type of cash they were sitting on after the Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland deals.
Naturally, once the curse of the Leverkusen right back spread from Santiago Arias and Lars Bender to Fosu-Mensah, this becomes a forgettable, if not totally moot point. Admittedly, it almost seems as if Völler overpaid for Jeremie Frimpong in clairvoyant anticipation of yet another injury at that position. We won’t credit the former national team coach for doing so, however, as no such thing as clairvoyance exists.
One thing we will have to dock the Werkself sporting director for not being more active in seeking concerns another defensive midfield/distributive anchor. Given the ages of Charles Arnaguiz and Julian Baumgartlinger, Germany’s red company team has been playing with red hot fire at that position all year. Some sort of solution begged for attention ahead of the defensive line. It served as quite the surprise to see it get no attention.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,15
Patrik Schick (2,5)
Demarai Gray (2,75)
Lennart Grill (3,0)
Jeremie Frimpong (3,5)
Timothy Fosu-Mensah (4,0)
Santiago Arias (N/A)
Many of these numbers may seem unusually high or low. This owes itself to the fact that every player excepting Patrik Schick works on a small sample size. After wrapping up the autumn window dangerously low on incoming players, everyone knew that this club would conclude quite a few transactions in January. Völler and company had two months to prepare to ramp up the activity.
Now that the reinforcements have arrived, it’s honestly very early to produce any sort of insightful assessment about their impact. By the time most of them found their way into the squad, head coach Peter Bosz struggled to rescue a 4-1-4-1 system that overachieved until opponents found a way to crack it. We assign grades anyway, ultimately labeling Schick a mostly successful solution.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 2,5
Coming to the big question, did Völler pick the right time to sack trainer Bosz? Even more so than in the section above, there can be no definitive answer. One hasn’t even had the opportunity to watch Hannes Wolf’s Werkself play a single solitary match. It does certainly seem as if the team’s horrible Rück-runde, along with the ignominious exit from the Europa League called for some action. If the club doesn’t qualify for Europe this year, it will nevertheless have been a wasted move.
The weekly matchday column regularly takes the position that Bayer will, in fact, avail themselves of a soft remaining schedule and remain competitive in the race for the top four. Flying a bit blindly trying to handicap the prospects of a head-coach not seen in the Bundesliga since 2018, it still seems likely. Wolf gets a chance to debut against Schalke and then play Hoffenheim and Köln before facing a real test. The international break often proves an apt time for a shake-up. This remains a good team too.
SV Werder Bremen
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,83
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,5
In = (None)
Out = Tahith Chong (RW), Ole Käuper (DM), Stefanos Kasino (GK)
First and foremost, sporting director Frank Baumann receives credit for remaining refreshingly candid about his club’s financial situation from the onset of the window. The executive made no secret of the fact that the Hanseaten didn’t have the wiggle room to try much of anything. He also coped to learning his lesson from the Davie Selke deal last January. No loan-arrangement that would place undo pressure on the balance sheet would be considered. Hindsight should also judge Baumann kindly for holding onto Milot Rashica until the attacker’s worth rises again.
There remained little, off anything, the club’s top personnel exec could do about Tahith Chong’s recall. In such cases, one’s hands are usually completely tied. The ManU prospect hadn’t been performing well anyway. Baumann recalled two of his own loans, both keepers, back early during the January window so as to properly round out his roster and completed the parking of two players he needed to get off. It might have been nice to see him find locales for Oscar Schönfelder and Nick Woltemade, but perhaps he felt that shaving a 27-man roster too risky after last year’s injury-plagued campaign.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 4,0
Felix Agu (3,5)
Jean Manuel Mbom (4,5)
Patrick Erras (N/A)
Oscar Schönfelder (N/A)
Very little to speak of here. Baumann deserves credit not only for being open about how hamstrung he is, but also brazenly proceeding with a completely un-augmented team. The proud north Germans are, at best, a tiny notch better than the side that contested last year’s relegation playoff. Compared to where they were at this juncture last season, that minute degree of improvement translates to twelve additional points and likely safety.
Say what one will about Florian Kohfeldt–and this writer usually does every week–a few small drops of blood squeezed from a stubborn stone have made all the difference this year. Using existing actors like Kevin Möhwald, Christian Groß, and Ömer Toprak, the young trainer has all but assured another year of Bundesliga football for the rabid fans of the Hanseatic coast.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 2,0
Acutely aware that such a statement might come back to bite him, the columnist wholeheartedly endorses Baumann’s decision to stick with Florian Kohfeldt through last year’s relegation scare and the current campaign’s bitter lows. All through this global pandemic, Bremen was the only club to act how one would normally expect a business dealing with revenue shortfalls to behave. They determined that a coaching change would prove too expensive and even liquidated team captain Davie Selke for some much needed cash.
Tempting though it may be to bust out the regional stereotypes like the ones strewn about in the Augsburg section, they don’t really apply in this case. When one compares and contrasts how Bremen handled a talent-deficit crisis with that of north German neighbors Hamburger SV, the two Hanseatic cities took a completely different approach to their demise. Baumman and the Werderaner saved rather than splurged through a torrential downpour.
While “Der Dino” cycled through six trainers trainers in their two free-fall seasons, the SV kept one homegrown product in place. Results may not have been spectacular, but they’re stellar enough to speak for themselves.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 2,96
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,5
In = (None)
Out = “Ailton” Ferreira Silva (LB), Maximine Awoudja (CB)
The celebrated Sven Mislintat took his foot off the gas pedal in the most recent window, leaving an oversized roster of 31 active players in place when he could have found locales for a few more players. One reason for this is that head-coach Pellegrino Matarazzo has found himself in need of extra midfielders on occasion. Roberto Massimo, Momo Cissé and Darko Churlinov have sometimes been used late-on for tactical reformats that still maintain the threat of some pace.
Erik Thommy surprisingly collected a pair of assists in relief in round 20’s encounter with Leverkusen and got trapped for a start the very next week. Now that Silas Wamangituka has been lost for the duration of the campaign, it retroactively looks smart to have kept so many players on the ledger. One would have still likely to have seen Clinton Mola or Antonis Aidonis assemble some game practice elsewhere. The managers also okayed call-ups for players like Luca Mack and Lilian Egloff for no apparent reason.
Die Schwaben remain one of those squads susceptible to extra scrutiny as they receive detailed coverage every week. One tries to take such inherent bias into account when calculating an administrative grade. A feeling nevertheless persists that the VfB held back a bit too much, content to settle for a serviceable first year back in the top flight while Europe was actually very much within reach.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 2,63
Gregor Kobel (1+)
Wataru Endo (1+)
Waldemar Anton (1,50)
Konstantinos Mavropanos (2,75)
Naouirou Ahamada (3,5)
Pascal Stenzel (3,5)
Erik Thommy (3,75)
Momo Cisse (4,0)
Two gold-star transfers push this cumulative grade up significantly. Matarazzo and Mislintat hit the jackpot insofar as structuring this team for top-flight football is concerned. They mostly focused on the defensive end. A dependable keeper (Gregor Kobel), a utilitarian midfield/defensive hybrid (Wataru Endo), and a solid pivot runner for the back-three (Waldemar Anton) can carry one very far against Bundesliga-level opponents.
Anton and Konstantinos Mavropanos aren’t far off the top grade level. Injuries and a few trounced form dips keep them from elevating this defensive unit to one of the league’s best. Attacking-minded midfielders haven’t gotten much of a chance thanks to the fact that Wamangituka and Borna Sosa disproportionately pilot the machine. This has it’s drawbacks sometimes, but can generally be considered for the best.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 3,75
Mislintat and Matarazzo have nothing to do with the sordid “Dattenaffäre” scandal enveloping the Swabian football club this season. Truth be told, the whole thing counts as a uniquely German mess of a non-issue that, for good reasons, most of the country’s footballing public chooses to ignore. As implicit in the grade above, one can see that we’re docking the VfB front office slightly for its handling of the disrepute, though definitely not allowing it to totally wreck the scorecard.
For those curious to know what all this administrative chaos revolves around, it’s possible to give a concise summary. Some years back, the club’s marketing department sold personal data of its members to an independent firm for commercial purposes. Such practices remain anathema to Germans irrespective of how ultimately harmless they are. For some of us, the real scandal concerns the hefty sums Stuttgart paid to a separate firm to investigate the breach. Member money was shelled out to this contract when, for example, the pitch sat in a deplorable state.
The incident also spawned some ugly internal politics with top level Thomas Hitzlsperger unbecomingly utilizing the opportunity to challenge President Claus Vogt for the presidency. One of Germany’s most respected footballers engaged in a move that smacked of baseline-level opportunism. Though Hitzlsperger’s claim may have come from a sincere place, it seemed more uncharacteristically driven towards personal gain. Thankfully, all parties eventually did their part to put the issue to rest. Overall damage to the organization appears negligible after Hitzlsperger’s withdraw.
We move on after assigning a poor, but not catastrophic, grade.
-FC Bayern München
-DSC Arminia Bielefeld
-TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Some may find themselves surprised to see the record champions here, or even take issue with two relegation candidates making the third group. The German giants, whom one fully expects to win the league this year, haven’t run the tidiest of administrative ships this season. A categorically poor transfer class also weighs the FCB down. Bielefeld and Hertha have their problems as well. The former club, a still highly likely relegation candidate, scores positive points for some build managerial undertakings.
FC Bayern München
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 3,08
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 1,5
In = (None)
Out = Chris Richards (CB), Joshua Zirkzee (CF), Leon Dajaku (CM)
The January transfer window seems a like an eternity ago for the German giants. All of us are already firmly focused on next season. Will Hansi Flick still be holding the reins? Shall Dayot Upamecano and Omar Richards count as upgrades over David Alaba and Jerome Boateng? Will the youth team be able to pump upwards through the pipeline after some noteworthy departures and a noticeable downtick in form? What happens when Oliver Kahn officially becomes the new face of the club?
Everything centers around the FCB’s future as it increasingly looks like a ninth straight league-title is already in the bag. The last decade couldn’t help but produce the academic footballing discipline of “Bayern-ology”; defined as the speculative (entirely unscientific) art of identifying potential potholes ten miles down the road. For better or worse, German Bundesliga lovers must think twelve steps ahead. We’re already arguing about whether Niklas Süle can be adequately replaced, and he’s barely hypothetically on the way out yet.
Current top personnel exec Hasan Salihamidzic’s learning curve did lead to the Bavarians taking just a bit too long to get their administrative ducks in a row for two consecutive summers. Unfortunately for the armchair Cassandras, it looks like the 44-year-old is basically caught up. He took care of the unfinished business from the autumn by securing the the loan deals noted above and, for the first time, dove straight into building the next campaign’s squad.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 4,25
Leroy Sané (2,5)
Marc Roca (4,0)
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (4,25)
Douglas Costa (5,0)
Bouna Sarr (5,5)
Tanguy Nianzou (N/A)
Alexander Nübel (N/A)
Amazingly, the autumn transfer class grade slips even lower than it was in January. It could have sunk lower still, had Leroy Sané not (as predicted) refined his game, played himself into form, and located a workable groove within the Bayern system. Note that the writer firmly stands by the grade that sees Sané hit such a high mark and, furthermore, confidently augurs that he will get even better.
Most of the popular Sané criticism firmly belonged to the realm of wild and hopeful speculation that, somewhere on this team, a flat-tire would affect the race. It never seemed to be anything other than armchair “Bayern-ology”. That being said, this remains a genuinely awful transfer class; one that could have easily pulled a different team into obscurity. Regrettably, it doesn’t work that way with a “super-club”.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 3,5
The manner in which the German press hops on every last sign of a rift between Hansi Flick and Salihamidzic is, of course, overblown. As noted before on this site, however, a potential departure for Flick over the summer shouldn’t be treated as a settled issue. There do exist clear differences of opinion between the trainer and his sporting director. One glaring piece of evidence lies above in the form of the transfer class.
It must be emphasized and re-emphasized that Flick isn’t wholly satisfied with the back-ups he’s been provided. Furthermore, having reached the absolute zenith of accomplishment with the Bundesrepublik’s richest club, Jogi Löw’s former colleague can be assumed to be ready to seek out new challenges. Bayern could yet find themselves in an administrative snafu if certain issues aren’t dealt with clearly and promptly.
Such auguries about the road ahead could be trenchant analysis, the epitomization of poor “Bayern-ology”, or some mixture of both. In any event, it’s recommended not to take Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s word for it. Flick could absolutely be pondering a move. Club administrators have not done a satisfactory job of putting that to rest.
DSC Arminia Bielefeld
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 3,15
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,5
In = Michel Vlap (ATTM), Masaya Okugawa (LW)
Out = Noel Niemann (LW), Brian Behrendt (CB)
A rather prudent January transfer window from sporting director Samir Arabi. The potentially sought-after manager also got a nice jump on next year with future acquisitions Sebastian Vasiliadis and Janni Serra. All of this constituted some clever maneuvering from a small-market club surely devastated by the revenue shortfalls associated with the pandemic. The jury remains out, of course, on the big gamble of installing Frank Kramer as the new head-coach this close to the season’s conclusion. As reported in a separate article, this counts as a €500,000 risky lien on the future.
Overall, one can divine a respectable play-to-stay in the Bundesliga from Germany’s most satirized footballing organization. The jokes essentially wrote themselves when the DSC captured the second-league crown last spring. Few expected the quintessential “yo-yo” team to survive more than one season in the top flight. The fact that the club opted for a carbon-copy of SC Paderborn 07’s 2019/20 kit certainly made it seem as if they would barely try. And yet, try Arabi did.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,22
Ritsu Doan (1+)
Masaya Okugawa (2,0)
Michel Vlap (2,25)
Sergio Cordova (2,75)
Natan de Medina (3,75)
Mike van der Hoorn (3,75)
Jacob Barrett Laursen (4,0)
Christian Gebauer (4,5)
Arne Maier (5,0)
Nikolai Rehnen (N/A)
Any team looking to bulk up in preparation for the top flight must consider heading back to square one when it comes to the attack. Bundesliga Two’s top scorers rarely transition well to the next level. Predictably enough, Fabian Klos, Andreas Voglsammer, and Sven Schipplock fell into their own Simon Terodde patterns over the course of the season. The dual outsourced solutions of Ritsu Doan and Masaya Okugawa may prove a stroke of genius. Doan definitely deserves his “1+” status.
Hopefully, local fans will remain grateful to Uwe Neuhaus for keeping the Bielefelder out of an early-season tank with his disciplined 4-5-1. Rumors that the more traditional trainer was shown the door because he declined to play top-caliber acquisitions like Arne Maier are more than just rumors at this point. It’s abundantly clear that Kramer was hired in the hopes that he could supply more avant-garde tactics. Will they prove too contemporary?
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 3,5
We’ll have to wait to answer that question. Kramer’s initial set-up in the last fixture against Leipzig certainly bordered on the uselessly stylish. Later tweaks to the 4-2-2-2 seemed to confuse the players on the pitch to the point of complete detachment toward the match. That could repeat. Should Arminia head back down, Arabi stands virtually no chance of keeping any of his loans.
The manager cannot exactly be faulted for not being more proactive with his purchases. Players understandably want to know where they’ll be playing next year. We should begin to discern how smart a wager Arabi’s trainer-switch was long before the campaign concludes. Arminia’s remaining schedule is kind enough to pick up sufficient safety points before April is out. Players will know if they’re prepared to commit by then.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 3,34
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 1,5
In = Chris Richards (CB), Georgino Rutter (CF)
Out = Jacob Bruun Larsen (LW), Joao “Klauss” de Mello (CF)
Once again, Alexander Rosen can hardly be faulted for doing an excellent job with his January transactions. The TSG sporting director landed loan locales for the teams two most potential-laden underachievers, procured himself an immediate starter at the center-halve position, and even snatched up a top-class striking prospect for a party €500,000. Angelo Stiller and David Raum are also headed to Sinsheim over the summer. More promising German youth talents find a home in Baden-Württemberg.
It needs to be stated that Rosen’s job remains perhaps the least challenging in German football. It’s easy enough to attract developmental players to a boondocks team where they face less fan pressure. Furthermore, benefactor Dietmar Hopp supplies his managerial team with all the capital they need. The Kraichgauer can easily be run in a more English manner. One day German football lovers shall be able to get through a section about Hoffenheim without broaching such not-so-subtle digs. At present, it’s impossible. The administrative model of this team can’t be likened to any other club.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,54
Chris Richards (2,5)
Georgino Rutter (3,0)
Sebastian Rudy (3,25)
Ryan Sessegnon (3,5)
Kevin Vogt (3,5)
Kasim Adams (4,0)
Mijat Gacinovic (5,0)
The two players obtained over the January window already outpace Rosen’s autumn class. This constitutes another way in which this club serves as an inverse to every other organization covered in this article, albeit a more coincidental one. Head-coach Sebastian Hoeneß frequently remarks how this campaign has been a “wasted year”. A great deal of the underperforming stems from a set of additions that have largely flopped.
One positive facet of the large roster manifested itself in a superb 2020/21 UEFA Europa League group stage. Essentially all of the player grades would have been significantly worse were those six fixtures not taken into account. Of course, we all know how that ended. One can fairly question whether Rosen built a squad suitable to Hoeneß’ needs.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 5,0
Previous head-coach Alfred Schreuder found himself unexpectedly let go just prior to the end of the 2019/20 campaign for what was cited as a “difference of opinion.” Few buy this. Hopp’s Kraichgauer rather saw the opportunity to capture a big name. Sebastian Hoeneß–nephew of Uli and son of Dieter–had just concluded a third-division title-winning campaign with the Bayern reserves. Someone at a larger club had to clear a chair for him and this one struck first.
Now that it’s clear the team won’t get European football next year, it’s worth considering whether this reel-in contributed to the squad’s regression. Rosen and company should rightly get docked for this questionable PR stunt. The other main factor contributing to the low administrative grade involves the spike in COVID cases this season. Many of them resulted from the club managers’ wholly irresponsible releases of certain players for international duty.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 3,73
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,75
In = Sami Khedira (CM), Nemanja Radonjic (LW)
Out = (None)
Practically all German football lovers have spent some time this winter reassuring our poor beleaguered friends in Berlin that everything is going to be alright. To be fair to the perpetually disheartened Hertha enthusiasts, we have a very poor track record of keeping our promises in this regard. Hertha guarantors were wrong in 2010, 2011, and 2012. On this particular occasion, the stakes could not be higher. Should the club suffer relegation, investor Lars Windhorst will turn his back on the capital city and never come back.
The rationales swirling around in the heads of anti-Hertha-alarmists this time revolve around how the strong talent level of the squad and a soft remaining schedule. There’s also the matter of so many returning players, including the two acquisitions of the January transfer window. Former World Champion Sami Khedira seemed little more than a PR-driven pickup for a team with so much depth in central midfield. Perhaps he is. There should nevertheless be some more instances in which his experience comes in handy.
Heading towards the conclusion of the “Hin-Runde”, the squad’s major deficiency remained the lack of reliably creative wingers. This was partially addressed with Nemanja Radonjic, but truly ameliorated through much improved play from Dodi Lukebakio and the very useful emerge of Deyovaisio Zeefuik. Naturally, It’s debatable whether the side finds itself in need of additional assistance on the flank at all when Matheus Cunha is healthy. If excellent distributive center backs Jordan Torunarigha and Dedryck Boyata hadn’t had such injury-riddled seasons, it’s doubtful we’d be discussing a potential Hertha relegation at all.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,93
Jhon Cordoba (2,5)
Matteo Guendouzi (3,5)
Sami Khedira (3,75)
Deyovaisio Zeefuik (3,75)
Alexander Schwolow (4,0)
Nemanja Radonjic (4,5)
Lucas Tousart (4,5)
Omar Alderete (5,0)
Jessic Ngankam (N/A)
Eduard Löwen (N/A)
Performance obviously hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. Some may find these marks overly generous. Understand that there were many cases in which league-watchers generally held the consensus that the team played reasonably well, yet still lost their way via one or another random-luck based occurrence. Moreover, we observed more than our fair share of what proved to be “false dawns”.
To be sure, there’s fallacious thinking inherent in all of it. To take three quick examples, the writer could have just as easily written off Alexander Schwolow, Lucas Tousart, and Omar Alderete as total failures when doling out the above grades. For Germans, a built-in desire to subsidize the capital city can never be fully erased. This is because, unlike the vast majority of other countries, we do actually heavily subsidize our capital.
A full-scale Daniel-Kahneman-style thought purge can’t save us when it comes to Berlin bias. Such a statement should probably lead every last analysis of the Bundesrepublik’s “alte Dame”. This writer, despite his best efforts, isn’t anywhere close to immune. One needn’t look any further than the evaluation of Hertha’s summer transfer class from last autumn. Ugh. Everything is dead wrong as Bruno Labbadia’s camel-hair coat.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 4,5
Here we’ll be a bit more critical. The decision to bring Pal Dardai back was laudable in terms of lending this club enough stability to avoid the drop. Next year, however, it might bring it’s own fresh set of problems. Dardai’s insistence on a longer-term contract made sense from his perspective. Insofar as club finances are concerned, it basically just means that Hertha are on the hook with salary commitments through next year and have probably locked themselves into a tumultuous upheaval run 2020/21.
One way or another, Fredi Bobic is headed to Hertha. It’s extremely difficult to see Bobic and Dardai functioning on a cooperative basis. Dardai remains one of the more unapologetically open trainers the Bundesliga has ever seen. He shares his dissatisfactions and even personnel thoughts with the press. Bobic wheels and deals from a more comfortable distance. The chances of these two radically different personalities coexisting for a full season appearing slim, there will likely be sackings, streaks, and more nervy moments next year.
-1. FC Köln
The fourth group contains the Bundesliga’s two biggest regression stories of the season. Joining the dubiously honored pair of West Prussian clubs, we have the most likely candidate to fall into the second automatic relegation spot. While this trio encountered some random bad luck along the 2020/21 path, administrative missteps in all three cases count as inexcusable unforced stumbles.
1. FC Köln
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 4,07
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 3,75
In = Emmanuel Dennis (CF), Max Meyer (ATTM)
Out = Anthony Modeste (CF), Frederick Sørsensen (CB), Christian Clemens (RW)
As of this writing, Geißböcke trainer Markus Gisdol still has his job. One might sense a not-so-bold prediction coming. Between now and the end of the campaign, Gisdol will likely be sacked. If anything, he’ll be released after relegation is confirmed for the cathedral city club. Sporting director Horst Heldt has by no means been spectacular over the past four transfer windows, but he’s done a reasonable enough job of supplying his last two coaches with some roughly sculpted puzzle pieces upon which to build.
Whether its because Gisdol previous appointments at Hoffenheim and Hamburger SV left him more inclined than necessary toward internal development, or he’s simply the type of coach who specializes in early overachieving, the time has come to ask serious questions of the 51-year-old. Like many others, this writer habitually wonders why Emmanuel Dennis’ play has been so broadly adjudged to be unacceptable. Moreover, Max Meyer’s use far behind the attacking axes forms the basis for many a tactically minded rant.
So much doesn’t add up. Heldt might have earned a better transfer class glade, despite the fact that he was far less productive than usual in shipping out loans, had Gisdol arranged the actors acquired for him more sensibly. The same applies to the individual grades associated with the full 2020/21 transfer class. Köln’s current trainer often reminds one who wishes to play chess with a bunch of puzzle pieces. Enjoy the visual of a chess opponent placing pieces or cardboard on the squares. It’s about as visually disturbing as the football the Effzeh have supplied this season
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 4,47
Ondrej Duda (2,75)
Marius Wolf (3,75)
Salih Özcan (3,75)
Max Meyer (4,0)
Jannes Horn (4,5)
Dimitrios Limnios (4,75)
Emmanuel Dennis (5,0)
Tolu Arokodare (5,75)
Sebastian Andersson (6,0)
It’s important to emphasize that an amateur’s eye operates nowhere near the level of that of a skilled professional trainer. There nevertheless remains so much that fails to make sense. As noted in a recent tactical column, Gisdol has had ample time to work with the likes of Dimitrios Limnios and Tolu Arokodare. A team that went well over a month without scoring a single goal should have at least given auditions to some more attackers.
There was little to lose for a striker-less team that often needs to bury perhaps its best winger (Marius Wolf) in defense. From the very onset of this campaign, Gisdol was toying around far too much with his defensive set-up. Even before lead-striker Sebastian Andersson’s injury rendered him the biggest flop of all league transfers in the summer window, this team was in trouble on the other side of the ball as well.
A weak remaining schedule might still save the Domstädter from the drop. It still proves most difficult to trust a gaffer who can’t think of anything better than placing Ondrej Duda awkwardly alone up top every week.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 4,0
One can credit Heldt for his efforts. One might as well credit him for not axing his team’s meager momentum to pieces with a bunch of poorly planned trainer sackings a la Schalke. The bet seems to be that the slowly improving defensive backbone shall prove sufficient enough to keep the billy goats afloat amidst a league featuring about as bad a collection of teams as we’ve seen in eight or nine years.
If it pays off, few will dwell upon this sad, fan-less season of striker-less Kölner football. Intuitively, many Bundesliga watchers can’t shake the feeling that this selected collection of footballers, whom actual spectators at the RheinEnergieStadion never would of accepted had they and their voices been allowed in, just don’t have the weapons to do anything other than fizzle out feebly.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 4,06
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 2,25
In = (None)
Out = Andreas Poulsen (LB), Laszlo Benes (CM)
Having decided that there would be no major moves during the most recent window, sporting director Max Eberl opted to take a long swath of January off. He did get some business done. In addition to the loan deals listed above, Eberl exercised the purchase clause for Hannes Wolf and bought Kouasio Manu Koné for the next campaign. There’s nothing majorly wrong here, even if one can quarterback Gladbach’s top personnel exec for leaving a fee too many loose ends untied before he took his leave-of-absence.
A bit more attention could have been given to locking down players to contract extensions. Marco Rose’s impending departure, which we will address in greater depth below, meant that a cadre of players would invariably focus on their exit clauses or outright request transfer. The pre-emptive antidote to this foreseeable occurrence required contractual upgrades for the team’s core. Four youth academy players also received professional contracts, swelling the roster to an unhealthily large 31. Greater attention might have been given to loan deals for them.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,92
Louis Jordan Beyer (3,5)
Hannes Wolf (3,75)
Valentino Lazaro (4,5)
Julio Villalba (N/A)
Michael Lang (N/A)
Hannes Wolf slowly creeping his way up into a relevant force in this team. This comes after many league-watchers routinely questioned his style of play as one that doesn’t appear to jive with the team’s general rhythm. By contrast, the player most of us thought would slide into the the ranks with ease (Valentino Lazaro) has declined in relevance amid the awkward shifts in Rose’s intended form of football. Some debate how much of an effect Rose’s move has on the players. This writer considers it obvious.
Glibly stated, we’ve witnessed a squad lose its overall sense of identity over the last few months. The “double-six” system that saw Rose gallop the foals up to first place for a prolonged stretch during the 2019/20 “Hin-runde” still exists, but it no longer seems to recall how to fire itself. Steadily eroding player morale and Rose’s wandering mind unfortunately do manifest themselves in this team’s execution every week. Unlucky breaks existed. The larger issue is systemic.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 6,0
So then. How should have Max Eberl handled the Marco Rose situation? For starters, the whole “99 percent” remark was horribly chosen semantic fluff. As if that weren’t bad enough, Eberl followed it up with the laughably sad “98 percent” assurance. This treated the Gladbach supporters like pure invalids who couldn’t see through the thinnest of veils. The ultras understandably took it upon themselves to force out the answer their sporting director should have honestly delivered to them much earlier.
Had Eberl leveled with the fans, much of this turmoil could have been avoided. Overly defensive statements aimed directly at the FanProjekt did little to ameliorate the situation. The fact that supporters are shut out of the stadiums at this time necessitated a more delicate approach. Deprived of their right to voice protest via banners and chants, devotees already feel a profound disconnect from their club. Gladbach adherents needed no reminder of their inability to serve as participants in their local institution. There can be no choice other than to give Eberl a failing grade here.
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 4,16
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 3,25
In = (none)
Out = (none)
Sometimes there is no better option that the status quo. That statement isn’t meant to be pejorative in any way, either. Do nothing occasionally constitutes the proper course of action. The BVB’s title hopes having long evaporated before the January window opened up, it was a far better strategy to shore up next years squad. Julian Rijkhoff and Soumaïla Coulibaly get set to join one of the league’s best academies in a few short weeks. That’s certainly nothing compared to sporting director Michael Zorc’s last three windows, but the club continues to sow quality seeds.
One still has to dock the far too many bosses at Germany’s second-richest club for standing totally pat when their Champions’ League place was one the line. Throughout January, there existed no impetus whatsoever toward at least targeting a reliable central midfielder via a short-term-loan. At virtually no cost or risk, a little fresh blood could have been introduced to this team that frequently suffers from a dearth of ideas amid languorous ball-possession phases. A back-up striker should have also been courted as part of a bare-minimum contingency plan.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 3,75
Felix Passlack (3,0)
Jude Bellingham (3,0)
Thomas Meunier (4,5)
Reinier Jesus Carvalho (4,5)
As eminently likable a player as Thomas Meunier is, there can be no question that he proved a poorly-thought-out replacement for Achraf Hakimi. Many of the problems die Schwarzgelben encountered moving forward this season stem from the fact that Raphaël Guerreiro, while still compelling in a more rearward left back role, doesn’t have the sort of freedom to move unmarked up the pitch without a horizontal axis partner drawing extra coverage.
This writer does an about-face on Meunier after admittedly overrating him in the last comprehensive column. Even when healthy, it appears as the veteran Belgium international just isn’t the right fit for this team. The 29-year-old’s work seems better suited to a team running a traditional back four. As concerns Jude Bellingham and “Reinier”, the work ethic definitely shines through. Both nevertheless appear lost too often; perhaps a result of scant guidance.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 5,5
Apropos a lack of guidance, one must address the decision to terminate Lucien Favre. Here we have the most unnecessarily detrimental move made by any team over the course of the season. It’s almost as if the cadre of club administrators didn’t understand what was at stake after round 11. A full 23 rounds of Bundesliga play remained too important to place in the hands of a caretaker coach. Favre’s expiring contract, coupled with the fact that Marco Rose had almost certainly been secured, rendered this move completely needless.
Had Zorc, Watzke, and the rest opted to stick with Favre, they would have taken a lot of heat for their trainer’s poor record against teams at the bottom of the table. Tough. One expects those earning a comfortable living administering a club to be able to withstand such flak. Failure to finish in the top four, a very likely outcome now, brings with its own debilitating set of problems. It’s highly doubtful staying the course at least through January would have in any way prevented Rose’s commitment to the club.
As clear as it may have been after the 1-5 defeat at Stuttgart that Favre’s tenure wouldn’t bring the title, it should have been clearer that the team still had vital points to pick up with two-thirds of the season left to go. Note that it wasn’t even necessary for the club to commit to its head-coach for the duration of the season. Contract extension talks could have easily been extended one month into the new year. All that was needed was a little bit of skillful stalling. In other words, just an ounce of leadership in the face of adversity.
-FC Schalke 04
Our final group features but one lowly member. The Königsblauen near the end of a campaign so thoroughly wretched that it shall live forever in the annals of history. Anywhere that a debate concerning the Bundesliga’s worst-ever team crops up, the 2020/21 version of die Knappen shall crop up first. Having done their part to redefine failure, Schalke must occupy their own separate category.
FC Schalke 04
2020/21 Administrative Grade = 5,64
January 2021 Transfer Window Grade = 5,75
In = Shkodran Mustafi (CB), Sead Kolasinac (LB), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (CF), William Furtado (RB)
Out = Rabbi Matondo (RW), Ahmed Kutuçu (LS), Nick Taitague (ATTM), Vedad Ibisevic (LS), Ozan Kabak (CB)
To the surprise of literally no one, this historic embarrassment sits at the bottom of our analysis. If there were a level beneath rock bottom, die Knappen would sink down to it. One runs out of words to describe this grotesque eyesore. As noted in the Mainz section, five separate coaching regimes were simply too much. Of the names listed above, the most salient remains Vedad Ibisevic. The veteran striker who could have helped this team the most fell out of favor with Manuel Baum’s staff. Three trainers later, there’s no convincing a magnanimous actor willing to forgo his salary to come back.
A matter of even greater relevance concerns the how many footballers on the current squad are contracted to play in Bundesliga Two. This is a always the greatest question when a team gets relegated. As it so happens, it’s an extremely one difficult to answer. Even top footballing journalists with regular cordial access to a club’s upper echelon don’t know. Taking some of Kicker’s correspondents at their word, all of the loaned players operate without and termination clauses for the second division.
If this is true, there could be a decent enough core with some extra international experience to rebuild around next year. Jochen Schneider at least got Rabbi Matondo, Ahmed Kutuçu, and Ozan Kabak off this sinking ship during a pivotal development phase. For this, he gets transfer-window marks 0,25 off complete failure. It doesn’t get much better than that; not for this club and certainly not for this section.
2020/21 Transfer Class Grade = 5,18
Frederick Rønnow (3,5)
Steven Skrzybski (4,0)
Mark Uth (4,75)
Ralf Fährmann (5,0)
Sead Kolasinac (5,5)
Gonçalo Paciencia (5,5)
William Furtado (5,5)
Shkodran Mustafi (5,5)
Kilian Ludewig (5,75)
Nabil Bentaleb (6,0)
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (6,0)
Probably the only injury properly classified as “hard luck” belongs to Mark Uth. The Köln native at least had the decency to provide some fight for a locality he made no secret of not wanting to play for. Gonçalo Paciencia’s knee-surgery may not have been foreseeable, but one can hardly fault him for bolting back to Portugal to get it done given the lack of confidence anyone associated with this organization inspires.
No one associated with the Klaas-Jan Huntelaar capture gets a pass. It’s the job of those in charge with managing personnel to take a player’s recent injury history into account. Extra scrutiny should be employed when dealing with a 37-year-old property. Kilan Ludewig and William Furtado proved horribly underscored solutions for the squad’s problems on the right.
Nabil Bentaleb could feasibly get his own section. Without necessarily taking sides in his multiple disputes with multiple coaching staffs, the entire notion that consequences remain ephemeral through endless staff cycles does its part to damage team culture to the extent that players feel themselves entitled to oust head-coaches on their own. Naturally, that brings us to the Sead Kolansinac-Shkodran Mustafi revolt that toppled Christian Groß. Deplorable.
Miscellaneous Administrative Grade = 6,0
As many of us speculated back in mid-September, Schalke’s campaign was likely over before it began. So much of the club’s tumult can be traced back to Schneider’s decision not to let David Wagner go after last year’s catastrophic “Rück-runde”. The choice to stick with a shaky trainer through a full pre-season camp doomed this team. We weren’t two rounds in before the players were forced to junk their full preparation package and attempt a tricky about-face.
The off-season remains the best time to switch coaching staffs. So many organizations run afoul of this basic footballing 101 precept. While it’s certainly true that many successful head-coaches do take the reins mid-campaign, it’s generally the case that these cases feature well-established and experienced trainers whom, for one reason or another, become available at the right time. The heat of a campaign can serve as the perfect chance to install Jürgen Klopp or Thomas Tuchel. Obviously, not so much the case with Manuel Baum and Christian Groß.
The month-long pre-season-prep phase at least affords a team to develop a rough thesis of the football they wish to play. If a sufficiently coherent replacement thesis can’t be procured immediately, it’s best to wait until one can be instilled. Take, for example, FSV Mainz. The Pfälzer parted company with Achim Beierlorzer the same week that Schalke terminated Wagner. The board stuck with embattled sporting director Rouven Schröder and interim-head-coach Jan Moritz-Lichte until they formulated a clear idea of how to proceed. The difference between these two approaches are why we’re discussing very different fates for these clubs.
German Bundesliga 2020/21: Final Table Projection
Now for the tricky part. With ten of the league’s 18 clubs falling into the very-well or mostly-well managed sections, how will the pieces fit together in the puzzle of the table at the conclusion of the 34th matchday? Naturally, there does not exist enough space for everyone one the campaign is complete. We’ll give it a shot.
Beginning at the top, Bayern remain the best candidates to capture the Meisterschale. Admittedly, today’s late-breaking news on the Robert Lewandowski injury makes one wish to reconsider. The loss of the word’s best striker cannot help but have enormous repercussions for the title race. Looks as if we’re for quite the ride.
Moving down to the crowded contest for the top four, Eintracht Frankfurt obviously serve as the sentimental pick that most Germans wish to see attain the UCL. Leverkusen, one remarks with noted disappointment, nevertheless retains the advantage based on the relative weakness of their remaining schedule.
Gladbach also edge out other Europa league aspirants on strength of schedule considerations. The foals should be able to rise up to the UEL playoff place. This counts as more disagreeable news for those hoping for more novelty next year. Alas, one can’t pick with the heart.
Barring something miraculous, Schalke stands no chance of escaping automatic relegation in 18th place. Hertha, Bremen, Augsburg appear strong enough to distance themselves from the relegation race. Bielefeld and Mainz look set for a rough dogfight over the relegation place.
The Rheinhessen stand as the pick to barely come out on top, possibly on goal-difference.
- FC Bayern München
- RasenBallSport Leipzig
- VfL Wolfsburg
- Bayer 04 Leverkusen
- Eintracht Frankfurt
- Borussia Dortmund
- Borussia Mönchengladbach
- VfB Stuttgart
- SC Freiburg
- FC Union Berlin
- TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
- FC Augsburg
- SV Werder Bremen
- Hertha BSC
- FSV Mainz 05
- Arminia Bielefeld
- FC Köln
- FC Schalke 04