Bundesliga: Florian Kohfeldt avoids blame in the fall of SV Werder Bremen
- The former Bundesliga champions are facing relegation, after their latest defeat which amplified their defensive issues.
- However, manager Florian Kohfeldt has the support of the board, and his future appears brighter than that of his team.
There is a gold star above the badge on the shirts of SV Werder Bremen that represents a bygone era of success. It is a sign that the club once ruled the domestic game in Germany. Adding a sixth Bundesliga title would earn them a second star, but even the stars in the sky are closer.
The side returned to Bundesliga action at the Weserstadion on Monday night for the visit of Bayer Leverkusen. There was a cold and haunting atmosphere as the players emerged to an empty stadium, but it seemed entirely appropriate given the current state of Die Werderaner.
Young manager Florian Kohfeldt turned 37 earlier this season, but will have aged much more than his years suggest during the current campaign. He is responsible for a team devoid of form and confidence. The defensive errors that allowed Bayer 04 Leverkusen to score four goals with ease will be as concerning as the chances the visitors failed to take.
But there is an infectious enthusiasm from Kohfeldt on the sideline, and he deserves credit for keeping on the same side of the players who will clearly blot his managerial stock with relegation from the Bundesliga this season. Actively encouraging from the isolated technical area after each goal was conceded, it was hard not to sympathise with him.
Support from the board
Kohfeldt has the support of his employers, and in particular, director of football Frank Baumann and chairman Marco Bode. The structure and concept of Baumann's and Bode's positions work in the manager's favour, as their roles enable them to spend more time on the training ground than any other boardroom influencers.
As a former Bundesliga player with SV Werder Bremen and the Germany national team, Baumann understands the game as a top-level professional, and he will appreciate the work of Kohfeldt and the ideals that he is trying to implement with the players available to him.
Before he was 25, Kohfeldt was coaching the youth teams at SV Werder Bremen. His journey has seen him progress, develop, and evolve through the ranks of the club to his elevation as 1st team manager in 2017. His name is renowned in coach education circles in Germany, and he represents the very best of a new breed of coach and manager.
His background separates him from his Bundesliga peers, and his ability to educate and rely the tactical disciplines that form the cornerstone of his methodology are not in question. However, it seems he cannot motivate and inspire a group of players psychologically struggling with the pressure of their current position in the Bundesliga table.
Dark clouds of relegation from the Bundesliga
Kohfeldt has similar support higher up the food chain, with Bode also having a professional appreciation of what the manager brings to the training ground. Bode shares a similar background to Baumann in that he also represented SV Werder Bremen during his own playing career in the Bundesliga.
Both Baumann and Bode have studied Kohfeldt in practice and will understand his approach. The players have been criticised for their application, and the board have directly blamed them for the predicament they find themselves in at the bottom of the table.
What started off as a season of hope and expectation has dissolved not into a campaign to forget, but one to remember and learn from, for all the wrong reasons. Relegation never seemed on the cards for SV Werder Bremen when they finished in the top half of the Bundesliga last season, but has now emerged as the very likely outcome.
But while SV Werder Bremen have enjoyed domestic and European success in the past, it has been a decade since they last reached a cup final. It has also been over 15 years since they lifted their fifth Bundesliga title. Success now is not about silverware, but survival.
The tough month of May in the Bundesliga
Difficult Bundesliga fixtures against SC Freiburg, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke 04 follow before the end of May. The situation will be a lot clearer after four games in relatively quick succession. There are plenty of points to play for, but SV Werder Bremen have collected just seven from the last 45 available.
The lack of confidence amongst the defensive unit was never more evident than in Monday's 4-1 defeat. The omission of any composure, conviction, and general belief in attack suggests the current trend of results is unlikely to change anytime soon. The next step of this project already appears destined to be played out in Bundesliga 2.
While the club should be admired for their backing of Kohfeldt in the circumstances of the season, it also makes reversing their form all the more difficult. A new voice on the training ground, a new approach, new methods, can all effectively shake-up a stale environment. But it seems that Kohfeldt will not carry the blame when the Bundesliga campaign is finally reflected upon.
The faith of Baumann and Bode in Kohfeldt is as interesting as it is unique. The decision-makers at other clubs may not have the professional knowledge of the duo to fully appreciate the coaching methods of the manager. While that has worked in Kohfeldt's favour, it has not been in the best interests of SV Werder Bremen.
For any club in this situation, results are all that matter, and once they have been achieved and enough points are on the board, then the long-term plan can be considered. Kohfeldt will ultimately be responsible for the impending relegation of SV Werder Bremen from the Bundesliga, and those at the top that support him must accept their share of the blame.
Deeper issues and long-term vision
The manner of the defeat against Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the Bundesliga said everything about the current psychological state of the SV Werder Bremen changing room. It is a state that cannot be fixed by shapes, systems or any other type of tactical shift. So it appears that there must be a longer-term plan in place for Kohfeldt.
Providing the belief of Baumann and Bode is retained, Kohfeldt will have the support to lead the side back to the Bundesliga next season, should the inevitable relegation materialise. He will have a new squad upon which to implement his ideas, and a less technically challenging, yet still very competitive, environment in which to realise them.
Relegation from the Bundesliga will be damaging for SV Werder Bremen and for Kohfeldt, but it is the combination of the two that has brought about this situation. The fallen giants of the German game must now reassess and regroup with a long-term vision.
If Kohfeldt is to remain as manager, he is fortunate that those above him have so much faith in his ability. But if he is not to be the manager to lead them back to former glory, then the current support of Baumann and Bode must be seriously questioned. Only the long-term outcome to the bleak short-term outlook will answer the question.