It’s rare that we actually take football seriously – in reality football is just an excuse at Magischer FC, but following the scare of last season’s relegation battle here’s a rare serious look at the squad and transfer policy of the club going into next season…
Two seasons ago I stood on the Südkurve with Nick Davidson, author of Pirates, Punks & Politics, during the first game of the season at home to 1860 Munich, and Nick said he couldn’t get excited about the current crop of players in the squad, he couldn’t feel an emotional attachment to them in the same way that he had with previous squads. It was an interesting point that looking back is very relevant. The squad at the time had gone through a transitional period, with Ebbers, Naki, Morena and Kruse amongst other familiar faces leaving the club. Players who had spent years at the club, and almost become part of the club furniture. Two years later, i still can’t help but feel there’s still that lack of identity amongst the players. A lack of a fan favourite, of a team who the fans can get excited about and can bond with. It’s even more pertinent given that Tschauner, Schachten, Daube and Thorandt have left the club this summer.
The previous ‘era’ consisting of the team that got us from the 3rd division into the Bundesliga had a huge sense of identity and character. The same just cannot be said for the squad over the past two seasons, a squad that ultimately hasn’t succeeded. It may be an impossible comparison to make, because characters like Naki, ball winning midfielders like Boll and goal scorers like Ebbers are a rare commodity. But from the outside looking in, it appears St. Pauli has lacked all of the above since they departed.
Two years after the club decided to release Ebbers, his goals are still to be replaced. Whilst you can’t expect anyone to find the form that Ebbers had during that promotion winning season, it’s not unrealistic to expect a striker to score more than a handful of goals during a campaign. St. Pauli have an abundance of strikers – and yet they’ve been selected based on who hasn’t performed, rather than who has. Verhoek (4 goals, 1 assist) and Nöthe (5 goals, 0 assists) both failed to make their mark when played, and by the end of the season the Thy (5 goals, 3 assists) was thrown upfront. In fairness, he took his chance and scored some crucial goals, but is he a striker capable of scoring 15 goals in a season?
Then there’s Ante Budimir (4 assists, 5 yellow cards) who the club spent a considerable sum of money on, who failed to make any impression last term. The 23 year old started 10 times for St. Pauli last season, but failed to score in over 1000 minutes of football. A foot injury ruled him out towards the end of the season, and it’d be a shame to judge a young talent based on a poor season when the whole team struggled, but he is a financial gamble that hasn’t paid off for St. Pauli so far. Arguably the striker (albeit technically a right winger) who had the biggest impression for St. Pauli last year was Kyoung-Rok Choi, who scored two vital goals on his debut before picking up an injury which meant he didn’t feature for much of the remainder of the season.
The club announced today that Nöthe will leave the club by mutual termination of his contract. He leaves the club having scored 12 goals in 53 appearances. The latest in a long line of departures as the club looks to restructure the wage bill in a bid to reduce costs after a drop of around €1m in tv revenue.
St. Pauli used 32 players last season, signs of the team having far too much quantity, and a distinct lack of quality. Of the 34 games, only Lasse Sobiech started more than 30 of them (31). Dennis Daube, next on the list of starting appearances, had 27. Further to that, along with Sobiech and Daube, only Gonther (25), Thy (22), Halstenberg (20) started in 20 games or more. The problem for St. Pauli last season was not a lack of options, but if anything – too many options, with no difference in quality between those options. Tschauner or Himmelmann? Maier or Rzatkowski? Verhoek or Nothe? On their day, one could perform better than the other, but was there any real difference in terms of quality? Who would be the first names on the team sheet?
St. Pauli have had an abundance of midfielders over the past two seasons, but none in the mould of Boll who could break up attacks, dive in when needed and pop up with goals from midfield too. Again, it’s hard to compare everyone to Boll, but St. Pauli were so desperate for that type of player towards the end of this season that Kalla had to step in to fill the void, despite the huge number of midfielders in the squad. Tom Trybull and Michael Gorlitz have left the club without ever really make an impression, and Dennis Daube was brilliant but frustrating in equal measure.
Armando Cooper never really got a chance with only 7 sub appearances, and his most memorable moment of last season was his waving of the ‘good night white pride’ flag in front of the away end at Darmstadt. Enis Alushi played, but then didn’t play, then played, then got injured, then didn’t play, and then played again. Buchtmann missed a lot of last season through injury and if he can keep fit he’ll be a key part of the team.
Nor have St. Pauli had anyone in the same vein as a Kruse, Naki or Bruns – three vital components in the team that helped St. Pauli to the Bundesliga since they departed. No-one who can add goals from midfield on a regular basis, who can attack defenders with pace. Marc Rzatkowski has the potential to be exactly this player, but he hasn’t quite lived up to his performances at Bochum – where he got 5 goals and 11 assists in 33 games. He’s only got 5 goals and 7 assists in his 60 St. Pauli appearances. He has all the qualities to be a destructive winger, to run at people with pace, get past defenders and cross the ball. But far too often he plays infield and ineffectively.
The club is hopeful of signing Waldemar Sobota on a permanent deal, and the winger looked capable in his 10 appearances last season. The club have also signed Ryo Miyaichi from Arsenal. The winger has pace, lots of it, and will hopefully provide a danger for us in attack.
It’s important now that the club looks to sign a combative defensive midfielder. Daube, Koch, Kringe, Trybull and Gorlitz will all leave, meaning the club will be short of options in the centre of midfield.
St. Pauli conceded 51 goals last season, worse than both Aue and Aalen who were relegated. However the defence was massively improved in the second half of the season, conceding just 15 goals in 17 games, compared to 36 in the first half of the season.
The club looks desperate to keep the services of Marcel Halstenberg despite interest from Hannover 96, and has also agreed a deal with HSV to sign Lasse Sobiech on a permanent deal. Sobiech ended the season forming a solid partnership with Sören Gonther, and with Kalla playing well at right-back it seemed a pretty settled back four. However the club does lack options if any of the above are injured. Markus Thorandt has left the club, which leaves Philip Ziereis as the only other centre back in the squad. Sebastian Schachten has also left, but the club do have both Bernd Nehrig and youngster Andrey Startsev both capable of playing right back. Daniel Buballa started the season as first choice left back but lost his place to injury, and upon his return he was preferred playing in left midfield.
Not really worthy of a discussion and not even possible to have an argument. Himmelmann finished the season as number 1 and has agreed to stay at the club, whilst Tschauner has departed. The club has Philipp Heerwagen as a back-up, too.
The loss of players and a reduction in the wage bill is never a positive sign at any football club from the fans perspective, however it’s not necessarily a bad thing either. Out of all the players that have left this summer, i’d argue that only Schachten and Daube will be missed. Even then, Schachten wouldn’t have started the season in the first XI as long as Halstenberg stays and Daube is hardly irreplaceable. The club had a huge number of players in the squad, almost an unmanageable amount for a manager to work with. If you had to name all 32 players used by St. Pauli last season, could you?
After a couple of seasons of change, it is important that St. Pauli re-establishes itself on the football pitch. The clubs transfer policy hasn’t worked over the past two years, and It’s vital for the club financially that it doesn’t flirt with relegation again this year. For that to happen, the club must get it right. Ewald Lienen and Thomas Meggle are the right people to do just that. Lienen got the very best out of the squad towards the end of last season, and with a goalscorer and a defensive midfielder added to the mix, i feel that it’s a squad that is more than capable of doing well next season.
Then we can all go back to the important stuff, and stop worrying about our league position.