I’ve always found it difficult to pass judgement on St. Pauli managers. As a football fan, the judgement of a manager is based around a few things. Of course, it depends heavily on results. But more than that, an opinion is formed based on the style of play, the quotes in the media, the interaction with the fans and ultimately the discussions around tactics that you find yourself having in the pub for two hours after each game, questioning team selection, tactics and trying to convince all around you that you could have done a better job.
Watching from afar and not speaking enough German to listen to press conferences or read articles on what a manager is trying to achieve, I find that I have to base my opinions purely on results – a factor at St. Pauli that isn’t normally that important. Take away the ability to regularly watch games live and somehow it becomes difficult to form what I’d perceive as a valid opinion, and that doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t feel I’m qualified enough to talk bad of a manager.
Yet here I am, trying to form an opinion enough to write an article on the latest managerial change at FCSP. Or is this article just to suggest that I don’t have an opinion? I’m not sure.
This year will be a decade since I started following St. Pauli. In that time, only Ewald Lienen has come close to replicating the success of Stani who was in charge when I watched them for the first time. Even Ewald had his managerial troubles, and his reign will be looked back fondly for his character, political values and bond with the fans over any success on the pitch. But in that forms the impossible question for St. Pauli, what is the marker of success?
Not every St. Pauli fans want a return to the Bundesliga, but I feel there’s a growing acknowledgement that this club needs to be successful on the pitch. It’s becoming more professional (rightly or wrongly) off the pitch, and the demands on the pitch reflect that. And as much as we don’t want success to be the primary focus of the club, it almost feels like its about time we were pushing at the top of this league.
That feeling comes from nearly a decade where St. Pauli have flirted more with the 3.liga than the first league. Managers have done ordinary jobs, left under ordinary circumstances and being replaced by ordinary managers. They have been so ordinary that they almost merge into one. Frontzeck, Vrabec and Janssen, does anyone really remember them, their team or their style of play? Schubert had the best points per game of the lot, but that went sour too. Only Lienen has had more than 50 games in charge since Stani left.
My first game was against Oberhausen away, we won (3-1 maybe?) and I still insist it’s the best game I’ve ever seen us play. We attacked with vigour, we were entertaining and the team was full of desire and passion. I’ve not seen us recreate much of that since, perhaps briefly under Ewald, but it soon faded.
It’s amazing how many international St. Pauli supporters you speak to who have only seen us win a handful of games, and in some cases haven’t seen us win at all in countless trips! Low scoring draws or defeats tend to be the theme, and a team full of hope and promise that always seems to fall flat.
There’s been glimmers of hope. I remember the first game away at Bochum last season under Janssen (correct me if I’m wrong) when we won 1-0 and I thought we might have found the right formula. I recall one of Vrabec’s first games away at 1860 Munich when his tactics looked revolutionary and we won 2-0. Both results felt like that start of something, but ultimately lead nowhere.
Onto Kauczinski. As I said at the start, I feel uncomfortable judging him from afar. I was asked on the Millernton podcast a few months back about him, and I was never convinced. That said, the results this season were beyond any expectations. The football hasn’t been great, and I felt we’d actually won games we could easily have lost and as a result our league position was a little false. But, the wheels fell off in the derby, and to say we’ve struggled since would be a huge understatement. Reading between the lines, the sacking would suggest that the club felt this was more than just a bump in the road. On face value, sacking a guy who has you in 6th and a few points off the top places is harsh. But i trust the club enough to judge the situation and take action where required. It doesn’t seem like this is a kneejerk reaction, but an assessment of where the club was going and where the management want it to be. If so, a change of direction won’t be a bad thing.
Onto Luhukay. On first seeing his name tweeted by our friends in Manchester, I thought they’d tried making a joke and misjudged the audience. But it’s true. Let me explain. Luhukay got it awfully wrong at Sheffield Wednesday. From an outside perspective of his job there, they had no real style of play, he changed tactics changed a lot – often playing with a back 5 in defence at home, and he dropped a lot of senior players completely without any explanation. Their form since his departure is remarkable in comparison, and a lot of the returning senior players have shone. As harsh as it may be to judge him on his short stint in Yorkshire, it would also be wrong to ignore it. But he’s had relative success in Germany, involving promotion several times. That also can’t be overlooked. He’s also someone that is known by club management and by some of the players already, which will hopefully result in the last few games of the season not becoming an experiment. Third place is still achievable.
Only time will tell whether this change is just the latest in a list of ultimately uninspiring appointments, or whether it’s the catalyst to move forward. The decision summarised by club president Oke Göttlich perhaps sums up the situation best: “In the decision between continuity and development, the club has opted for the path of development.”