Phew… I can’t wait for the season to end. But I love football and especially FCSP, and I usually have a dreary existence during winter and summer breaks. But right now I hope that the season will end as soon as possible. It should end with the FCSP not standing on a relegation spot and having to play even longer or even being relegated directly to the 3rd league.
Before the lockdown, I personally didn’t think that four matchdays before the end of the season there would be any chance against for the relegation, no, really not at all. After the win at home against Osnabrück I was prepared for a relaxed unwinding of the season. On the pitch, the team would continue to give it’s all but is already testing one or the other (formation, junior players) for the new season, and in the background, calculators would be busy, contract negotiations would be held and deals would be arranged. Everything for the next season. The season in which Jos Luhukay wants to advance to the first league with the FCSP. He had formulated this goal quite clearly, also as a yardstick for his own work.
But you can’t go straight from the third league to the first. After 30 match days, the people involved in the FCSP have to deal with the present much more intensively than they probably wanted (and planned for) three months ago. Somehow everything is different after the re-start. And unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be just because the fans are missing in the stadiums. The reasons for the already disappointing season are manifold and not easy to assess from the outside. Nevertheless, we have to talk about it.
(Cover picture: Peter Boehmer)
Jos Luhukay has been coaching the FCSP for more than a year now. And if we break his performance down to the points score, he is one of the most unsuccessful coaches in the history of the FCSP. Of course, I’m not, the reasons for the meager yield are manifold. Too many and varied to judge the coach’s performance on that alone. But yes, football = result sport and so on. The achieved points are an essential part and in the end also an essential indication for the performance. And this yield is not much more than poor.
Finally, football again! – but only in the first leg.
I personally have a high opinion of Jos Luhukay. That’s because I was impressed throughout the first half of the season by how well the other teams were analyzed and countered. On top of that, a clear plan was developed for how to get to the opposing goal when you have the ball. And that was partly implemented really well. A mileage difference to previous coaches, who almost completely abandoned their own ideas about playing with the ball in favor of error prevention and “compactness”. This discouraged football hurt and therefore I liked the first half of the season, despite a below-average score.
The road to well-rehearsed procedures in the offensive play takes time. Dents in the form of missing results must be taken into account. But how big is the current dent? The dent that already started with the second half of the season. Is it actually a dent that can be corrected? Because the matches in which the opponent was clearly out-coached and we therefore massively dominated the first half-hour have become rare. And the idea of possession is not as reliable as it was in the first half of the season. And if these two components are left out and the results are as they are, even I don’t have many arguments left. This may be a phase, a period in which the players and the system have to come together, in which we have to go one step further to make the concept work in the long run. But it may also be that the previous plan has been deciphered by opposing teams and a completely new one is needed. (Of course, at this point the three letters MMD can give the discussion a completely new impulse. This will come later).
In the evaluation it is also important to consider when there were good and when there were bad phases in the season: A mediocre start was followed by a series of 12 points from six games (around the derby in the first half). This was ended by an international break and a phase with a huge number of injured players. The second phase with better results (8 points from four games around the derby in the second half) was also ended abruptly by the Corona situation.
The thing about empathy
And then, in such a difficult phase like the one we are going through right now, things that tend to take a back seat in successful phases automatically move to the front row: Seen from the outside, Jos Luhukay is not a coach who convinces on a social level. Personally, I found it more conducive than obstructive to make it clear right at the beginning of the season that an entire club in the Shark Pool Bundesliga only works if you don’t make yourself comfortable somewhere.
But of course, you can discuss this method excellently and Jos Luhukay will probably never get a job as a SocialMediator again – but he doesn’t have to. As long as it leads to an improvement in St. Pauli’s game and individual players can improve their performance, I think such a method is acceptable, although there are certainly other approaches to the topic of “motivating employees”. I’m no expert on this either (what am I an expert on, really?), but would argue that tangible trust is a stronger driver for top performance than the fear of making mistakes and therefore having to sit on the bench or in the stands in the next game. Personally, I am not at all impressed by the fact that so many young players have been fielded. Obviously the coach seems to react to the fact that he is dissatisfied with the other players. Unfortunately, none of the young players have been able to recommend themselves in the long term. Instead, it seemed as if seasoned professionals were “pardoned” again. Is something like that beneficial for the performance of a team? It doesn’t seem to be the case. On the other hand, we have seen, at least from the outside, a reverse approach with Markus Kauczinski, who didn’t react so harshly directly after individual mistakes. But how many of us criticized loudly and quietly at the time, that the players were pleased to be tackled a little harder after indisputable performances? Both types have their justification – if success is achieved.
The usual mechanisms or fundamental criticism?
However, since the sporting success in the second half of the season failed to materialize (both in terms of gameplay and points), the critical voices have become louder again. But the decision-makers stand by Jos Luhukay – and there will be reasons for this. Personally, I find it difficult to assess the work of the coach without having gained real insight into the inner workings of the team. I think we should not presume to accuse all the people who make sporting decisions at FCSP of complete incompetence. However, it is of course also our right to criticize such issues. But most of us are certainly happy if we do not have to make such decisions ourselves, but are allowed to comment on them.
And I also don’t want to be blinded by the fact that different media provide the usual commercial coverage in case of continued failure, e.g. by putting single statements into the mouth of players, just to spin a bigger story out of it. We must not forget that in media reporting, circulation, or click numbers always play a decisive role in the selection of topics.
Nevertheless, it must be mentioned at this point that it also happens that in difficult sporting times, players verbally support their coach when he or she comes under public pressure. Has this already been the case with the FCSP under Luhukay? Probably not. Can we turn this into a “the players don’t get along with the coach at all” story? Not really. But trusting cooperation sounds different.
Several other arguments can be drawn on for the disappointing second half of the season. A coach has a huge influence on the game, but he can only influence the game to a certain extent. The biggest influence on the game and the results are the players. And that quickly brings us to the question about the quality of the individual players. And if we then look at the differences between the first and second half of the season, it becomes clear that in the offensive game, in the field of creating chances, a player is missing. Mats Møller Dæhli left the club in the winter and the gap is apparently much larger than expected. Should a replacement have been brought in to fill the gap this winter? In retrospect one is always smarter and can clearly say: Yes. But would there really have been an adequate replacement for Mats at an affordable price for the FCSP? A player who could have immediately filled the part he played on and off the pitch? Probably not.
And as much as the transfer of Mats hurts, it also shows what Jos Luhukay has achieved with some players: He has made them better. At this stage, it seems completely inexplicable why previous coaches did not put Mats in the center (the same goes for Daniel Buballa and Waldemar Sobota, by the way). And certainly, the next statement is debatable, but from my point of view, no important player of the FCSP plays a worse football under Luhukay than under previous coaches.
And in the course of the first half of the season, the FCSP has changed even more, which was surely not planned: Cenk Şahin decided to be an asshole. Would the outside position really have become a problem zone under different circumstances? Of course, he didn’t play a significant role until the time of his suspension, but just because of his abilities he could have played a more significant role and if you look at the career of Rico Benatelli, for example, it’s not impossible this could have happened under Jos Luhukay.
The squad situation is therefore another central point that, in addition to the critical review of Jos Luhukay’s work, must be taken into account when evaluating the season. It’ s so central that I will now devote myself to this situation.
The fact that the four players were informed in winter that the club no longer plans to play with them, nor are all with the FCSP and have “voluntarily” gone into the U23 leaves room for speculation:
Either the players are hoping for the door to the first team to open again.
Or: No other team wanted to sign these players in winter.
Or: The players themselves have not received any contract offers that are appropriate from their point of view.
The latter two points, if true, are not an indication that the sports management (now no longer at FCSP) has made good decisions in renewing the contracts of the players concerned. And this was and still is a core problem of the current squad situation: the squad is far too richly staffed, but obviously not with the necessary quality and/or with many players who are constantly injured. Working with this squad is certainly not an easy task. And Andreas Bornemann‘s work must be evaluated against the background of this initial situation.
Despite the lavishly staffed changing room, there were a few positions in the squad to be filled before the season. That worked out so-so. At least, even according to Bornemann himself, loan deals are not ideal, but from his point of view, they were unavoidable. By the way, the problematic size of the squad was mentioned as a big problem right at the start of the season. So how do you deal with a squad that may be packed with people, but apparently doesn’t meet your own requirements? Especially when it’s not the case that players who no longer fit into the coach/sports director’s concept don’t even seem to find a new club. Set up a training group B? That is difficult even from a labor law perspective. This is probably the main reason why the urgently needed change in the squad did not happen. Andreas Bornemann stressed that such a change would require several transfer periods. And the evaluation of the sports director’s work should be handled accordingly.
Yet another construction site: injuries
The FCSP has been leading a specific statistic in the second division for years (statistically secured for at least two seasons): The absences due to injuries. Let us play the “what would it have been like if…” game: How do you think the season would have gone if Christopher Avevor hadn’t broken his fibula? And if James Lawrence, his legitimate successor, had made it through the season with an undamaged knee? Or if Christian Conteh had followed his words with deeds in the form of hard work so that he would not have suffered one muscle injury after another? Or if Henk Veerman hadn’t been ready for action only towards the end of the first leg? And, gee, Mr. Buchtmann, and Mr. Ziereis… We will never know, but even this situation must be viewed critically when evaluating the season.
The situation concerning the injured players was at times so blatant that almost every player in this huge squad was needed on the pitch. The situation was particularly worrying in November when 15 players were missing with injuries. Jos Luhukay commented that he had “never experienced anything like this”. Is that so? Well, at least it’s not that there haven’t been similar problems at Jos Luhukay’s previous locations (e.g. Augsburg or Berlin). But such injured miseries occur in many clubs. Is then the coach to blame every time? Again, it is almost impossible to get a well-founded opinion on this without a deep insight into the work of the coaching team.
The people who have insight have ended their work with athletics coach Janosch Emonts after almost exactly five years. While at the beginning of the second half of the season, with a full squad and few injuries, it looked like the changed work of the medical department would be bearing fruit, at the moment there are already several muscle injuries again. But to what extent these can be justified with the Corona-related break and/or unprofessional behavior on the side of the players (this point should never be ignored when considering the injuries!) is certainly difficult to answer. The disproportionate number of injuries was (and remains?) certainly one of the biggest problems of the FCSP during the season.
Many players who might be supposed to stay are only on loan (Østigård, Gyökeres, Lawrence). In the case of James Lawrence, one hears that the required transfer fee of the purchase option is simply unrealistic. For Viktor Gyökeres it was actually clear from the beginning that this was only a one-year intermezzo. Although the possibility of a stay is not ruled out, realistically speaking it will not come to that. Also, a stay of Leo “Air” Østigård at the Millerntor is completely unrealistic (at least a firm commitment). He is just too good and therefore too expensive. And a further loan is only possible if the contract with Brighton & Hove Albion is extended (a possible, but I fear unrealistic scenario). There will certainly be no shortage of interested parties who have a far deeper money box than the FCSP after this season. The situation of these three players shows very well the crux of loan deals and that if there are no realistic buying options, no squad can be built up.
Some others, who were convincing in this sad season, will (Diamantakos) or could (Veerman) leave the club. And some of those who have disappointed this season or played no role at all are sitting on long-term contracts. Would you like to know which players currently have a contract beyond the next season? Avevor, Ziereis, Carstens, Zander, Park, Knoll, Zehir, Becker, Buchtmann, Benatelli, Lankford, Tashchy. Do these 12 names sound like a solid foundation of a second division club with ambitions? The shoe is pinching. It’s very tight.
I don’t know the market and its mechanisms, but I would like to see players scouted not for availability but for quality, to be a little ahead of the circus. And these estimates of qualities should be based partly on data analysis (a reasonable data analysis also saves some financial resources in the scouting department), because visual scouting is flawed. A mix of both components is needed. And with “reasonable data analysis” I don’t mean that statistics like goals and duel values are put into a table. With “reasonable” I mean that the validity of statistics is checked and a model for each individual position is developed from it.
But what kind of players do we actually need? Clear definitions are needed here. But it is also clear that the FCSP as a club cannot completely free itself from the transfer carousel and do its own thing. It just has to operate as effectively as possible in this market. If one looks at the costs of individual player transfers (salary over the years, costs for consultants, etc., possibly transfer fees) and sets these against the costs of changes in scouting, it quickly becomes clear that an investment in structural change in scouting should be worthwhile, if it has not already been made.
Maybe I’m being a little too negative about all this. Maybe we will win at home against Aue and directly afterward the club will send out press releases about departures, additions, and contract renewals. Maybe the squad planning is already much further than we think. I would like to believe it, but I have my doubts, also because of the Corona situation.
Coaches, squad, injuries – it takes more than a few bullet points to evaluate the season. The situation is complex. And given the possibly difficult interpersonal situation, the abundant but apparently unsatisfactory composition of the squad beyond the season and the possibly unresolved situation around the many injuries… puuh!
First and foremost, the stay in the league must be secured. That’s why this text should actually only be published afterward. But somehow this had to get out now. Luckily I’m not one of those who has to make the decisions but can comment them carefully…