Eintracht Frankfurt have surprised all by climbing into the top four – but their success may cost them their head coach
Back when Armin Veh was coach of VfL Wolfsburg in the 2009-10 season, Süddeutsche Zeitung's Claudio Catuogno revealed one of the main differences between him and his predecessor (and eventual successor) Felix Magath. "Magath used to sit on his desk and work obsessively until 10pm every day, Veh doesn't operate like that", he wrote. "It's impossible for him: he has to take out his dog at 10 every night, for starters." This wasn't really a very nice thing to write. Elsewhere, Catuogno might have expected a strong, angry rebuke, a ban from press conferences, maybe even a lawsuit. But none of the above materialised. There was no reaction at all, for a simple reason: what Catuogno wrote was the truth.
Veh, 52, is the opposite to the so-called "Konzepttrainer" who increasingly populate the Bundesliga – he believes in giving his team time and space. Too much training? Too many detailed instructions? Not for him. His hands-off approach has taken Eintracht Frankfurt back to the Bundesliga and into contention for fourth spot, even though he's still happier to talk about "the shitty 40 points" that guarantee survival.
On Sunday, his side pulled off a marvellous little trick, good enough for a future football trivia question. They lost 2-1 at home to Stuttgart – but still climbed up a spot, back into fourth. That feat came courtesy of Schalke 04, who managed to lose – in typical Schalke fashion, one must reluctantly add – 3-0 at Nürnberg despite dominating for large spells. The Royal Blues' goal-difference worsened to zero as a result while Frankfurt are still on +2 despite scoring a solitary goal in six games. Both clubs are on 39 points.
The table doesn't quite reflect how badly Eintracht have lost their way since the winter break. A brilliant first half of the season saw them outdo many bigger, wealthier clubs. Their football was great, the veteran Alex Meier didn't stop scoring Le Tissier-esque beauties, and the rest of the league gasped at the tremendous potential of players such as Sebastian Rode, Sebastian Jung and Takashi Inui. And Veh, after failing at Wolfsburg and Hamburg, was flavour of the month again.
Then the trouble started. Many clubs spent their winter break trying to lure one or two of the Sebastians away from the Commerzbank-Arena. Over in Gelsenkirchen, the Schalke sporting director, Horst Heldt, had a brainwave: why not make Veh the new Schalke coach next season. Heldt and Veh had worked successfully at Stuttgart, where the manager had ridden an unlikely wave of success all the way to the Bundesliga championship in 2007.
"Those who know about the [working] relationship between me and Armin Veh understand that we naturally think about working together again in the near future or at some other time," Heldt said on Sunday. "We never made a secret of that. But I can't confirm that this will happen automatically." Bild can, however. Their sports editor, Alfred Draxler, a man who knows more about the inner machinations at Schalke than half of the club's board, revealed that Veh will sign a contract at the Veltins-Arena. Frankfurt are not best pleased, of course. "It's about time that we heard a clear statement from Schalke," said their sporting director, Bruno Hübner, careful not too blame Veh for the impasse. The manager also professed himself annoyed by the perennial "Rumgeeiere" (dance on egg shells) but forgot to mention that he's been the one tangoing in the eagle's nest.
"Veh is in danger of ruining his reputation," wrote Frankfurter Rundschau. The local paper revealed that the club was working hard on securing all the transfer targets he has suggested (Freiburg's Jan Rosenthal has already said yes), and that there was a good chance that all key personnel would be kept on for next season, too. "By announcing his departure now, he would show himself up for stringing one club along while he had already agreed terms with another," Rundschau warned. Veh is out of contract at the end of the season but has refused to enter negotiations until those 40 points are in the bag. Chances are this issue will be resolved over the international break.
Frankfurt can't possibly wait another two weeks, especially since Veh's answer is likely to be negative. In any case, it looks like the game is up. Without Veh, it'll be a lot harder to convince wanted players to stay. The only realistic chance is to hope that Champions League qualification – unlikely, but not impossible – could dramatically alter the situation.
As for Schalke, plumping for Veh is an interesting choice. History suggests that his laid-back attitude works either really well or not at all. And even where it does work, it stops working as soon as negative results make it necessary to ring the changes. Schalke obviously fancy that kind of gamble, with that kind of manager. Heldt's back-up option is reportedly Roberto Di Matteo.
• Bayern might be universally known as FC Hollywood, but in Germany, their more common nick-name is "Dusel-Bayern" – lucky Bayern. The moniker looked particularly apt on Saturday night. After a fine solo effort from Mario Gómez, who made the most of only 16 touches in the whole match, Bayern's B team fell asleep to let Leverkusen back into the game. Simon Rolfes equalised after some non-existent marking from a free-kick. The home side threatened to take all three points at the BayArena but a wicked deflection of Philipp Wollscheid from a Bastian Schweinsteiger free-kick a few minutes from time saw Jupp Heynckes' men celebrate. Schweinsteiger put on a Leverkusen shirt and made a "binoculars" gesture. No one could blame him: Bayern are still 20 points clear and out of sight. Five more points from eight games will hand them the title; with a bit of Dusel they could even get their hands on the trophy in two weeks' time. Off the pitch, the mood was muted, however. The sporting director, Matthias Sammer, was busy aping Uli Hoeness warnings ("three weeks of shit") about a recent drop in performances, while Gómez made no attempt to disguise his annoyance with his role as a Mandzukic deputy. All that's needed now is a Champions League exit to Juventus to make this the most miserable, record-breaking championship winning season ever.
• It's no coincidence that Dortmund seem much happier with their lot. An emphatic 5-1 win over Freiburg secured their grip on second spot but that was only a happy sideline. The main story was the triumphant return of Nuri Sahin. Casual observers had a hard time keeping him and fellow central midfielder Ilkay Gundogan apart but TV replays suggest it was indeed Sahin who popped up with two fine strikes. "It's taken a bit of time," said Jürgen Klopp, "but one can't expect a conductor to lead the orchestra straight away after taking his cast off." It's an interesting take – did Brendan Rodgers really break Sahin's arms, metaphorically speaking? Robert Lewandowski also scored a brace.
• While Sahin pointed to the presence of his 18-month-old son Omer ("I had to perform well for him today"), the Freiburg coach, Christian Streich, bemoaned that his players were offered "like on the cattle market, with release clauses and huge sums" – an "incredible disquiet" had unnerved the whole squad, said the manager. That's the problem for a club like Freiburg: they can never win, even when they're winning.
• Still it could be worse. Like at Werder Bremen. At least Thomas Schaaf had an excellent explanation for the latest disappointment, an awful 2-2 draw at home to the bottom side, Greuther Fürth: it's all the players' fault. "It doesn't matter what formation and what tactics I employ if the players don't give it their all," grumbled the coach. "I'm very angry." One wonders how long the supporters, the board and the local media can be fobbed off with such transparent rhetoric. Werder slipped down to 14th and within six points of the relegation play-off spot.
• In said spot, Augsburg continue to exceed expectations. The coach Markus Weinzierl notched up another outstanding win, 1-0 to Hamburg, although his team were of course fortunate to meet HSV in one of those "we can make the Europa League" weeks, when the northerners reliably prove to themselves that they can't.
Results: Wolfsburg 1-1 Düsseldorf, Dortmund 5-1 Freiburg, Bremen 2-2 Fürth, Nürnberg 3-0 Schalke, Hoffenheim 0-0 Mainz, Hamburger SV 0-1 Augsburg, Leverkusen 1-2 Bayern, Frankfurt 1-2 Stuttgart, Gladbach 1-0 Hannover.