The under-fire Wolfsburg manager has managed seven German clubs and left behind him a trail of ill-feeling
"Felix Magath out!" and "never again, Felix Magath, never again," the Schalke 04 supporters were chanting at the Wolfsburg manager at the Veltins Arena on Saturday. Quite a few Royal Blues players on the pitch seemed tempted to join in as well. Jefferson Farfán, for example, made a point of running over to the Wolfsburg bench after scoring the opener. Lip readers were later on convinced he'd mouthed "hijo de puta" in the direction of Magath. Was the striker merely repeating back some offensive words to Magath ("Oi, Felix, do you think I called you a hijo de puta?") or employing a term with altogether different connotations in Peruvian Spanish? "I didn't see it and don't care either," said the Wolves coach diplomatically.
It's rare to see opposition managers subjected to hostile chants in the Bundesliga. But then again, Magath is not your regular opposition manager but an ex-manager in seven out of 18 stadiums. In Gelsenkirchen, where he was fired in March 2011 after buying so many players that the DFL nearly ran out of registration forms - the club cited "transfer irregularities" as a reason for the dismissal – they were particularly unhappy to see him.
Farfán had set the tone earlier in the week with an interview in Sport Bild. "All managers who Schalke have had in the last few years gave something to the club," the 27-year-old claimed, "the only coach who didn't leave anything positive behind was Magath. He only left behind fines [for the players]." Farfán went on to question the manager's "militaristic methods" and wondered about a lack of "humanity" in his approach. "I can laugh now but it was a tough time," he said.
His current squad probably share that view. Ten days ago, Magath had them running through the Wolfsburg woods (again) and when they had finished, they found that most of their water bottles had been emptied on purpose by the coach. Magath tried to justify this exercise in sadism as an "educational measure" afterwards – "I wanted them to learn to share resources as a team," he claimed – but the episode is symptomatic of a course that has seen him veer dangerously close to caricature of himself. "The last dictator in Europe," as Jan Age Fjortoft once called him, should slowly realise that random acts of unkindness are no substitute for a coherent strategy on and off the pitch.
Wolfsburg went down 3-0 at Schalke, without as much as a whimper of resistance. "We don't find the right way to play together at the moment," said the Brazilian midfielder Diego. But how could they? Magath has already used 21 different players out of his ridiculously large squad of 32, and the constant tactical changes and different lineups are only betraying a lack of any ideas.
After spending the best part of €70m on new players in 18 months, Magath has simply lost the plot. Players keep popping up in unlikely, unsuited positions, then get banished from the squad only to re-appear in other, even more unfamiliar roles some weeks later. The manager's take on Diego's lack of impact was revealing in that respect. "We thought we'd sell him so we didn't put the team together according to his needs," claimed Magath. It all begs one question: according to whose needs exactly has this side been put together?
His raving hire-and-fire – policy and draconian measures have left him with an army of disgruntled ex-charges eager for revenge throughout the league, that's for sure. "Some players are especially motivated against former managers, especially against Felix Magath," noted the S04 midfielder Roman Neustädter. "The fact that Magath constantly runs into players who want to get their own back has become a permanent competitive disadvantage," wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung, only half in jest.
Their third defeat in a row has seen them slip to 17th place. What was supposed to be a challenge for European places in turning into a relegation battle. "The new slogan at the club is 'football is everything'," recalled Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, "but at the moment it's anything but football here".
Magath still feels secure enough to insist that his dictatorial rule at the Volkswagen club will go on – "it's not necessary (to involve more people in the decision-making process)," he said – but the owners surely can't tolerate this rotten run forever. In fact, it's a complete mystery why the company has acquiesced in Magath's particular type of waste management this far.
• "Saddam," as Magath used to be called behind his back by some players, wasn't the only manager having a hard time this weekend, however. Stuttgart boss, Bruno Labbadia, lost his cool following his side's 2-2 draw with Leverkusen in light of the crowd's disapproval of his substitution of youngster Raphael Holzhauser. "He told me he was injured," explained Labbadia, before ranting against "untruthful reporting" by the local press. "As a Bundesliga manager, you have to ask yourself, do I take this hard, difficult path or do I say 'kiss my ass?'", he wondered. "We are not the rubbish bins for everyone else, we are not idiots. It can't go on like that."
• That very same thought will have crossed Jürgen Klopp's mind when he saw his team concede a very late 1-1 equaliser for the second time in four days. Hannover 96 sub Mame Biram Diouf rescued a point for the home side in a spectacular match that Dortmund had controlled before three players - Mats Hummels, Sven Bender and Jakub Blaszczykowski - had come off with injuries. Asked about his mood by a TV reporter, a royally pissed-off Klopp pleaded the fifth at the final whistle. "I can't say anything because it'll only be misinterpreted," he claimed. "I have to leave it at me looking like an idiot, standing here in this kind of mood." The champions are nine points adrift of Bayern - 2-0 regulation win over harmless Hoffenheim - but Klopp wouldn't be drawn on that either. "I'm not interested in any leads or deficits, especially after seven games, " he grumbled from underneath his baseball cap.
• Chelsea's on-loan striker Kevin de Bruyne has complained about Germans being "stiff," a "lack of warmth" at Werder and manager Thomas Schaaf not talking to him after the 3-1 defeat at Augsburg. The most shocking, unsettling accusation from his Nieuwsblad interview was not even picked up by the German wires, however. "The training is almost completely tactical," he said, adding that he preferred to run around instinctively. Tactical training? Under Schaaf? Maybe those German lessons that the 21-year-old so casually dismissed - "I don't like it" - might not be a bad idea for him, in order to understand what's really going on.
Results: Augsburg 3-1 Bremen, Bayern 2-0 Hoffenheim, Freiburg 3-0 Nürnberg, Fürth 0-1 Hamburg, Schalke 3-0 Wolfsburg, Mainz 1-0 Düsseldorf, Gladbach 2-0 Frankfurt, Hannover 1-1 Dortmund, Stuttgart 2-2 Leverkusen