Denglischer Fussball is a comment blog on German and English football written and edited by Kit Holden. It was born in January 2011.
A new beginning at FC.
Volker Finke left 1. FC Köln last week “like the three monkeys: I see nothing, I hear nothing, and I say nothing.” A wise decision, perhaps, at a club at which scandal and stories have, for a long time now, been far more important than football.
The former Director of Sport at the Rhein Energie Stadion finally found himself on the losing side of a power struggle with coach Ståle Solbakken last week. The tipping point in a relationship that was always far from cordial was allegedly the signing of North Korean striker Jong Tae-Se. For Finke, it is a somewhat undignified end to a tumultuous tenure at a rollercoaster football club; for the club itself, it perhaps points to the desperation to finally beckon in a new era.
It perhaps says enough of FC that their last period of true success was under the careful guidance of Christoph Daum. Their reputation as a footballing power has since gone a similar way to Daum’s reputation as an upstanding, pleasant gentleman of the community. Even his brief return to the club a few years ago, and the promotion which followed, has done little to restore the greatness of either club or manager.
Under Solbakken, moreover, things look set to continue the way they have been going for several years. On Finke’s departure, Solbakken was quick to opine that “it is not a case that Finke has done all the wrong things and I have done the right things.” Well quite. The Norwegian’s leadership has, in the space of eight short months, spanned the entire distance between good, bad and ugly.
His main achievement, in fact, has been the rediscovery of Lukas Podolski. A cult hero at the Billy Goats, Podolski’s form in his second spell in Cologne had had a dash of Dalglishitis, with his reputation and fanbase far outweighing his actual efficacy. With one swift removal of the captain’s armband, however, Solbakken has managed to invigorate Podolski to such an extent that he is now fully in the running for the coveted “Goalscorer’s Cannon”.
We remain, however, a far cry from the wonders which Solbakken worked with his former club in Copenhagen. The apparently imminent departure, of Podolski will not help his cause next season – if, indeed, he survives that long – and Köln’s ability to remain rooted just above the relegation zone for months on end seems in little danger.
Winning this particular fight against Finke, however, is significant for the Norwegian coach. It shows that he has the support, however volatile it may be, of a club who are in desperate need of a new dawn, and Solbakken’s reaction to the final whistle of Saturday’s victory over Hertha BSC said all that was needed about his desire to be its harbinger. Nothing is certain, but then nothing ever is at “Effzeh”. And as Finke himself declared in his final press conference: “it is never boring.”
AVB: A tragic comedy of errors.
In the end, it was just a case of the right man, being in the right place, at the right time – and having the wrong boss.
Make no mistake, Andre Villas-Boas was just what Chelsea needed when he joined last summer. His tactical philosophy was fresh, his youthful ego dauntless and his eloquence a far cry from the vanity of the Special One. Fatally, though, he was naive enough to believe that it was these traits, and not just a pretty face, which Roman Abramovich had seen in him.
By the end of his tenure, Villas-Boas had managed to irritate even his sympathisers within the British press with his constant reference to The Project: a vague idea which seemed to exist only inside his own head. In fact, The Project – namely to reboot Chelsea FC in the image of a new Portuguese prodigy – didn’t fail because the manager wasn’t mature enough for the Premier League, nor did it fail because of any tactical shortcoming. It failed because, contrary to what Villas-Boas wanted to believe, Roman Abramovich never really believed in it.
The Project involved moving Chelsea out of the shadow of Jose Mourinho’s influence. It involved recreating the club as an elite force without the need to rely on the jading figures of Terry, Drogba, Lampard and Cole. Had Abramovich and Villas-Boas truly believed in such a revolution, those players would have been sold on immediately; this season would have been sacrificed as the transition year it has now failed to be, and Chelsea’s team would appear fresher and more cohesive than it does at the moment.
Instead, both manager and owner approached the idea half-heartedly, allowed player power to fester, were unable even to exploit the last drops of brilliance from Mourinho’s stars, and severely injured Chelsea FC in the process of a failed experiment.
If Villas-Boas had come to Chelsea under any other owner, he might have found the courage to truly exact his precious project. Unfortunately, however, he was nothing more than another brief distraction for the man who hired him – a pretty looking toy which would be swiftly jettisoned from the pram. Unlike his predecessors in Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink and Luiz Felipe Scolari, however, the Portuguese was unwilling to accept such a bitter truth. And so his Project descended into dust, and Chelsea’s hopes for success this season went with it.