For eighty five minutes on Saturday, Thomas Schaaf was beaming with pride. Werder Bremen held a two goal advantage over Hoffenheim and were on their way to putting a five point gap between themselves and the relegation zone. With only two games left in the season, they would be completely clear of direct relegation and would likely only need one point in those two games to avoid the playoff. Things were looking up for Werder.
Then Sven Schipplock happened. The substitute came on for Hoffenheim and scored twice to rescue a 2-2 draw for his team. Schaaf stared at the field in disbelief. Instead of being mostly out of the relegation battle, Werder were going to be in the thick of things for at least one more week. Somewhat surprisingly, Schaaf took a positive outlook with the media following the match: "Nothing horrible happened today, just the opposite. We are taking a lot of positives out of this. Besides the result, it was an unbelievable afternoon. We wish it could have had a happy end. But the fact is that we at least achieved the minimum result."
The players were more matter-of-fact with their feelings on the disappointing result. In fact, several players used some form of the word in their description. Nils Petersen said, "We are more than disappointed.", and Aaron Hunt followed up with "The disappointment is huge." The supporters in the stadium were generally more accepting of the draw and realize that safety is all that matters at this point.
It's quite possible that the most disappointing aspect of Saturday's result is that they couldn't get the job done on the same day that the club were honoring the Werder team that won the 1987-88 Bundesliga of which Schaaf was a member.
Werder have been struggling for results all season long with a full complement of players, so things weren't made any easier last week when the club suspended Marko Arnautovic and Eljero Elia for the remainder of the season after the two were involved in a dispute with police over a traffic issue. While Elia had yet to live up to his rumored €5.5 million transfer fee, losing Arnautovic would appear to be a big blow. The temperamental Austrian has provided five goals and six assists on the season and provided Werder with an attitude on the field that will be hard for other players to replicate.
To date, the season has been easily the most forgettable since Schaaf became manager in May 1999. Since winning the title in 2003-04, Werder have finished out of the top three just three times, and those have come in the last four seasons. This season marks the fourth out of the last five. Schaaf and his staff were given an extension this time last year through the end of the 2013-14 season, but there have already been calls for Werder to make a move for a replacement this summer.
However, should Werder be seriously considering a move this summer? Schaaf is a true "one club man". Since joining Werder's youth ranks in 1972, Schaaf has dedicated his entire life to making Werder one of Europe's elite. His playing career lasted for seventeen years, but he began coaching the club's youth sides in the late 1980s. Upon his retirement in 1995, he became the manager of the reserves. As the 1998-99 season wound to a close and the club fought off relegation, the board made a big decision. Felix Magath was dismissed with immediate effect, and Schaaf was promoted to first team manager. Not only did Werder stave off relegation that season, but the club won the DFB Pokal in the next season and the Bundesliga during his fifth season in charge. While the same success hasn't been there over the last five seasons, can all of this be laid at the feet of Schaaf?
Recent transfers into the club have been below a standard normally seen by Werder, and the club has suffered on the field. In November, sporting director Klaus Allofs announced that he would be leaving the club after over a decade in the position. He took the same position at Wolfsburg. The club took their time finding a replacement for Allofs, and their choice was certainly creative. Former Borussia Mönchengladbach defender Thomas Eichin was named the new sporting director and would be joining the club in the spring. Eichin does have experience in management, but it's not football management. The 46 year old is the general manager of the Kölner Haie ice hockey team.
Is a combination of Eichin and Schaaf the way forward for Werder? While it's possible that Eichin is looking for his "own man" at the helm of the club, it's likely that Schaaf will be on the sidelines at the Weserstadion in August when Werder kick off the 2013-14 campaign. However, for the club to be truly successful and get out of this funk of finishing in the bottom half of the table, the two must work side by side to bring quality players into the club that won't be a distraction off the field (See: Arnautovic and Elia). Scoring a lot of goals is a fantastic objective, but everyone knows that a solid defense is necessary to challenge for trophies. Werder have allowed a league high 62 goals so far this season. It's unacceptable. That's as good a place as any for Eichin and Schaaf to start their rebuild of Die Werderaner.