FC Nürnberg fans had come prepared. Losing 4-0 at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach in a game they needed to win, a banner appeared. “The legend will rise again” it said. At full time, relegation confirmed, Nürnberg players were presented with T-shirts carrying the slogan “Mission Resurrection.” While centre back Georg Margreitter may be right in saying that the nine time German champions, nicknamed ‘Der Club’, “will never be content to play in the second division” their relegation isn’t a surprise.
“If you stand with 19 points after 33 games then you do not deserve to play in the first division,” said interim Nürnberg coach Boris Schommers on Saturday evening. After just three wins all season, only two teams have managed fewer in a Bundesliga campaign, it’s difficult to argue. Schommers side were perhaps fortunate to even stay in the face this long as last season Hamburg’s 31 points meant automatic relegation. A total that Stuttgart, now sure to finish in the relegation play off spot, won’t even reach. Meanwhile the season before, Wolfsburg dropped into the relegation play off with a total of 37, enough for 13th place this season, whatever happens on the final day.
While Schommers had tried to play on the spirit of Tottenham and Liverpool’s Champions League comebacks, it was far from being enough. “It’s very disappointing, everyone is empty, their heads are down,” explained midfielder Patrick Erras, while even Josip Drmic told Sky that “it hurts to see Nürnberg in this position.” Many players thanked their fans in the aftermath of the Gladbach loss, the team unveiling a banner on the pitch reading: “We bow to thousands of faithful hearts.”
Nevertheless, relegation is a feeling Nürnberg fans have become accustomed to. Saturday’s drubbing, started by former striker Josip Drmic – the club’s top scorer during their last relegation campaign in 13/14, meant a record ninth demotion from the German top flight with this season being their 13th in the last 26 to end in either promotion or relegation. Despite their residual stature within the German game, Nürnberg’s last title win came in the 1968 with the 2007 DFB Pokal their only trophy since. New sporting director Robert Palikuca admitted to the club website that “we do not have the resources of other clubs, so we have to work faster and more accurately than our competitors to find suitable players.”
As Palikuca hinted the club’s financial situation has been a factor in the club’s relegation with Bild reporting that despite halving a €22 million debt it continued to affect recruitment. Money that was available to strengthen the squad was wasted. Where fellow promoted side Fortuna Düsseldorf, who sit snugly in midtable, have made precise and intelligent additions, former sporting director Andreas Bornemann was unable to follow suit. Both Kicker and Bild accused Bornemann of ‘hesitancy’ in the transfer market.
With minimal summer additions failing to have an impact, the side that finished runners-up in the second tier last term have been unable to adapt. Midfielder Hanno Behrens and forward Mikael Ishak scored 26 goals between the them last season but only 25 were scored in total this campaign, with just 8 from Behrens and Ishak combined. As a result, ‘Der Club’ have been in the bottom two since week 15 of the season, only winning once since week 6. As Bild highlighted, former coach Michael Köllner was also unable to adapt to the top flight and never proved his ‘Erstligatauglichkeit’, his ‘first division suitability’, and was sacked in February.
Although caretaker Schommers insisted he “would like to be available to Nürnberg and would like to continue working with this team,” Palikuca, his appointment only confirmed in April, is already making changes. Monday’s Kicker reported that Atromitos Athens’ Austrian coach, Damir Canadi, is favourite to assume permanent control from next season with a decision expected by the end of this month. Canadi caught Nürnberg’s eye after leading unfashionable Atromitos to consecutive fourth place finishes in the Greek Super League.
Having already added to the scouting team, with Bayern Munich assistant coach Peter Hermann being lined up for a technical director role according to Kicker, and despite a nightmare season, Palikuca has remained positive. “The team, in their spirit, character and nature, are very good,” he told Mittelfranken last week “and for next year, regardless of which league we’re in, we’re very well placed.” Before later affirming that “in the second division we can count on these boys, they have risen once already, many have a high quality for the second division, we will use this framework and all around us to strengthen.”
Stuttgart’s impressive 3-0 win over Champions League chasing Wolfsburg meant that, despite their own three goal win against Freiburg, Hannover 96 will join Nürnberg in the Bundesliga Zwei next season. Although fans were provided with 5000 liters of free beers by a club sponsor afterwards, the mood was similarly dour at the HDI Arena after a season little better than Nürnberg’s. Hannover goalkeeper Michael Esser explained that “it’s an extremely s***** feeling, we woke up too late and did not have the luck we needed, but the bottom line is that it’s a quality question… we were not relegated today.”
Thirteenth last season upon promotion, after the club’s only second division season since 2002, where Nürnberg struggled to sign or develop Bundesliga quality, Hannover have been unable to keep theirs fit. Crucially, the flare, pace and skill of Togolese winger Ihlas Bebou has been missing since November while striker Niclas Füllkrug, top scorer with 16 goals last season, only made his comeback at the weekend after five months out. Füllkrug was whistled by some Hannover fans having already agreed a deal to re-join Werder Bremen from next season.
Hannover’s season has mirrored Nürnberg’s in number ways. Andre Breitenreiter, who returned Hannover to the Bundesliga last summer, as Köllner did with Nürnberg, was dispensed during mid-season. A decision general manager Horst Heldt described as “extremely difficult for us and for me personally, because the working relationship between Andre and me has been extremely close and always very trusting.” His replacement Thomas Doll, unable to keep the club up, is also now under threat with club managing director Martin Kind stating last week: “We need a fresh start, with the goal of direct promotion again, and we will need a team that will be promoted.”
The future of major investor Kind, an often controversial figure and the subject of fan protests for some time, has been a sizeable distraction this season having announced he would not stand for re-election after 20 years as club president. Many members celebrated wildly at the club’s general meeting earlier this year as Kind’s removal was confirmed.
Having been outspoken against Germany’s famous 50+1 rule which keeps the running of clubs largely in the hands of supporters, Kind submitted a proposal to the DFB that Hannover should be exempt from those restrictions and even suggested that the rule contravenes European law. However, fan groups managed to halt those proceedings. Their protests going as far as a mock funeral procession through the streets of Hannover last January, mourning the ‘death of football as the people’s game.’ As, should the 50+1 rule have been circumvented, Kind would have inherited much of the decision making power.
After abject Bundesliga campaigns with managerial changes likely, possible player turnover and ongoing issues within the hierarchy of both clubs, for both Hannover and Nürnberg, much may have to change if ‘Mission Resurrection’ is to be a success next season.
By Adam White.
You can read more content from Adam on his blog.