Werder Bremen have been on a rollercoaster journey over the last two seasons. During the 2018/19 campaign, boosted by the mercurial Max Kruse and an in-form Milot Rashica, Die Werderaner missed out on Europa League qualification by a single point. When Kruse left at the end of that campaign, though, the wheels fell of Florian Kohfeldt’s well-oiled machine.
The boss was still named German Manager of the Year halfway through the following term, but his side’s fall was drastic. Prior to the league’s suspension last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bremen were in 17th place, four points adrift of the relegation play-off spot. Four victories in their final nine matches earned them a tie against 2. Bundesliga side Heidenheim to stay in the division – even then, they only secured survival on away goals, failing to beat their less-illustrious opponents home or away.
Their fortunes this term, therefore, will come as a relief to Kohfeldt. Currently in 11th in the Bundesliga, they are neither in danger of relegation nor in the race for Europe – a mid-table finish is on the cards.
As Bremen look to stabilise, Kohfeldt has made good use of the youngsters at his disposal. Josh Sargent and Jean-Manuel Mbom have played regularly throughout the season, and 21-year-old Romano Schmid is the latest to flourish.
Unlike most of RB Salzburg’s shining lights, Schmid avoided the switch to Leipzig, instead moving to the Weserstadion in 2019. He was immediately loaned to Wolfsberger and impressed both in the Austrian Bundesliga and the Europa League, amassing 12 assists in 45 games across a season-and-a-half.
That was enough to earn him a place in Kohfeldt’s squad last September. It took him a while to break into the first-team – he didn’t play a minute in the season’s first 10 Bundesliga matches – but he finally made his debut from the bench during Bremen’s 2-1 defeat to Stuttgart.
A week later, he was in the starting line-up against RB Leipzig. Despite another defeat, this time 2-0, Kohfeldt had plenty of praise for Schmid: “Romano did a decent to good job. That wasn’t the easiest game to make a debut from the starting eleven,” he said during his post-match interview.
In a hard-working team such as Bremen’s, Schmid’s qualities stand out. As Kohfeldt said following his maiden appearance in the starting XI, “he is the strongest defensive player among our offensive players.” He has also displayed plenty of versatility, featuring in attacking and central midfield while even being asked to lead the line on occasion.
Schmid’s rise to the first team was not an easy one. Prior to January’s clash against Bayer Leverkusen, Kohfeldt admitted his performance levels dropped off after a promising pre-season – but it has been the result of desire and commitment. Since that match against Stuttgart, he has played in every single game both in the league and the Pokal. He is still waiting for his first goal for the club – his finishing is an aspect of his game that remains underwhelming – but two assists in his last four Bundesliga appearances show his ability to influence matches is improving.
What next for Schmid? Firstly, he will be looking to become a key player between now and the end of the season. Should he continue to impress, he may have an outside chance of being included in Austria’s squad for Euro 2020 – he already has five U21 caps for Die Burschen, and national team manager Franco Foda revealed last year that Schmid was on his radar ahead of the continental showpiece before it was eventually postponed to June 2021. Under Kohfeldt, at least, he should receive the backing needed to develop.