TSG’s Chris McClintick checks in from Germany
There was once a street named “Arthur-Menge-Ufer” next to AWD-Arena, home of Hannover 96.
Now the street sign has a large red X over the name, above it, there is another street sign: “Robert-Enke-Straße.”
The street serves as a somber reminder to the passersby that Enke’s tragic suicide will always be a part of the fans, players, and club of Hannover 96.
Following Enke’s death on Nov. 10, 2009, Hannover’s season was in a constant state of turbulence. Following his final lace-up, a 2-2 draw against Hamburg, Hannover spun into a freefall, taking only one point from five matches as the winter break came. A 3-0 loss to Berlin after the break, claimed the job of Interim coach, Andreas Bergmann.
With the appointment of ex-Schalke manager, and former Hannover player, Mirko Slomka, the club continued their struggle, survival in the top ranks dependent on two wins in the last two weeks of the season.
Slomka and Die Roten (reds) delivered with a 6-1 home thrashing of Borussia Mönchengladbach setting up a decisive match against fellow relegation contenders VFL Bochum, only two points beneath Hannover going into the final match of the season.
After a vigorous, emotional match Hannover found themselves on top 3-0 in the Rewirpower-Stadion to climb above Nurnberg and out of the relegation zone. After a solid display in the net, the number 27 — now number one — back-up keeper under Robert Enke, Florian Fromlowitz, fell to his knees at the final whistle.
The young, then lachrymose keeper clutched the encircled number one (in memory of Enke) on the upper chest of his jersey while looking towards the heavens, then he collapsed to the pitch as relief, joy, and lament for his fallen teammate and captain seized the moment and his body.
The Winds Of Change
This season the main worry for Slomka’s Hannover 96 has been far from worrying about escaping the drop amongst the bottom teams in the Bundesliga. Instead, it’s been competing with the mighty Bayern Munich for the third and final champions league spot and the inevitable preparations for a season in a European competition. The turnaround from Hannover has been significant. So much of the team’s current success is thanks to the skipper and the rigorous and disciplined system he has instilled.
Slomka explained their success on German national television, “Fitness, a good strategy, and team spirit are three aspects, three areas for us that we’ve always repeatedly worked on and that’s the outcome of it.” (Translated from interview on RAN weekly-football review show) This strategy he speaks of in combination with the intense fitness training he has worked on throughout the season and their effect on the pitch can clearly be seen throughout matches this season.
The perfect example of this system in action at work was the home match against Hoffenheim in March. Ten.
Ten seconds is what Slomka drilled over and over in training. The strategy is simple, always maintain a high work rate to win the ball, and when the ball is won, get the ball into the other team’s net in ten seconds or less not giving the opposing defenders time to react or reshape. For Americans, a speed or rate of play dynamic that Bob Bradley has attempted to instill in the national team.
In Hannover’s 2-0 win over Hoffenheim, both goals were scored using this system, and both goals were scored almost ten seconds after Hannover claims possession in their own half of the field.
The first came after a stray Hoffenheim header by Ryan Babel was aimlessly sent to the middle of the pitch. After just one bounce, Sergio Pinto volleyed the ball, over pursuing Boris Vukcevic to the already advancing Konstantin Rausch. With a quick header off the volley from Rausch into the path of sprinting Manuel Schmiedebach down the left of the pitch Hannover had already created a four against four on the counter. With three touches on the ball, Schmiedebach split two Hoffenheim defenders to find the unmarked Didier Ya Konan running into the box who slotted the ball past the keeper with a one-touch finish. This play lasted only ten seconds.
The second was just as lethal, and just as quick. After receiving a clearing header, Ya Konan chested the ball to Pinto, and with a one-touch volley gave the ball right back to Ya Konan while splitting two Hoffenheim midfielders. Ya Konan quickly sent a ball into the path of overlapping Lars Stindl. After one touch on the ball, Stindl sent a ball across the box to Abdellaoue who scored with a sliding finish.
It is because of this disciplined tactic enforced with paramount fitness that Hannover is in fourth position in the Bundesliga.
On top of that Slomka added a few new faces over the summer to boost his squad. Among those new in the Hannover ranks is the young, former Manchester United academy keeper Ron Zieler who has proved to be stiff competition with Fromlowitz for the starting role.
In the defense, the Austrian Emanuel Pogatetz was brought in to help solidify the back line ex-Leverkusen defender, Karim Haggui, and has done exactly that this season. In the strike force, Norwegian Mohammed Abdellaoue was brought in after scoring 30 goals in 67 appearances for his former Norwegian club, Vålerenga. With 10 goals in 25 appearances so far this season he has been the second highest goal-scorer for Hannover, his Ivorian strike partner Didier Ya Konan tops him with 13 goals and 6 assists in 26 appearances. Slomka has also tinkered with the formation using Sergio Pinto in a deeper midfield role rather than a number ten playmaker in order to use his accurate distribution to quickly move the ball on the rapid counter attacks.
American and current captain, Steve Cherundolo, is perhaps the perfect example of the Hannover player: hard working, consistent, but not outstanding by any means.
These types of players are exactly what Slomka uses to mold a team and philosophy that is dangerous to any team in the Bundesliga, and soon, Europe.
Slomka is plenty familiar with success in the Bundesliga followed by a strong showing in European competitions after his time at the helm of Schalke 04. After bringing Schalke to a fourth, then second place finish in the Bundesliga from in 2006-2008, along with a semi final appearance in the Europa league in 2006 and a quarter finals appearance in the Champions league in 2008, Slomka is capable of success in Europe. And he will be hoping to do the exact same thing if not more with his well-drilled Hannover side next season.
No one could have predicted the tumultuous, emotional journey Hannover 96 would go through starting on Nov. 10, 2009. With a group of passionate players, the discipline and spirit ingrained into the squad by Slomka, and the inevitability of European football in the next season, it surely won’t be the end.