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Thomas Schaaf and Werder Bremen are facing a nervous end to the season.
Thomas Schaaf and Werder Bremen are facing a nervous end to the season.

Thomas Schaaf takes over from Ferguson as the object of longevity

The long serving coach could see his 14-year stint at the helm end if the Bundesliga club are relegated, writes Ian Hawkey.

Across most of Europe, the scale of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign as manager of Manchester United boggles the mind.

The notion of a coach or manager who endures for over a quarter of a century seems unreal. At several of the clubs who like to imagine themselves as equals to Manchester United in terms of status and ambition, a coach who lasts 26 months is a modern rarity, let alone one who endures in the same post for 26 years.

Take Spain's primera division. There, none of the 20 men currently in charge of top-flight teams were in the same post on even at the turn of the decade. In fact, Jose Mourinho, who is almost certain to quit Real Madrid next month, has outlasted any of the other 19 who will take to Spanish dugouts this weekend. He arrived there in the summer of 2010.

In Italy, the current longevity leader is Walter Mazzarri, who has been at Napoli only since late 2009.

Go back to 1986, when Ferguson began at United. That year, Inter Milan made Giovanni Trappatoni their coach and ushered in a period of relative serenity and much success. Trappatoni lasted until 1991. Over the next 21 years, the Inter job changed hands 24 times.

Germany is the fashionable model for stability in a season where two of its members will in the Champions League final and in an economic climate where a responsible attitude to spending gains obvious advantages over the football cultures of southern Europe. However, there is no one approaching Ferguson-type longevity.

Endurance, though, does have a standard-bearer, a man who is still doing the job he was given in 1999.

He is Thomas Schaaf. Today he marks 14 years exactly as first-team coach of Werder Bremen. At a pinch, you could argue he has a been coaching at the club almost as long as Ferguson at United, given that he began training Bremen's junior teams way back in 1987. He was a still a Bremen player then, one who would make nearly 300 Bundesliga appearances, for them and only for them. In all, the association between Schaaf, 52 and Bremen goes back four decades, to when he first turned up as a hopeful schoolboy looking to join their Under 13s.

The 14th anniversary of his appointment as coach is a tense one. Bremen go into the penultimate fixture of the season three points above the relegation zone and without a victory in 11 matches. Nor will the opposition be inclined to sympathise. Eintracht Frankfurt, the visitors, are fifth, still with a chance of securing a Champions League play-off berth, and keen to at least stay in the hunt for European football in 2013/14.

For most of Schaaf's time in charge, European campaigns have been a minimum expectation for Bremen fans. Only twice under his watch have they finished in the lower half of the table. They were champions in 2004, cup winners three times, league-cup winners once and Uefa cup finalists four years ago. Yet something in the smooth-running of Bremen's machinery has gone wrong.

"We changed the squad, the age-structure of the group of players and the system last summer," Schaaf reflected at the end of last month, "and the consequences have been bad."

Schaaf also lost a long-time ally. The role of sports director/general manager - an important one at German clubs - had for most of his time in charge been filled by the former Germany striker Klaus Allofs. They were the yin and yang of Bremen's executive. Allofs left for Wolfsburg in November. A successful partnership was broken.

Should Bremen go down, Schaaf probably will lose his job. Even if they stay up, there are those who reckon his stint should be brought to a close. Graffiti demanding "Schaaf Out!" has appeared near the stadium.

Yet Schaaf's employers also know that he and Allofs oversaw a period where a provincial club made the most of its resources and that continuity in management contributed to that.

A change of coach after one man has presided for an unusually long time can easily usher in drastic decline. Look only at the French club, Auxerre, relegated from Ligue 1 last season, dropping out of the top tier for the first time in 32 years. For 25 of those years, their coach had been the unique Guy Roux. Decline did not immediately follow his retirement, but instability did.


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