So thankfully after Dirk Zingler’s – by most accounts, hugely impressive – meeting with the fans last week at the General Dealer Club in Köpenick, 1. FC Union could talk about football again. It’s what they’ve wanted for ages now. No more diversions, only what happens on the pitch. And after a much improved performance against Paderborn, a point in Dresden at the least would have seen the sun shining and the lambs of happiness gamboling around the Alte Försterei. But…
Union was hammered, 4-0. It wasn’t as bad a performance as it may have been, but please don’t say we have to talk about the football again. Not now, not after Friday.
Maybe the fans need a new Stasi allegation, a new circus in town. Something to take their minds off the pitch again. Maybe Uwe Neuhaus has secretly taken BFC Dynamo into the Champions League on Football Manager. Perhaps Nico Schäfer killed Dean Reed!
But the protests will go on. Is it all a bit of an over-reaction? Or is Neuhaus genuinely reaching the end of his tenure?
Had Dynamo Dresden not won their play-off to get promoted to the 2. Bundesliga then they were looking at a mountain of debt, a huge stadium that would be hosting SV Darmstadt and possible tumble down the leagues that would have looked like the career sales charts of Vanilla Ice. But after knocking Bayer Leverkusen out of the cup, and destroying Union, they have built up some momentum. Or that’s how they will see it. Two years ago Union had conceded a single goal at this point of the season, and was sitting in second. That was straight after promotion. One year ago they had four points from four games and the natives were getting restless. Union had a better season last year than in the one before. So nobody should panic yet. Dresden seems happy enough with their four points so far, but the expectations there are different.
However the worrying thing is that the fans have always come out on the side of the manager and the team, but on Friday evening their anger was plain for all to see. The players had been cowardly as they saw it, and had let the shirt down. There is still a hangover from the departures of Christian Beeck and Theo Gries (the hugely rated former under-23s coach) which the fans are struggling to put behind them, and are even arguing amongst themselves.
Neuhaus is facing one of the toughest weeks in his career thus far. He needs to motivate a squad that has lost its way. He needs to balance defensive frailties with a lack of bite up front. But most importantly he needs to try and screen his players from the white noise ringing down from the terraces and to get them to get their heads up and believe in themselves again.
And all this with a squad thinner than Kate Moss after a six week speed bender. Jose Mourinho recently spoke at Real Madrid about how he demanded that he be allowed what he called a short squad (either he just wants 11 Lionel “Leo” Messis – and who wouldn’t? – or he meant to say a “thin” squad). With that, he said, comes the competition for places whilst maintaining the security that faith in his players brings. It allows the young players to believe they have a shot at breaking through, and the continuity which will let them play above themselves. He also pointed out that it is a gamble, because if strikers aren’t firing, for example, there may be no ready replacements.
Mourinho is a master at taking the pressure off his squad by acting as a lightning conductor for all criticism. He is happy to take the slings and arrows, as it allows his players to get on with playing.
This is the situation that Neuhaus faces right now. He wanted the thinner squad, and he wanted the final say on his staff. Now he is facing the inevitable question that he has gone too far, that he needs somebody at his side to say “no” when they think he’s got it wrong. Will he face his Bobby Robson in Italy moment – when the players themselves convinced him that a Sweeper was necessary to compete – or will he come out all Brian “We talk about it for 20 minutes and then decide that I was right” Clough?
Come Saturday against Bochum, the talk will again be all about the football. Fans are fickle at the best of times, and the default setting is that everything is going wrong. But though these protests against the boss seem pretty voracious, they can be, at least, muted with three points. And if they lose? Then we’ll just have to come up with something to talk about other than the football again.