Beautiful Bastards: Hannover 96 Under Mirko Slomka
Nearly four years after taking over as coach of Hannover 96 in January 2010, Mirko Slomka has been fired. Despite their parlous league position Slomka leaves the 96ers in a better place that when he arrived and presided over one of the most successful periods in their history. Under his guidance, this traditionally mid-table club finished as high as fourth place in the Bundesliga, played in two Europa League campaigns and developed a playing style that, at its peak, was fast, powerful and with devastating effect.
Slomka took over a squad that was in bits during the 2009/10 season. While not in the bottom three by the Winter Break, they were heading in that direction. They had had just fired its second coach of that season and the club were still trying to manage the loss of their goalkeeper, Robert Enke, who took his own life in November of 2009. After an arduous second half of the season under Slomka, they managed to survive thanks to a last day 3-0 win at Vfl Bochum which kept them up and consigned their opponents to the second division.
Hannover’s differing fortunes in the following season could not have been more stark as they finished fourth in the league which at the time only guaranteed a place in the Europa League. Working with sporting director, Jörg Schmadtke, the squad was bolstered with some key signings, Namely, Ron-Robert Zieler from Manchester United, Emanuel Pogatetz from Middlesbrough (yes really), Lars Stindl from Karlsruhe and Mohammed Abdellaoue from Valerenga to partner or at times replaced Didier Ya Konan, up front. Big Moa scored ten goals in his first season and was one of the most potent and difficult to handle strikers in the Bundesliga.
Slomka’s Hannover were, on the surface a direct counterattacking side but this suggests a lack of guile which was very much present. They were certainly direct but not aimless in their forward play. The back line sat quite deep but they were far from negative. There weren’t many freeloaders in that side and each player put a shift in for the team and was willing to run through walls for the coach. They were quite physical and not always pretty to watch but their was a certain virtue in the economy of their movement and directness that caused In Bed With Maradona co-editor Chris Nee to call them “Beautiful Bastards.”
The following season Mame Biram Diouf joined the squad from Manchester United having not made the grade in the Premier League. He was a perfect fit for the Bundesliga and remains one of the bright lights in the current Hannover side which has, sadly gone into decline. The 2011/12 season finished with Hannover in a more than respectable seventh place and another Europa League spot. However, as is often the case with clubs of their size, they were unable to keep the momentum going to be able to keep pace with the bigger hitters in the Bundesliga.
Had Hannover peaked a little later, when fourth spot in the Bundesliga led to a qualification spot to the Champions League then that extra UEFA lucre would have allowed Schmadtke to boost the squad further. As it was, the sporting director left in early 2013 after suggestions that he and Slomka didn’t see eye to eye. By then, the club had returned to the mid table and the party was over. But this wasn’t what really did for Slomka. It was that pesky away record.
Even in Slomka’s heyday in 2010/11, the team lost eight times in the season. The following season they lost ten times then 12 last season. So far this season they have lost eight games, the latest being a 2-1 defeat at Freiburg who up to that point had not won at home all season. The writing had already been on the wall for the coach who was born in nearby Hidelsheim and had started his coaching career for the Hannover under 19s. After the Freiburg game, club president Martin Kind had asked sporting director Dirk Dufner to draw up a list of potential successors and shortly thereafter Slomka was gone albeit it with the gratitude of both Kind and Dufner and no doubt a generous severance. Second division SpVgg Greuther Fürth coach, Frank Kramer, is the early runner to replace him.
Prior to the Hannover gig, Mirko Slomka coached Schalke with a degree of success and has plenty of Champions League and Europa League experience. At 46 he still has the majority of his career ahead of him and it is more than likely that an opportunity in the Bundesliga or perhaps beyond will present itself in due course. In the meantime he can be justly proud of his record and hopefully the supporters will acknowledge his achievements upon the resumption of the season at the end of January. It certainly was a great ride while it lasted.