If the first six weeks of the season saw concern at the slump of Borussia Monchengladbach, eventually ending in Lucien Favre losing his job, there is a new surprise struggler in town. Augsburg, who finished fifth last season, are bottom of the Bundesliga.
Markus Weinzierl’s side have taken only five points from their first ten league matches. If last season provided the perfect storm to take the club into Europe in just their fourth top-flight season, the storm clouds are now gathering above the WWK Arena.
"We finished fifth last season. But good deeds catch up on you, and the expectations get higher,” said Weinzierl before the 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen on October 4. If that result represented a step in the right direction, any positivity was obliterated by the home defeat to Darmstadt. A 5-1 weekend thrashing by Dortmund was sadly predictable.
The rise of Augusburg to the Europa League last season was one of European football’s fairytales. This was a team comprised largely of journeymen, taking advantage of the flaws in others (Schalke, Dortmund and Werder Bremen to name three) to reach heights they had never before thought possible. “This is the best team Augsburg have had in 100 years,” the president Klaus Hofmann said during the post-season celebrations, and it was impossible to disagree with that sentiment.
Five months later, and all is not well. The increased workload of Europa League football may well have taken its toll, although they have only had three European assignments so far. The more likely reason for their sharp decline is the loss of key personnel.
Abdul Baba Rahm left the club for £17million to join Chelsea, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s loan from Bayern Munich was not extended beyond the end of last season. The club spent around £8m on four players in response, but none have settled quickly.
Worst of all, last season’s best performers have declined sharply from last season to this. Top scorer Raul Bobadilla only has one goal so far, while defender Paul Verhaegh is leading the way with three. The likes of Tobias Werner, Ragnar Klavan and Daniel Baier have all dropped off noticeably.
While being relegated would be a disaster for Augsburg, struggling this season may be predictable. "We are aware that Augsburg are a small club which has played above its limits in the past few seasons," is the manager’s take, insisting that he cannot be judged by last season’s standards.
Unfortunately, goodwill is lost very quickly in football. Success is a drug, supporters and owners demanding that achievement is continued rather than viewed with a misty-eyed “well wasn’t that nice” when the team is struggling again. It may seem extremely harsh, but a continuation of this current rut will see Weinzierl out of a job before long. Having spurned the opportunity to join Schalke in the summer, one wonders whether now regrets his choice.
Fairytales are hard to find in modern football, and those that do are often too quickly extinguished long before the ‘happily ever after’. After their season in the sun, Augsburg are quickly learning the hard way that success is far harder to sustain than achieve.