There’s nothing quite like that palpable atmosphere in a football stadium – with its tension, mumbles and an energy you can almost taste. My first few times in the Ruhrstadion (AKA rewirpowerSTADION for sponsorship reasons… *grumble grumble modern football grumble*) I was transfixed by the tifo displays, the sea of flags, the constant drumming, the megaphones and the almost other-worldly tunes they sang. Perhaps not as tempestuous as Italy or South America, from my perspective the German fan culture still has an edge that seems to have long left the UK. It doesn’t feel dangerous, it feels alive. And they chant and chant and drum and hiss and cajole and chant some more. The Bochum fans in particular have some great catchy chants and one of them is responsible for the naming of this series of articles.
“Unten auf dem Rasen, kämpft Ihr für unsere Farben, auf gehts VfL Bochum, schiess ein Tor…”
Loosely translated as “Down on the pitch, you fight for our colours, come on Bochum, score a goal”, it’s not exactly a poetic masterpiece but they sing it on repeat for minutes at a time with the drums pounding away. The stamina in those drummers arms is impressive in itself…
As for the lucky ones down on the pitch fighting for the colours? We’re about to meet them. Well, we’re about to meet a set of numbers that virtually represent the 2015/16 VfL Bochum squad, but I had to chuck a bit of romance in to make it interesting.
BETWEEN THE STICKS
So I guess we’ll start where I’m hoping the opposition don’t finish, the goal in our half and the goalkeeper tasked with protecting it at all costs. In terms of a decision to make on who gets the number one spot, it does look pretty close to call on initial inspection but once you delve a little deeper it becomes clear that one of my choices trumps the other.
Although there are a few key areas in which Manuel Riemann clearly excels – particularly his ability on the ball, composure, positioning and personality – Andreas Luthe is just generally the more accomplished goalkeeper. The 28-year old is a commanding 6’5” tall, has sharper reflexes and is more experienced as proven by his better all-round mental game. Throw in the captain-standard leadership ability, the fact that he’s from round-the-corner and has only ever played for VfL Bochum (already 217 appearances) and the decision becomes a no brainer. I’m actually more concerned about getting him on a new contract than I am with making the decision between him and Riemann. Manuel is a solid ‘keeper, but he’s just not Luthe.
1st choice: Andreas Luthe
2nd choice: Manuel Riemann
THE HEART OF DEFENCE
The second squad location on the agenda is a part of the pitch I always look at in a simplistic manner; central defence. I often steer clear of using particularly wooly or creative players in this area and much prefer a no-frills approach. It’s a personal preference, but I guess it fits in with my desire to keep things simple – and what could be more simple than a couple of lumps tasked with making sure the other lot don’t get near our goal? Of course, as I’m adhering to a loose possession-based philosophy I’d also like them to be able to control and pass a ball, but beyond that your run-of-the-mill defensive stats will do. Let’s see what we have to work with:
Now I know there’s an awful lot of information to take in on that screen, but if you use the attribute analysis polygon as a snapshot there can be some vital stuff gleaned from it. The most pertinent is that three of them are remarkably fast for defenders in this division and that it would fit in nicely with my decision to play with a higher defensive line. The slower of the four players is Patrick Fabian and although he is a monster in the air and a solid pure defender, his mental game is lacking and his fitness is certain to be an issue. He has twice damaged his cruciate ligaments in recent seasons and my assistant notes that he has “real problems with injury”. In fact in real life, another serious knee injury has almost ended his career this year with him fresh from an operation and doubtful for next season.
Looking at the other options, Felix Bastians seems a solid enough all-rounder for a defensive player, but his positioning is a definite weakness and although the media describe him as a centre-back, I’m thinking he looks more like a full back.
That leaves us with Jan Simunek and Malcolm Cacutalua who look to be the most natural partnership. On the surface it’s a good blend of youth and experience, with the youngsters physicality and aerial presence perhaps making up for the shortfalls of the Czech’s game. Cacutalua has a lot of room for growth and is by no means a top 2. Bundesliga player but he certainly shouldn’t embarrass himself with that set of attributes (the coaching and game time should mean he improves quickly too). As for Simunek, though injury has blighted his career he has lots of experience at a higher level, a solid personality and the raw defensive ability to keep the door shut in this division.
1st choice: Jan Simunek, Malcolm Cacutalua
2nd choice: Patrick Fabian, Felix Bastians
The final piece of the defensive puzzle is to consider the sort of players I have available out wide to protect the flanks and give our back four a bit of structure. If you don’t remember my tactic, I’ll be using a Full Back on Support duty on the left side and a Wing Back on Attack duty on the right. This means that quite different things will be expected from the players and I will certainly be looking for a more attacking player at right back that can dribble, cross and provide width in the final third. Let’s start then by taking a look at our options in the more attacking role:
Well we can see straight away from the attributes polygon that we have two very different players here and one stands out straight away due to the sort of style I’m looking for. Stefano Celozzi really does have everything I want and is honestly more of a converted winger than a true attacking full back. He has his downfalls such as a lack of positional sense, lack of strength and a vulnerability in the air, but all-in-all he’s a very solid attacking player who could probably play at a higher level. As for Tim Hoogland, he looks to be more of a defensive option and the ex-Schalke man will probably play most of his games in midfield. There are holes in Hoogland’s game when it comes to attacking but he is definitely a decent rotation option and could be brought in should I face a more difficult attacker down my right side. With this position, I prefer to err on the side of risk though so Celozzi it is then.
1st choice: Stefano Celozzi
2nd choice: Tim Hoogland
As for the left side, I’ve got a bit more of a headache with three players to consider:
Fortunately the first choice is quite clear to me and Felix Bastians really does look like he can give me reason to consider this position locked down for the season; his height alongside his tackling ability gives me the sort of defensive-minded player that suits my vision. The native Bochumer is well-travelled starting in Dortmund’s youth team before being picked up by Nottingham Forest and spending four years in England mostly on loan to various teams in League 1, League 2 and the Conference National. A brief spell at Young Boys Bern lead to SC Freiburg taking a gamble in 2008 bringing him to the 1. Bundesliga where he made 79 appearances in three seasons before eventually finding his way home to Bochum via a spell at Hertha Berlin. Not a bad decade in terms of travel for the 27-year old and all this experience means he can actually play the old football as well; his decent but not spectacular technical ability should be adequate for the more simplistic game the left full back will be playing.
The big question is who will be 2nd choice and it looks very difficult to call between Timo Perthel and Giliano Wijnaldum. Starting with the dutchman and younger brother of Newcastle United’s Georginio Wijnaldum, Giliano looks to have an almost complete set of tools to play in a support role almost anywhere on the pitch (typical Dutch) but his problem is that he lacks in the most crucial of areas for this position: defensive nous. As for Timo Perthel, he’s another great all-rounder and like Bastians has 1. Bundesliga experience, but his lack of true excellence in anything is perhaps his undoing when it comes to claiming the first choice spot. The German’s great personality is noted though and his reliability in this respect is probably what grabs him the 2nd choice spot above Wijnaldum. That’s not to say that the Rotterdammer won’t play his part in the season, but should all three be fit then Perthel is the more able back up to Bastians.
1st choice: Felix Bastians
2nd choice: Timo Perthel
3rd choice: Giliano Wijnaldum
So that’s the defence sorted and I’m quite pleased that I’m blessed with a group of players that both suit my philosophy and have the right mentality to push the team forward. I’m slightly concerned about the centre of defence and the fact I’m relying on a loanee isn’t ideal in terms of long-term planning but – all things considered – I have a great clutch of defensive players.
In the next couple of articles I’ll be looking at my options in midfield where we can probably expect to see a little more of Hoogland and Wijnaldum.