London: “Felix Magath out!” and “never again, Felix Magath, never again,” the Schalke 04 supporters were chanting at the Wolfsburg manager at the Veltins Arena on Saturday.
Quite a few Royal Blues players on the pitch seemed tempted to join in as well. Jefferson Farfan, for example, made a point of running over to the Wolfsburg bench after scoring the opener. Lip readers were later convinced he’d mouthed an insult in the direction of Magath. Was the striker merely repeating back some offensive words to Magath or employing a term with altogether different connotations in Peruvian Spanish?
“I didn’t see it and don’t care either,” said the Wolves coach, diplomatically.
It’s rare to see opposition managers subjected to hostile chants in the Bundesliga. But then again, Magath is not your regular opposition manager but an ex-manager in seven out of 18 stadiums.
In Gelsenkirchen, where he was fired in March 2011 after buying so many players that the DFL nearly ran out of registration forms — the club cited “transfer irregularities” as a reason for the dismissal — they were particularly unhappy to see him.
Farfan had set the tone earlier in the week with an interview in Sport Bild. “All managers who Schalke have had in the last few years gave something to the club,” the 27-year-old claimed.
“The only coach who didn’t leave anything positive behind was Magath. He only left behind fines [for the players].”
Farfan went on to question the manager’s “militaristic methods” and wondered about a lack of “humanity” in his approach.
“I can laugh now but it was a tough time,” he said.
His current squad probably share that view.
Ten days ago, Magath had them running through the Wolfsburg woods (again) and, when they had finished, they found that most of their water bottles had been emptied on purpose by the coach. Magath tried to justify this exercise in sadism as an “educational measure” afterwards.
“I wanted them to learn to share resources as a team,” he claimed, but the episode is symptomatic of a course that has seen him veer dangerously close to caricature of himself.
“The last dictator in Europe,” as Jan Age Fjortoft once called him, should slowly realise that random acts of unkindness are no substitute for a coherent strategy on and off the pitch.
Wolfsburg went down 3-0 at Schalke, without as much as a whimper of resistance.
“We don’t find the right way to play together at the moment,” said the Brazilian midfielder Diego.
But how could they? Magath has already used 21 different players out of his ridiculously large squad of 32, and the constant tactical changes and different lineups are only betraying a lack of any ideas.
After spending the best part of €70 million on new players in 18 months, Magath has simply lost the plot.
Players keep popping up in unlikely, unsuited positions, then get banished from the squad only to re-appear in other, even more unfamiliar roles some weeks later.
The manager’s take on Diego’s lack of impact was revealing in that respect.
“We thought we’d sell him so we didn’t put the team together according to his needs,” claimed Magath. It all begs one question: according to whose needs exactly has this side been put together?
His raving hire-and-fire policy and draconian measures have left him with an army of disgruntled ex-charges eager for revenge throughout the league, that’s for sure. “Some players are especially motivated against former managers, especially against Felix Magath,” noted the S04 midfielder Roman Neustdter.
“The fact that Magath constantly runs into players who want to get their own back has become a permanent competitive disadvantage,” wrote Sddeutsche Zeitung, only half in jest.
Their third defeat in a row has seen them slip to 17th place. What was supposed to be a challenge for European places is turning into a relegation battle.
“The new slogan at the club is ‘football is everything’,” recalled Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung.
“But at the moment it’s anything but football here.”