Bochum's big week
Think, er, Coventry City. No, they play in sky blue and have once actually won something big.
So, think Leicester City. Think Leicester, and now take away all the high-priced stars, the glamour and the ambition.
What you're left with is VfL Bochum. Yes, I admit there's a few minor differences, but both clubs have yet to win more than a runners-up medal in the Cup, play in royal blue, have a bit of a yo-yo reputation, and managed only one foray into the UEFA Cup (guess what, in the same season: 1997-98).
There's more. I reckon Leicester and Bochum are about the same size, and both places lie between cities that have lifted prestigious European silverware: Nottingham and Birmingham, Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen (Schalke), respectively.
But it's precisely at this point that we have to leave Leicester behind, because Bochum is much closer to Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen than Leicester is to Nottingham and Birmingham, and that makes a crucial difference for this particular football club.
For all practical puposes, you could say Bochum is sandwiched between Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, which also means that the club is sandwiched between two vastly more famous neighbours.
Last Sunday, Dortmund's fans travelled the 6.6 miles from their team's ground to Bochum's nice, cozy 'Ruhrstadion' in the knowledge that the hosts were all fired up for this game against a club they consider a stuck-up, nouveau-riche rival. That's why they held up a banner that said: 'We have already had our derby.'
This was really rubbing it in, as it meant Dortmund regarded playing Schalke as the true derby, whereas meeting Bochum was like having a kickabout with your kid brother.
But then something nasty intervened: 90 minutes of football. When they had ended, Bochum had won 3-0 against a Dortmund side down to ten men that spent the last half hour of the match desperately trying to avert a debacle.
True, the visitors were fielding what amounted to a reserve team due to an uncanny string of injuries, but it tells you something about the standings of these two clubs that Dortmund still had only two men on the pitch who had never represented their country - and that Bochum's third was scored by the Nigerian Sunday Oliseh, signed from Dortmund, where he was surplus to requirements.
A big day for Bochum? No. A big week. Seven days earlier, the team had paid a visit to Schalke's shiny domed arena and stunned 61,000 fans by running out 2-0 winners. After the game, Bochum's coach Peter Neururer (who is a card-carrying Schalke member) said: 'I'm very happy with the result. But I had expected us to be more dominant and our game to be more fluent.'
Ouch. The kid brother is very definitely getting cocky.
Neururer doesn't need any introduction, he was featured in this very space back in September 2002 in a piece on coaches who are big-mouthed or nutty or both.
You may think he hasn't changed all that much, judging from the above quote, and he did indeed up the ante during the week after the Schalke match and before the Dortmund tie.
'We are playing the kind of football Dortmund only aspires to,' he said and boldly predicted a win for his side.
Once that was accomplished, he replied to the question whether sixth place in the league, miles ahead of Schalke, constituted a sensation with a curt: 'We are exactly where we belong to be.' And: 'Nobody plays more honest football than we do.' And: 'I cannot imagine that this club will ever get relegated again.' Phew.
|“||You would think that small Bochum should handle this success with modesty and quiet satisfaction. Instead, Neururer is firing on all cylinders. ”|
The thing is, though, that he is right. His Bochum side is playing better, more offensive football than either or Schalke or Dortmund and has been doing that for quite some time now.
Last season, Bochum briefly topped the table for the first time in the club's history, had the Bundesliga's top scorer, produced a young hopeful for the national team in winger Paul Freier, and managed to end up in the 9th place they had aimed for despite being plagued by many injuries during February and March.
Schalke and Dortmund both finished ahead of them, but played less entertainingly and both missed out on their goals (a UEFA Cup and a Champions League slot, respectively).
This season, the contrasts are even more marked. Schalke signed a coach who once won the Champions League with Real Madrid and Dortmund loaned out a Brazilian midfiedler from Real Madrid. Bochum, meanwhile, bought the Dane Peter Madsen from Wolfsburg for £570,000.
Now, with ten weeks gone in the campaign, Madsen and the Iranian Vahid Hashemian have scored eleven goals between them. Schalke, as a team, has twelve.
You would think that small Bochum should handle this success with modesty and quiet satisfaction. Instead, Neururer is firing on all cylinders, even lauding his players for having negotiated a bonus for winning the league prior to the season, saying: 'We can now beat anyone.'
However, it's not megalomania that has him mothing off, I guess it's rather a well-planned (if not very subtle) strategy.
One aspect is that he is doing what has become a staple of German coaching tactics ever since Christoph Daum appeared on the scene (with Cologne in 1986): if you come to a club that seems hampered by an inferiority complex, talk the big talk. If all goes well, you can inspire the team; if not, nothing much is lost.
The other aspect is that Neururer is, literally, drumming up support. 'Schalke have 60,000 at their arena, even if things are not going well,' he says. 'And Dortmund almost always have 80,000. We have played very well and yet only draw 21,000 on average. That's disappointing.'
He even sat down in a ticket booth himself, hoping this stunt would attract more punters. That's why he's now telling all and sundry that whoever opts for Dortmund and Schalke instead of Bochum these days is missing out on something.
Next home game: November 8th. Victims: Cologne.