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Punch-and-Judy Show At Its Best

Augsburg, a city in Bavaria known for, among other things, its “Augsburger Puppenkiste” (puppet theater), has gone through a real Punch-and-Judy show during the last few days. Despite staying in the Bundesliga in their first year ever in the German elite league, Jos Luhukay has stood back from his manager position and consequently left the quite popular FCA in a disaster. Not only Luhukay, but also the sports director, Andreas Rettig has left the 14th of this Bundesliga season. The fans as well as the media are shocked and speechless. Many talk about the last few days but in fact, the mudslinging between the president and his two most important employers has been underway since some months.
A bid to clear the whole situation.

Jos Luhukay was appointed manager in Augsburg in April 2008. His mission was to get Augsburg promoted. Walther Seinsch, entrepreneur and Augsburg’s president, had appointed Andreas Rettig two years earlier and together they only took three years to reach their goal. Three years might sound a bit much, but FCA actually has experienced interesting last 13 years. They could be called “little Hoffenheim” because within 13 years, a little, hopeless amateur club changed into a recognized Bundesliga club. Hoffenheim “only” took 8 years to metamorphose from amateurs to a Bundesliga club. However, FCA and TSG 1899 have one common feature: Each club’s key to success is an investor; Seinsch in Augsburg and Hopp in Hoffenheim. And that might be the turning point in Augsburg’s Punch-and-Judy show.

Even though Seinsch was pretty convinced of his manager and sports director in the beginning, he somehow changed his mind and started criticizing them. He also barged in Rettig’s daily business even though that’s everybody’s but the president’s business. He didn’t intervene in Luhukay’s work, though, because the Dutchman already dismissed in Paderborn two days before the first league game because his president wanted to influence his starting line-up. Apparently Jos Luhukay is someone whose work is overall built on loyalty and trust.

At the same time as Seinsch’s trust and loyalty towards his manager team started to crumble, Augsburg’s ever so sympathetic image was damaged too. Even though the president had promised his manager that he could lose each of their 34 Bundesliga games without being sacked, he suddenly criticized both of them in November and blamed them for “hesitant transfer policy”. That was the first rupture.

The second one followed one month later, as the estival transfer window opened. The 70-year-old investor didn’t panic in public despite a rather disappointing first leg of the season (17th with only 15 points) and did exactly what Rettig and Luhukay dislike so much and was one of their major reasons to leave FCA: The ambitious president intervened in their business and signed Ja-Cheol Koo (VfL Wolfsburg) on loan without caring much about Rettig’s, but mainly Luhukay’s opinion. Later Koo and his Asian team mate Hajime Hosogai were seen as Augsburg’s most important players in the fight against relegation. However, the two 48-year-old steersmen did feel defrauded a bit. Rupture number two.

As already mentioned, Augsburg have, well, used to have a pretty sympathetic image. Actually Seinsch wasn’t the first one to damage it with his mudslinging. It already happened before the actual beginning of the season but somehow it quit the scene quickly: Michael Thurk (37-year-old forward), one of the most important players in the season of the promotion to the Bundesliga and the fans’ darling, was sorted out due to “differences in opinion”. Thurk is undoubtedly a great player (German media even discussed a nomination for the national team after a sensational season in 2010) but he is one of those guys who like to tell their opinion a lot and at any time. Even though that type of player is threatened with extinction nowadays, apparently it became too much. You needn’t troublemakers in your squad when you’re about to start your first Bundesliga season ever. So he was sorted out and started a mudslinging. First he even wanted to bring FCA to labour court but scrapped that plan later. However, he kept on bitching until Seinsch called Thurk “a mongrel”. Rettig and Luhukay disagreed with their employer in public. Meanwhile Thurk’s contract has been cancelled and the German is netting in for FC Heidenheim in the third German league but Seinsch felt humiliated by Luhukay and Rettig’s veto: the third rupture.

The fourth rupture is said to be the actual reason for Luhukay’s demission. While the Dutchman’s contract had been extended until 2013 before the season, the promised extension of his assistants’ contract in January was displaced. As Jos Luhukay’s work is on trust, he started doubting. It was certain that he wouldn’t continue without his assistants, being just like friends to him. Surely one of the crucial ruptures but I think the turning point was the fifth and last one.

Meanwhile, in the end of December, Andreas Rettig had announced he would leave the club in the end of the season due to “personal reasons”. He and his wife will leave Bavaria and settle down in Rhineland, the region where he was born. I’m quite sure Seinsch’s dominance was a reason too. However, what followed completely abused Jos Luhukay’s faith. Walther Seinsch started looking for a new sports director without even making an arrangement with his manager. When he had found his man in the own club (Manfred Paula, 47, youth academy), the manager was only informed of it some days after Paula’s appointment. Even worse: Paula immediately started planning for the new season and presented himself to the team without involving Luhukay at all. The final and fifth rupture.

If you have a further look at Seinsch’s activities before Luhukay’s last and quite disgraceful presser it does look like the president had freezed his manager out. Seinsch who had suffered a nerve disease in the last years is known as paternalist who wants to control everything. The fans always loved him because he helped them with several issues and also watched some matches on the stands among the fans. Seinsch isn’t only fan but also entrepreneur. Thus he always had a further look at the money too. It’s said that Luhukay’s assistants’ contracts weren’t extended because they were too expensive. They already had contracts similar to those in the Bundesliga as they signed in 2010. Unlike Manfred Paula and the probable new manager, Markus Weinzierl (37, currently coaching Regensburg in the third German league) who are also unexperienced and more supple…

Even though Seinsch affirmed not to have known about Luhukay’s demission, he contradicted himself several times. Some hours before the final presser, he told Sky Germany he had already established contacts in the end of march, also with Markus Weinzierl, among others. Furthermore Seinsch didn’t only sign Koo in winter but also Ronny Philp, a right full-back who will join Augsburg in summer – from Regensburg…

Perhaps another one of Seinsch’s reasons was that Luhukay might not be as good as he’s said to be. Of course the Dutchman has a large share in Augsburg’s sensational avoidance of the relegation but he has surely made some mistakes. The first one might have been sorting Thurk out. He was actually a troublemaker but the team seemed to have accepted him (he was their captain, after all) and Sascha Mölders, his replacement scored thrice in the first two games and had a barren run of 12 games before finding the back of the net again. Altogether Mölders only scored 5 times in 29 Bundesliga games, the last one on the 20th match day but he still started regularly until the 23rd match day. Nando Rafael who replaced him, did score twice in 6 games but didn’t have much of an impact either.

Another costly mistake was Luhukay’s choice in central defense. In each of his first six Bundesliga games with FCA, he lined different combinations up before choosing Langkamp and Sankoh who had already played together in the last year in the second devision. However, in their first match together, Langkamp was sent off and Sankoh made a horrible mistake that lead to a goal for Hertha (final score: 2-2). Thus Luhukay immediately subbed Sankoh off. That Seinsch’s transfers helped Augsburg most doesn’t help either…

Of course Augsburg didn’t miss to pit the icing on the cake: In the end of the last presser during which no questions were allowed and Seinsch didn’t deign to look at his (meanwhile) former manager, the president even forgot to hand some bouquets to Rettig and Luhukay. What a perfect ending for FC Augsburg’s Punch-and-Judy show that was…

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