Arsène Wenger is mocked frequently. His inability to zip-up a coat, his magnetic attraction to finishing fourth and his Mourinho voodoo does – admittedly – make him a rather easy target. However, if we put the #ArsèneOut brigade to one side for just a moment and consider all the good that he has done for the English game (Nicklas Bendtner and all!) it becomes rather difficult to mock the man who led Arsenal to a golden Premier League trophy and within minutes of Champions League glory. The fact that Wenger is now passed his sell-by is simply an unfortunate footnote in this story of beautiful football and Oliver Giroud…
I have nothing in common with Monsieur Wenger, I passed my French GCSE by the skin of my teeth and have never been to Japan – so, in all honesty, the title of this article makes very little sense… Well, until you come to learn that after many weeks of racing, chasing and pacing up the Bundesliga standings I was able to led Saint Pauli to a 4th placed finish in 2019 – that is!
“We’re going abroad! We’re going abroad! From Amsterdam to Kazakhstan, We’re going abroad! “
Football is a funny old game, isn’t it? I spent the entirety of the second half of the season looking over my shoulder anxiously at the chasing pack of Schalke and Hoffenhiem only to finish the season closer (in terms of points) to Borussia Dortmund – now back-to-back champions of the Bundesliga. Since my last update we have played fourteen league fixtures, and in that time we were able to climb a place up to fourth, terrorise several of the “lesser teams” and be pounded by Dortmund in the German Cup. It was a fantastic season for us, but our Christmases certainly didn’t all come at once!
Before I scrutinise our post-Christmas league form, it is worth taking note of our run in the German Cup. We were seconds away from wrapping up the tie against Hannover in normal time only to gift the visitors two sloppy goals: extra-time it was! With the score locked at 3-3 for the next 27 minutes I had already started to prepare myself for a shootout, but – thankfully – that wasn’t a prospect that we ever had to face. Two goals in the last three minutes of play from Andre Gray were enough to – finally – kill off a very plucky Hannover.
Next, it would be our turn to hit the road – and, again, it was the hosts that prevailed. Despite taking the lead against Borussia Dortmund in our Quarter-Final tie we never looked truly comfortable and it was inevitable that at some point we would concede. Two individual errors from Robin Himmelmann (our goalkeeper) gave Thomas Tuchel’s side all the help that they needed to dispatch of us. Our run to the last eight of the competition was breathtaking – at times – but that wasn’t enough to prevent us from being steamrolled by a much, much better side.
Against Dortmund, we did shoot ourselves in the foot (twice) but I am under no illusions that part of the reason for that is that we had just two days to recover from our previous fixture – in a way we were certainly stitched up. However, we can’t use that excuse when it comes to what can only considered to be an embarrassing defeat at the hands of our cross-city rivals, Hamburg. The shocking thing about our 5-1 thrashing against Hamburg is that to this day I do not know why the game went so badly for us. Hamburg were exceptionally poor this season, they lacked a cutting edge in the vast majority of their games – but we made them look like AC Milan in their prime.
Moaning aside, I believe that it is of the utmost importance that in life you accentuate the positives – and it isn’t difficult to do so this time around! Automatic qualification to the Group Stages of the Europa League did not come as a result of luck, it came as a result of a sound tactic and a team of hard-working collective thinkers. Against Wolfsburg, Hoffenhiem, Ingolstadt and Kaiserslautern we were absolutely phenomenal. Our system (which I plan to release in full before Friday 13th January) is all about compacting the midfield, operating with a high block and utilising key physical attributes while attacking and defending. During the four aforementioned fixtures we scored on ten occasions: six of those goals were brought about by through ball assists to an onrushing forward (using Andre Gray).
We dropped only thirteen points in the second half of the season, which is – obviously – a fantastic record for a side such as ours; but if we are to build upon that success I hope to morph our current system (a narrow 4-1-3-1-1) into a narrow 4-2-3-1, making the most out of the half-spaces and attempting to implement an even higher block. Essentially, I aim to create a pressing, passing, pacing dynasty. Little, old Saint Pauli are going on a European adventure next season… Blimey!
“Sex, Drugs and Andre Gray.”
Qualifying for the Europa League was a team effort, 100%. However, if it wasn’t for Andre Gray I seriously question whether the team that I had at my disposal would have had the quality to get ourselves over the line! Gray finished the season as the Bundesliga’s fifth top scorer (finishing second in the German Cup equivalent) and all that I can really say on the topic is that he is an absolutely filthy striker… And I mean that in the most complimentary manner possible!
With Gray playing as an Advanced Forward/Poacher it is vital that he has high attributes for finishing, composure, off the ball and anticipation. Gray has them all. With pace to burn and strength that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a striker of less than six ft, Gray is – in my opinion – as close to the ideal striker you could have for a team of a comparable wealth and ability to my Saint Pauli side.
Andre Gray, I salute you!
Planning for the future!
My planning for the season ahead is focused, primarily, on signing a new first team goalkeeper and left back. We were let down on multiple occasions by Himmelmann and Fillip so it makes perfect sense for me to look to recruit in those areas. As was the case last season, I will be looking to purge off of some of the bigger teams to be relegated from Europe’s larger leagues this season – notably, Oviedo and Aston Villa.
Another element of my plan features my backroom staff. Namely, by replacing our current Head of Youth Development (HOYD) to someone who actually knows what they are doing! Our last two youth intakes have been very poor – to say the least – and, frankly, I have lost all faith and patience in his ability to perform as I expect him to! On that note, providing that we have enough surplus cash following the transfer window I will also attempt to persuade the board to invest more heavily in our youth recruitment and facilities…
I am trying – desperately – to build a club prepared for European football… Hopefully, next season will make for interesting reading!
I hope that you have enjoyed the tenth instalment of ‘The Saint Pauli Plan’, I will be back on Sunday with part eleven – an article where I will discuss the transfer window and our preseason as a whole! I am always exceptionally interested in hearing your thoughts regarding the save in general and feedback with regards to your thoughts on my articles – so please do get in touch either through the streams linked below or by commenting! Moreover, if you would like to get in touch with myself, or my fellow admins, you can find us through the links below…