Gertjan Verbeek looked every bit a relieved man following 1. FC Nürnberg's 4-0 win against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on Saturday. Not only was it his side's first victory of the season at the 18th attempt, but it also meant the Dutch coach could dust off his razor and finally rid himself of his beard.
Appointed nine games into the Bundesliga campaign, Verbeek promised that he would only shave once his team had secured their first triumph, but that soon began to appear a rash vow as Nürnberg's struggles continued. They headed into the winter break having posted a record-breaking 11 draws (and no victories) from 17 games.
Despite playing attractive attacking football, a win proved devilishly elusive for Verbeek's side. That was never truer than against Hannover 96 in December, when Nürnberg drew 3-3 despite leading 3-0 with an hour gone, while the Bavarian outfit have also hit the woodwork 15 times this term.
Likened in the press to Lord of the Rings character Gandalf and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, Verbeek was increasingly pressed on whether he could stay true to his word as his team's woes went on. "Yes I will, even if I know it could have consequences," said the 51-year-old. "I might look like Santa Claus next year."
The former Feyenoord, Heracles Almelo and AZ Alkmaar coach nonetheless found support from the stands, where more and more Nürnberg supporters began sporting beards of their own. Meanwhile, Verbeek banned draws during the club's training sessions, ending practice games only after one side had come out on top.
"We need to adjust our style of play to be able to challenge for victory even after the 75th minute," explained the Dutchman during the winter break. "We now have 17 finals left to play." Preparing for those tests would probably have included a demand for January reinforcements from many coaches, but Verbeek reiterated his faith in his squad – and was promptly rewarded in their first outing of 2014.
"It was a good game to watch for the neutral fan," commented the victorious coach after Josip Drmić struck twice to help put Hoffenheim to the sword. "There were a lot of chances for both sides right from the start of the game. I'm happy that we managed to collect our first victory – and that I can finally shave again."
As it happened, he did not have long to wait. Holding his traditional post-match press conference 15 minutes after the game, Verbeek presented himself to stunned journalists sans beard. His players had done the honours in the dressing room to celebrate their first triumph since 18 May, and although the coach did not reveal who had held the razor, he confirmed: "It was off very quickly."
Verbeek may begin to miss his facial hair after explaining that he received several compliments on his appearance during Nürnberg's long winless run. That said, with the second-bottom side still three points from safety and needing a few more wins yet, he may prefer to believe that nothing is more attractive than success.
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