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The last straw for Leverkusen

Published: Friday 16 September 2005, 18.26CET
Klaus Augenthaler's departure from Bayer 04 Leverkusen has been the culmination of a period of tension between the Bundesliga club and their coach.
by Andreas Alf
from Cologne
Published: Friday 16 September 2005, 18.26CET

The last straw for Leverkusen

Klaus Augenthaler's departure from Bayer 04 Leverkusen has been the culmination of a period of tension between the Bundesliga club and their coach.

A 1-0 home defeat by Bulgarian side PFC CSKA Sofia in the UEFA Cup first round was the final straw, but for most in German football a parting of ways between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and coach Klaus Augenthaler had been inevitable given the conflicting views of the two parties.

Unhappy coach
From the first minute of this Bundesliga season, it was clear that Augenthaler was unhappy with Leverkusen's transfer policy. While officials may have believed the 1988 UEFA Cup winners and 2001/02 UEFA Champions League finalists still belonged to Europe's élite, the 47-year-old coach begged to differ.

Final blow
From the off, he demanded a realistic approach, appealing for fans and press alike to go easy on his young team. However, it took Thursday night's first-leg upset by CSKA at the BayArena for the former German international to finally speak his mind about the state of the club.

Impossible task
"It is just impossible to sell [Diego] Placente, [Róbson] Ponte, [Daniel] Bierofka and França and still to talk about qualifying for the Champions League," Augenthaler said. That typically Bavarian straight-talking did not impress the Leverkusen board, and he officially left his post on Friday.

Bad start
Leverkusen are a club in something of a crisis. With four points from four games, they are having their worst Bundesliga start in 23 years, with a 4-1 opening-day win at promoted Eintracht Frankfurt being followed by a 5-2 home defeat by FC Bayern München.

Not happy
However, given the players that Leverkusen lost over the summer, Augenthaler was reluctant to carry the can for the club's failures on the field. And he was only too aware of supporter unrest over the way the team had been performing as Athirson's stumble gifted CSKA their goal on Thursday.

Athirson blunder
"I bet they will hold me responsible for Athirson having lost the ball against [Yordan] Todorov to set up Sofia's goal," the one-time world-class sweeper scowled. "This kind of basic mistake I have not even seen in an Under-15 match."

Ponte absence
The root of Augenthaler's problem was arguably the departure of playmaker Ponte for Japan. Without no direct replacement in place, Leverkusen brought in two inexperienced players in 20-year-old Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta and TSV Alemannia Aachen's Simon Rolf.

Brazilian lineage
Meanwhile, the club that had traditionally put such faith in Brazilian talents like Tita, Emerson, Zé Roberto and Lucio, are having trouble with their current crop of South Americans with Roque Junior, Juan and the hapless Athirson failing to emerge as team leaders.

Old gang
In the absence of new chiefs, the German old guard of Bernd Schneider, Jens Nowotny and Carsten Ramelow have been in command, adding to the popular conception that - like their biggest stars - Leverkusen's best years are behind them.

Völler returns
Now it is down to another old Leverkusen favourite Rudi Völler to pick up the pieces as he takes temporary charge while the club search for Augenthaler's permanent successor. At the moment, 1996 European champion Matthias Sammer looks the most likely candidate.

Sammer task
Despite not convincing as Felix Magath's replacement when the coach abandoned VfB Stuttgart for Bayern, maybe Sammer is the man to ring the changes at Leverkusen. The team from near Cologne could certainly use a firm hand on the tiller if they are to negotiate the choppy waters ahead.

Last updated: 17/09/05 19.00CET

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