Victory at home against AC Sparta Praha would be great news for Michael Skibbe as he continues to battle to win hearts and minds at Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
"We are under pressure against Sparta," said Skibbe, whose side have picked up three points from their first two Group E games. "Winning is our goal, but it will be an open attacking game between two teams unwilling to give a single inch. They have a strong running team. We will play an attacking game, show our strengths and try to stop their counterattacks." He gave nothing away about his team selection, adding: "It's important at European level not to show all your cards right away."
Deeds not words
Appointed in October 2005 by sporting director Rudi Völler, who he had worked alongside with the German national team, Skibbe's distant manner has never seen him win the affections of the BayArena faithful, but with some excellent results in the Bundesliga, it may be that the 42-year-old coach is going to win the hearts of Leverkusen fans by deeds rather than words.
Skibbe's playing career was over by the time he was 22. A promising youngster, he made just 14 appearances for FC Schalke 04 after tearing cruciate ligaments three times. He found a new home with the Gelsenkirchen side's local rivals BV Borussia Dortmund, helping to forge one of the most impressive, if not the best, youth systems in Germany.
In 1998, he made German history when Dortmund made him the Bundesliga's youngest ever coach at the age of 32. However, his 18 months in charge were not blessed with success. He eventually found himself back in the youth department, where he might have stayed had Völler not been appointed Germany coach following a disappointing end to the UEFA EURO 2000™ campaign.
With Völler lacking the appropriate qualifications, Skibbe was brought in to take official charge of the team, and the pair guided Germany to the final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The public applauded that campaign, but the coaches were to find themselves unemployed after a less than edifying performance at UEFA EURO 2004™.
Völler called on Skibbe again after he was given his new post at Leverkusen, and while his coach has not dazzled supporters, he has proved himself to be a determined tactician. This season, his side are on course for a European finish, despite having expected little beyond integrating some young players into the team, and Skibbe is being given plenty of credit.
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