Stoeger’s calming influence brings early reward for Dortmund
BERLIN (AP) — Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Stoeger ended both his own and the club’s winless streaks in the Bundesliga in his first game this week.
Appreciative fans already want him to stay beyond the end of the season.
“There’s only one Peter Stoeger,” some supporters sang after Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Mainz, the team’s first league victory since September.
Dortmund’s collapse - it hadn’t won in eight games - saw the club’s five-point lead disappear along with any realistic hope of challenging a resurgent Bayern Munich for the title. Bayern now has a nine-point advantage over Schalke at the top of the Bundesliga, and is 13 points ahead of Dortmund.
It has been a remarkable couple of weeks for Stoeger, hired by Dortmund on Sunday after Peter Bosz’s dismissal, one week after he himself was fired by Cologne after the club failed to win any of its opening 14 games.
Dortmund only gave Stoeger a contract to the end of the season, perhaps viewing him as a steadying influence before someone else takes over. Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann is reportedly the favorite, though Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said there had been no talks.
Dortmund next faces Hoffenheim at home in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Of coming up against his possible successor in Nagelsmann, the 51-year-old Stoeger said Thursday that it was “not an issue” for him, “except, that I have to say, he’s a really good man who’s doing a super job.”
Nagelsmann was Germany’s coach of the year for taking Hoffenheim from a relegation battle in his first season to European qualification in his next.
Stoeger had earlier also paid tribute to Bosz for the work he did with the side.
“A lot of the positive things you could see (in Mainz) were down to Peter Bosz,” Stoeger said. “He left me something really good here. Nobody has a bad word to say about him. The team works as a group. Part of this win is down to him.”
Bosz, who led Dortmund to its best ever start in the league, wasn’t helped by injuries to Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Maximilian Philipp among others.
Popular for his humility and man-management skills, Stoeger is happy with however long he gets at the helm in Dortmund.
“Whether it’s 14 days, three weeks, 16 weeks, six months or ideally a lot longer, I let it all pass. It’s a great challenge. I’m happy to be here,” Stoeger said. “And I’m happy to have won my first game this season.”
Stoeger won promotion with Cologne after taking over the second-division club in 2013 and oversaw steady progress before this season’s slump.
He only had two days to work with Dortmund’s squad before the Mainz game, and the first of those was hampered by heavy snow that meant training had to take place indoors.
Stoeger asked his players not to spend so much energy pressuring defenders and reined in their attacking ambition in favor of more security at the back.
“I tried to get the formation set up so the players play where they feel most comfortable,” he said. “We brought a bit of order in.”
After a shaky first half, there was a marked improvement in the second, when Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shinji Kagawa scored. There should have been more goals, but the uncertainty from the last few weeks may take longer to dispel.
“We’re very relieved. We celebrated our last win in September, when it was still warm out,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said. “The win will really do us good.”
After Hoffenheim’s visit on Saturday, Dortmund travels to Bayern for a German Cup showdown on Wednesday.