This has been a turbulent year for FC Magdeburg. It was also a very important one. Firstly, history played an big role as the Club remembered the 40th anniversary of their biggest triumph: winning the Cup Winners Cup vs. AC Milan in Rotterdam in 1974. In the previous decades, this trophy proved to be a burden. Before 1989 Magdeburg never came anywhere near a final of any of the European Cups, not to mention winning it. Chances are minimal this will change in our life times. The celebrations this year were according to the situation the club is in: sober but proud.
The real talking point of this year was of course not the anniversary of a match that most fans have not experienced themselves. Most fans were not even alive in 1974. The major talking point was the news that the most successful coach in the club’s recent history, Andreas Petersen, was leaving at the end of the 2013/14 season. It seems here that the club would fall back into a stereotypical pattern of shooting themselves in the foot. The reason for this was a simple one: Petersen does not hold the required license to coach in Germany’s third division. Promotion was not expected at the start of last season, yet as always, the club performed exceptionally well and found themselves second in the table, which of course nourished hopes of promotion. However, the team lost at their direct opponent and promotion was thrown out of the window. In this respect, the decision to part ways with the coach who has picked up the club, the team, the fans, the whole city seemed foolish. Why part ways with someone who was successful when the next step was not even secured? The worst fear were confirmed when after a difficult start under new coach Jens Härtel, the former under-19s coach of RB Leipzig, the team ran into a very difficult period from late September until late October. Four consecutive league defeats in a row saw them sink closer to the relegation zone than they wished for at the start of the season. Of course, the aim of this season is to win promotion. Once more there were stereotypical patterns. The club officials boldly claim that only promotion can be the aim of this season; promptly the team stops playing football. Afraid of their own courage.
Yet, in this very situation the club proved that they have learned their lessons. Finally.
The decision to part ways with Andreas Petersen came at a crucial point in the previous season but it left the club with sufficient time to find a replacement. No rush, no rumours, just work. It has paid off. Ever since Härtel took over, the team play better football. When September came and with it the aforementioned difficult period, the club remained calm, the coach remained calm and played with a team that is the best the club had in years.
The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell has argued that sometimes it is just a minor thing that can change things. For Magdeburg this change came with the DFB Cup game versus Bayer Leverkusen at the end of October. With four defeats on the trot, the team’s morale was expected to be at a low and the game was thought to be a confirmation of that. However, it turned out differently. Magdeburg gave Leverkusen one hell of a game; it had the typical proportions of a David vs. Goliath contest. Leverkusen scored early, Magdeburg got one back 30 minutes later. The game went to extra time. After 112 minutes Magdeburg scored a sublime goal that would have seen them in the next round. Alas, it came differently. Leverkusen equalized with 1 minute to go. Penalties. Bayern Munich once suffered a defeat on penalties against Magdeburg. And it looked as though, Leverkusen would follow. It turned out Magdeburg missed their last spot kicks, Leverkusen got their nerves together again and won 7-6. Sadness at such a show of nerves.
The game proved to be a pipe opener. Magdeburg have not lost since, scoring almost 20 goals and conceded only a handful. They have finished 2014 on a high. More importantly, the maturing process of the club and the officials was palpable and it paid off. To stress Gladwell further, one could argue that the year 2014 was a tipping point. The change of coach was carried out calmly and thoughtful; that was not the case with previous coaches. The coach faced a critical period and the club directors remained calm. This is almost unheard of in Magdeburg. Their patience however has paid off. The ‘Greatest of the World’ are runaway favourite to win the division and the play-offs.
The rest of the season still has to be played out before any judgement on 2014 can be made but the signs are promising and the hopes high.