PIED PIPER OR PIE IN THE SKY?
Charismatic Stendel could be ideal fit to lift gloom in Gorgie
IN giving careful consideration to appointing Daniel Stendel as Hearts’ next head coach, Ann Budge will not be bogged down by endless statistics and empirical evidence for one good reason. There is not much to go on.
A manager for exactly 100 games with Hannover 96 and Barnsley, the 45-year-old German is a comparative newcomer to the game.
Despite taking the Tykes to promotion from League One last season, he was sacked in October — just as he was in his first job. A bright, endearing personality and a reputation for playing attractive football at breakneck speed are his strong suits as opposed to a litany of winner’s medals.
In this regard, it’s not hard to see why the Hearts owner has been drawn to the man from Frankfurt an der Oder in the old East Germany.
With just one win in nine and dangerously close to the foot of the Premiership table, the Gorgie side are engulfed in darkness right now.
Stendel comes with a reputation for being a born optimist and a people person. The kind that immediately lifts a club and get a demoralised support onside.
The connection he appears to establish with supporters seems capable of surviving just about anything. After being dismissed at Oakwell with just one win in 11 matches this season, you may have thought he wouldn’t have been short of volunteers to drive him to the airport.
And yet the German was to be found nowhere other than in his favourite pub in the South Yorkshire town after an impromptu farewell party at the regulars’ behest.
It seems there wasn’t a dry eye — or an empty glass — in the house. The following morning, far from wishing Stendel good riddance, the Barnsley Supporters Trust took the unusual step of issuing a statement which left no one in any doubt as to who they felt was to blame for a dire start to life in the Championship.
‘We would like to go on record thanking Daniel for not only gaining promotion from League One in his first season in charge, and first season in England, but for immersing himself in the town, the values it holds, and the football club,’ it read.
‘We gained promotion to the Championship playing wonderful, attacking football, combined with a sense of togetherness that brought some fantastic memories for many supporters.
‘We wish Daniel great success in the future and will always consider him one of our own.’
So who is this charismatic figure who can establish such a remarkable connection with a club and its supporters?
There was little about his upbringing in the old Eastern Bloc to suggest he would one day shine light in dark places.
Reflecting on a childhood which saw him learn Russian for the first nine years, he recalled: ‘It was a picture that did not have so much colour.
‘It was grey or black and white. After the reunification, you could travel to any country and buy everything. You could get to know other people. It was like going into a surprising new world.’
Football was always the release from the tedium of life. Stendel played for Frankfurter FC Viktoria, his local club, then the likes of Hamburg, SV Meppen, FC Gutersloh, Hannover 96 and St Pauli over a 14-year career.
At Gutersloh, he played beside David Wagner, and counts Per Mertesacker as a former teammate and close friend from his time at Hannover. In those days, he also crossed swords with a Mainz defender by the name of Jurgen Klopp.
After ending his playing days at Hannover, he began coaching the club’s Under-19s.
He took his first steps into senior management when taking temporary charge of the side at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Stendel couldn’t prevent relegation from the Bundesliga but a joust with Bayern Munich, then managed by Pep Guardiola, emboldened him.
‘After the game, he told me
Big personality: Stendel was a fan favourite at Barnsley, despite getting the sack that with this style, and with this young team, we will have a lot of success in the future and will be back in the Bundesliga,’ Stendel recalled.
‘It was not so easy. We were already relegated and Bayern were the champions. But we played on the front (foot) and attacked. Bayern had worldclass players in the team, but I don’t like to be passive. I said: “Okay, when we lose, we lose, but I want to try to win”. In the end, we lost 3-1.’
Hannover made a positive start to the following season but Stendel was surprisingly sacked in March 2017 after a 0-0 draw at St Pauli left his side in fourth place.
After a season out of the game, the German was seen as a left-field appointment as he took charge of Barnsley.
Explaining why they appointed him as manager, ex-Barnsley CEO Gauthier Ganaye said: ‘We’ve identified that the counterpress has been used by the most successful teams in the world and Daniel is one of the best at doing that.
‘As well as the style, he has the philosophy of using and developing youth, which fits perfectly in our model.’ Explaining his methods, Stendel told fans: ‘It doesn’t matter what team we are playing, we play our style, we play forward, active and we want to win the game. I like emotions and I like a lot of team spirit.’
At that time, the Tykes had just been relegated to League One alongside Sunderland.
Despite the Black Cats, under the stewardship of Jack Ross, being favourites for promotion, it was Barnsley who went up.
How quickly the optimism of last spring was lost, though.
A club which had advocated a ‘Moneyball’ spreadsheet approach to recruitment failed to add the necessary experience to their ranks over the summer.
When the axe fell two months ago, the consensus was that a strict adherence to the policy — and not Stendel — was the root of the problem.
It is now for Budge to decide where the truth truly lay. And if this Pied Piper figure is indeed the right man to guide her club back on the straight and narrow.