From Real Madrid To Relegation Scrap: Union Berlin Fires Another Coach As Season Unravels

From Real Madrid To Relegation Scrap: Union Berlin Fires Another Coach As Season Unravels
From Real Madrid To Relegation Scrap: Union Berlin Fires Another Coach As Season Unravels

BERLIN: Union Berlin played Real Madrid as many times as it fired its coach this season.

The Bundesliga team trying to avoid relegation dismissed its second coach on Monday. Nenad Bjelica was let go and Marco Grote reappointed on an interim basis.

Long-time favorite Urs Fischer was fired in November. He and Bjelica arguably paid the price for over-ambition after Union surprisingly clinched Champions League qualification last season.

The two games against Madrid — the glamorous 14-time European champion — represented the pinnacle of Union’s dizzying rise after just four years in the Bundesliga. Both were narrow defeats to late goals. Union also played Napoli and Braga.

But, in hindsight, the spectacle of the Champions League distracted the Köpenick-based club from the core strengths that Fischer forged on the training field. The team’s stability was upended by a whirlwind of transfers with players such as Leonardo Bonucci and David Datro Fofana arriving and departing in the same season, while other new arrivals failed to improve the squad.

Fischer, who led the team to promotion in 2019, was fired after a 14-game run without a win. Bjelica and his assistants were told on Monday morning they had to go.

Grote became interim coach for the second time. He also took over for one game — a draw against Augsburg — before Bjelica was appointed.

The 51-year-old Grote will again be assisted by Marie-Louise Eta and Sebastian Bönig for the final games of the season. Eta stayed on as an assistant coach under Bjelica while Grote went back to Union’s Under-19s.

“I’m looking forward to the task and convinced that we’ll succeed in staying in the league,” Grote said. “I know our team well and that we are able to get the points we need with our combined strengths.”

Union travels to Cologne on Saturday, a must-win game for the host to avoid being the second team relegated after last-placed Darmstadt. Union then entertains Freiburg on the final day.

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Bjelica’s last game in charge was a 4-3 loss at home to relegation rival Bochum on Sunday. It was Union’s sixth consecutive game without a win and left the club just a point above the drop zone.

Of the Croatian coach and his assistants, Union president Dirk Zingler said, “They managed to stabilize the team in an extremely difficult situation, with the result that we can stay in the league on our own.”

The nature of the Bochum loss forced a rethink after Zingler publicly backed the coach before the game.

“We’re giving our team another fresh impetus,” sporting director Oliver Ruhnert said. “The players want to stay in the Bundesliga with Union, I’m absolutely convinced of that. We want to give them our full support and are relying on a coaching team that knows our club very well and is fired up about this task.”

The bottom two are automatically relegated. The team that finishes third from bottom faces a two-leg playoff against the third-place finisher in the second division to determine which side plays in the Bundesliga next season.

Union was promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019 and improved its position each season, culminating in fourth place and the Champions League qualification last year. This is the first season since promotion that it has had to seriously worry about relegation.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – Associated Press)

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first published: May 07, 2024, 00:01 IST

 
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