Ten years ago, Ralf Rangnick, at that time coach of German second division leaders SSV Ulm, was mocked by the German soccer establishment after he appeared on German TV to explain how his team had succeeded by using a flat back four and zonal marking. The Germans still believed in the sweeper system, despite no longer having the players to pull it off, and despite their national team's ignominious exit to Croatia in that year's World Cup when they were outplayed 3-0 in the quarterfinal.
Now Rangnick's system is widely used in German soccer, writes Raphael Honigstein, and he was back on German TV over the weekend as head coach of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the village team that's making all the headlines by leading the Bundesliga with a full six points after two games. Of course, it's only two games, and the opponents were the less than mighty Energie Cottbus and Borussia Moenchengladbach, but no one's going to quibble with first place.
Bankrolled by software billionaire Dietmar Hopp, a native of the small town in the state of Baden Wuerttemberg, Hoffenheim is suffering from the jibes of German soccer fans. "The vitriol from the traveling Borussia supporters," writes Honigstein, "took even the battle-hardened 68-year-old by surprise," with Hopp suggesting that "raw envy" was to blame.
"Everybody would love to have a wealthy benefactor for their club," said Hopp. But Honigstein says there's more to it. "The bigoted obsession with what Liverpool fans would no doubt call 'lack of history' is accentuated by the primal fear of being marginalized by the fittest and fattest (wallet)," he writes. "Hopp's unashamed use of neo-liberal language -- 'football is business, old companies die, new ones ascend' -- has naturally riled opposition supporters even further."