Fabian Hürzeler (2nd.l) has made a flying start to his senior coaching career at St. Pauli. - © Imago
Fabian Hürzeler (2nd.l) has made a flying start to his senior coaching career at St. Pauli. - © Imago
2. Bundesliga

Fabian Hürzeler: Who is the former Bayern Munich youth player outdoing Jürgen Klopp and reviving St Pauli's fortunes?


Fabian Hürzeler only turned 30 in February, but the St. Pauli coach has already outstripped Jürgen Klopp's start to his managerial career and revived the Hamburg-based club's Bundesliga 2 fortunes so radically that a long-awaited return to the top flight seems a realistic dream.

You have heard all the platitudes before: coach sacked after a first half of the season that has left his club in danger, his unheralded assistant pushed out of the shadows and into the limelight with praise heaped on him.

"In his time as assistant coach and caretaker coach, Fabian has shown he tackles challenges in a very structured way and offers concrete solutions," explained St. Pauli sporting director Andreas Bornemann when Hürzeler replaced the man he had previously been assistant to, Timo Schultz, two days before Christmas 2022. "In the current situation, it's important to give the team fresh impetus. We're convinced Fabian is the right man for the job."

Schultz had looked to be that when he led the team to within just three points of the promotion/relegation play-off spot last season, and the promise of a return to the top flight following a painful 12-season absence burned bright in Hamburg.

Instead, come the midway point of the 2022/23 campaign, Schultz's team were only free of the bottom three on goal-difference, and he was on his way out. Enter Hürzeler, initially named interim boss in early December.

At face value, it appeared the easy, convenient choice. No one expected too much of a man who, at 29 years, 11 months and three days old, was the second-youngest ever head coach in German football's second tier. Then again, he was nearly a year-and-a-half older than Julian Nagelsmann when the former Bayern Munich coach was appointed at Hoffenheim in 2015.

Like Nagelsmann, who saved Hoffenheim from relegation in his first season, the Texas-born Hürzeler - the son of a Swiss dentist and German mother, who found themselves parents to a future coaching prodigy while working in the USA - has been a runaway success. He lifted the club up to fifth last term, and has begun the current campaign undefeated in nine games - no mean feat considering they have played three of last year's top six and relegated pair Schalke and Hertha Berlin.

"We can play bad football," assured Hürzeler as if to try and keep a lid on the emotions bubbling over at the club after seeing his team defeat Greuther Fürth on Matchday 24 to record their seventh straight win in the Rückrunde. "But the team stuck together and showed the spirit they have."

Watch: St. Pauli smashed five past Sandhausen to make it eight wins on the spin

They made it eight wins in a row, breaking a club record that had stood for 48 years, when they brushed aside Sandhausen 5-0 on Matchday 25, and nine with victory over Regensburg. Pauli made it 10-out-of-10 by beating third-place Heidenheim on Matchday 27, becoming just the second team in history to win 10 Bundesliga 2 matches in succession.

St. Pauli may have ultimately fallen short of promotion last term, but they have now gone 14 league games without defeat since losing the Hamburg derby to HSV 4-3 in April, their best run since the 1994/95 campaign. They have momentum with a capital 'M'.

How has Hürzeler done it? He might have revolutionised results on the pitch, but there has been no blood-letting off it. "I'm not going to play the big shot and turn everything upside down," stated Hürzeler when he was appointed after two-and-a-half years at the club. "I had visited Timo [Schultz] before in Hamburg. I noticed then that we're on the same wavelength in terms of football."

He has persisted with the three-man backline, and continued with defensive midfielder Eric Smith as part of the trio, an innovation first introduced by Schultz earlier in the campaign. But the winter addition of the vastly experienced Karol Mets - the 6'3" Estonian with 89 caps for his country - has made Pauli infinitely more difficult to pull apart, and they have conceded just six goals in nine games this season, keeping three clean sheets.

That solidity has vastly improved their fortunes away from home. Victory at Nuremberg in Hürzeler's first game in charge was Pauli's first of last season, and this term they have beaten Kaiserslautern and Hertha on the road. Added to their stoic home form - unbeaten in 12 at the Millerntor with seven wins and two draw in 2023/24 so far - they were always going to climb the table.

Watch: 5 things on St. Pauli

Pauli have shared the goals this season. Marcel Hartel leads the way with 12 - an impressive haul from the heart of midfield - while Elias Saad has seven and Johannes Eggestein six. Australian international defensive midfielder Connor Metcalfe has also proven and unlikely source of goals. Left wing-back Leart Paqarada laid on a team-high 10 assists last season and, after he left for Cologne in the summer, the man who replaced him as captain, another Australia international in Jackson Irvine has five provisions and the superb Hartel's contributed a joint-league-leading nine after 24 matchdays.

Hürzeler's former teammate at the Bayern youth academy, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Emre Can, predicted "a great career as a coach" even if the Pauli boss did not make it as a player. He appeared for Bayern's reserve team in two spells, either side of a season in Hoffenheim's second string, before joining amateur outfit FC Pipinsried as player-coach in 2016. He juggled that job with the role of assistant coach of the Germany U20 and U18 sides before joining Schultz's staff, all the while studying for his DFB coaching licence that he completed in April.

Hürzeler has the Pauli players singing from the same hymn sheet again and daring to dream of promotion to the Bundesliga. - IMAGO/Oliver Ruhnke/IMAGO/Oliver Ruhnke

Hürzeler's talented squad have, like their coach, been keeping their feet on the ground and it is a trait that has continued to bode well for Pauli and Hürzeler, who has now extended his stay at the club beyond 2023/24 amid interest from the top-flight.

You can see why Hürzeler was a man in demand, after all he outdid Klopp's feat of going unbeaten in the first seven matches of his coaching career while at Mainz in 2001, with the current Liverpool boss winning 'just' six of them. Hürzeler has not only pushed Pauli closer to the Bundesliga, but also broken the Bundesliga 2 record held by another Jürgen, Jürgen Wähling, who won his first eight games in charge of Hannover in 1986. At the time, Hürzeler was still seven years away from being born in Houston, Texas.