What’s the German for “Ole’s at the wheel”? Not that they’re too fussed about that at Werder Bremen right now. All they know is that the club is flying under coach Ole Werner, who looks to be steering the four-time Bundesliga champions back to the big time.
It’s a marriage made in heaven that really wasn’t meant to be at the start of the season. On the back of a first relegation in 40 years and the dismissal of Florian Kohfeldt, Bremen turned to Markus Anfang, who had previously got Cologne out of Bundesliga 2 at the first attempt.
Meanwhile, Werner was still in charge of boyhood club Holstein Kiel, having only missed out on promotion to the top flight via the 2020/21 play-offs, losing 5-2 on aggregate to the Billy Goats. A poor start to the season saw him resign after seven games.
A few weeks later, Anfang stepped down at Werder, with one of the pre-season promotion favourites 10th after 13 games. A draw with Schalke and defeat in Kiel followed before Werner was appointed – and since then it’s only been up for Die Grünweißen with Ole at the wheel. Or maybe they prefer to call it ‘the tiller’ at a club who use a ship’s horn to celebrate goals. But it’s not quite got the same ring to it.
Watch: Werder beat Hamburg to claim Nordderby spoils
When Werner arrived, Werder had a record of five wins, five draws and five defeats with a -1 goal difference. They were in the bottom half of the table – 12 points off leaders St. Pauli – but are now top and have been since Matchday 23. Werner has also seen his side dismiss Nordderby rivals Hamburg 3-2 on HSV soil - a result that firmly put him in the fanbase's good books.
In Werner's 13-match tenure, his team have chalked up 10 wins, two draws and just one loss. They have scored in every outing and bagged 31 goals at an average of 2.4 per game since the 33-year-old – the youngest coach in Bundesliga 2 this season – took charge.
It hasn’t all been straightforward for Die Grünweißen, though, and they have had to earn every point under Werner. For instance, they have only held a half time lead in three of 13 outings under their young tactician.
The second 45 minutes have been Bremen’s forte, scoring 24 of their 31 goals under Werner after the break. That isn’t necessarily a matter of fitness, given Werder as a team are second last for distance covered in 2021/22, or a tactical trick from Werner.
Watch: The best of Bremen under Werner
“At the very least it isn’t planned,” the coach has said of this statistical quirk. “I think it’s often down to the pattern of play that more goals come in the second half because games open up. In recent weeks, we frequently had to first get the opponent moving. The first goal then opens up space.”
How and when Werder score their goals will not concern anybody of a green-white persuasion as long as they keep going as they are.
Werner has more than doubled Werder’s points and goals totals from the first 15 games. In the process, he become only the second person to win his first seven league fixtures in charge of the club, following in the footsteps of the legendary Otto Rehhagel. His record from 1981 stands at eight wins to begin a tenure – one that went on to span over 14 years, more than 650 games, saw him get the team promoted and lift the Bundesliga and DFB Cup twice each. No pressure, Ole.
Werner is a qualified banker and also once spent the best part of a year working Down Under in Sydney as a gardener. According to him he would “trim grass and hedges”, but now he’s shown his green fingers at Die Grünweißen and got the squad blossoming.
“He didn’t overload the team with new ideas, just selectively changed things,” said club legend and current head of scouting and first-team football, Clemens Fritz. “Ole exudes calmness and clarity. And it all works well.”
In modern football where you see coaches like Bayern Munich’s Julian Nagelsmann switching between formations, even during games, Werner very much keeps it simple. He’s set up this Werder team in a 3-5-2, and the man from Preetz doesn’t change his winning formula unless he has to.
Perhaps even more crucial is how he’s brought together the front two of Niclas Füllkrug and Marvin Ducksch. The duo have a combined 31 goals and 12 assists this season, while the latter equalled Rudi Völler’s club record scoring run by bagging in seven consecutive matches - also Werner's first seven that all resulted in victory - from 1983.
The pair have jokingly nicknamed themselves ‘the ugly birds’. Yet Werner sees nothing unattractive about how they’re playing. “It’s important to have players who can make a breakthrough in such a difficult game. They work very well together, understand each other as a team. Selfishness plays no part,” he said in the wake of the 2-1 win at Rostock that took Werder into the automatic promotion places for the first time this season.
Watch: Werder beat Rostock on Matchday 22 to go second
However, the head coach also went on to praise the way his entire team goes about business: “Things are obvious up front when goals are scored, but when you see Romano Schmid today, when you see the whole backline with the goalkeeper behind and Grosso [Christian Groß] in front, then I think we’ve got real, real quality overall.
“Above all, I think the team has a clear hierarchy among themselves and a good approach. They’re eager for success.”
As most coaches do, though, Werner, was on hand to add a little touch of reality.
“We need to keep it all up. But even though we want to keep the moment far, far ahead of us, there will be one where we have to stomach a setback. We then need to deal with that well.”
Football has seen how a team can get on a roll when Ole takes over at the wheel. Where will Werder’s journey take them under Werner?
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