Bremen - Three games, three wins. Back in 1999, Thomas Schaaf started as he meant to go on in the coaching hot seat at Werder Bremen, kicking off a 14-year tenure of overwhelming success for the Green-Whites. How history unfolds for Viktor Skripnik remains to be seen but the new coach has at any rate got things underway on the same flawless note. A 2-0 win against VfB Stuttgart on Matchday 11 earned Bremen their first home victory since May, simultaneously allowing them to leapfrog the visitors and escape the very bottom of the standings.
Werder in the genes
Taking evident sustenance from the result and the chants of “Viktor, Viktor” ringing around the Weserstadion, the 44-year-old former Ukraine international was nonetheless swiftly at pains to point out that, “It's still a bit early for euphoria. Winning games is obviously good for your self-confidence and the mood in the changing room but we need to keep working away and improve an awful lot more, from back to front.” Even the verbal early-warning system carried echoes of his renowned predecessor Schaaf.
As it stands, though, the process of improvement has clearly already begun. The win against Stuttgart also saw Bremen finally manage a clean sheet, at the eleventh time of asking. The players' body language seems more positive now as well. “The coaching team (of Skripnik and assistant Torsten Frings, ed.) is made up of club legends, who've managed to re-implant the Werder gene,” midfielder explained; “They've made clear to us what it means to play for Werder - without fear and with the belief in our own ability. They've drummed that into us and that's why things are looking up again.”
Skripnik has been part of the set-up at Bremen since 1996, when he arrived in the city on the Weser from Ukraine's FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. The level-headed, hard-working defensive all-rounder soon earned a special place in the hearts of the fans and when he eventually hung up his boots it was on the high note of having just helped Werder to the league and DFB Cup double in 2004. He began his coaching career straight away in the club's youth system and took charge of the reserves last season. Then came the shotgun promotion to the top job.
'Proud at pulling on the green shirt'
If the old maxim of success breeding success does hold true in this instance, Bremen are surely onto a winner in Skripnik, who brings the additional benefit of knowing the club inside-out. Expanding on the aforementioned theme of that special Werder gene at the press conference after the Stuttgart game, he said, “We should be proud at having the privilege of pulling on the green shirt for this club, in this stadium, in front of these fantastic fans.”
The message appears to have hit the mark with the players but they know as well as the coach that pathos alone will not see Werder rise even above the relegation battle, never mind the mid-table water-treading of recent years. “If we want to re-experience the good times of the past, we're going to have to push ourselves to the very limit,” Skripnik warned. This weekend provides the perfect opportunity to do just that, when Bremen travel to traditional northern rivals Hamburger SV.
The encounter is a veritable Bundesliga classic, albeit one fallen on hard times. Bremen are 16th in the table on ten points, Hamburg a point and a place behind them. It would have been a virtually unimaginable scenario in Skripnik's day as a player; as a coach, he intends to make it equally unthinkable in the none too distant future.