To thunderous applause from a couple of hundred expectant fans, Torsten Frings took to the pitch with his new charges for his first training session as head coach of SV Darmstadt 98. “It felt great. The lads are really looking forward to the second half of the season. We're all in this together and everyone's eager to do their bit for the club.”
Coach and players alike will have to pull out all the stops if Darmstadt are to emerge from the current campaign with their top-flight status intact. The modestly-resourced underdogs started into the new year propping up the table on a paltry eight points – four fewer than second-bottom FC Ingolstadt 04 and a further four away from the safety of 15th place.
Frings has certainly gone in at the deep end in his first head coach posting but the 79-time Germany international is nothing if not a battler. “Everyone knows it's going to be tough but we're not buried yet,” he said; “Over the coming months, Bundesliga survival has to define our whole outlook. We have to imbue the team with qualities like self-belief, energy and willpower.”
At the same time, the former SV Werder Bremen fans' favourite has been at pains to stress that, in penning a contract through to June 2018, “It was important for me to be coming here with the prospect of having something to build on, rather than just to do a salvage job.” He got started on the project at a winter training camp in San Pedro del Pinatar, putting the squad – including new loan arrival from FC Schalke 04 Sidney Sam – through their rigorous paces on Spain's southern Mediterranean coast.
As far as the immediate Mission Improbable goes, the first hurdle in the form of Borussia Mönchengladbach was crossed, albeit with a trailing leg clipping the obstacle. That Matchday 17 goalless draw did at least end a club record eight-game losing streak in the Bundesliga, providing a newfound sense of hope under new boss Frings heading into the second half of the season.
Watch: Three Bundesliga clubs changed their coach at the end of the calendar year.
“We've grown together again as a team. We stepped on the gas at the training camp and it really helped,” said attacking all-rounder Marcel Heller: “We've a long, hard road ahead of us, but by hook or by crook, we all believe we can still do it.”