For new Hannover 96 head coach Thomas Schaaf, the brief is simple: secure the club's Bundesliga status for another season.
Simple, but far from easy. "Obviously, we're going to have to make a change," the 54-year-old touchline stalwart said on taking up the reins as Michael Frontzeck's successor shortly before Christmas.
'A long battle'
The impressive media turnout for his formal unveiling was testimony to the high regard in which the former long-time Werder Bremen coach is still held, a largely forgettable season-long intermezzo at Eintracht Frankfurt notwithstanding. In his default straight-talking manner, Schaaf said, "Our one aim is to extricate ourselves from this situation." All that counts now are points, not pretty football, he added.
Both have been in short supply at Hannover so far this season. Six home defeats and a miserly 18 goals scored make for grim reading. The Lower Saxony outfit start into 2016 second-bottom of the table on 14 points, just one above cellar-dwellers 1899 Hoffenheim. Only twice before – in 1971/72 and 1988/89 – have they found themselves in a worse situation midway through a Bundesliga campaign. This time around, Schaaf has promised the fans nothing but a "long battle."
On the upside, the Bundesliga old hand has "the required patience. I want to get everyone whipped up for this, and believing that we're going to do it. It certainly won't be easy to accuse us of not having given our absolute all." That ethos naturally extends to the five new faces brought on board so far this winter. Hugo Almeida (r.), Adam Szalai, Marius Wolf and Iver Fossum are all tasked with enlivening the attack, while Hotaru Yamaguchi brings a fresh option to the deep midfield department.
Some eight months after stepping down at Frankfurt, Schaaf cut a revitalised figure at Hannover's winter training camp in Belek, Turkey (l.). "What I want to see," he said, "is everyone doing his bit to try and improve our situation." Succeeding in that could simultaneously heap the pain on his old flame, Bremen: the Green-Whites currently sit just one point above Hannover, in the relegation play-off slot. Schaaf returns to the Weserstadion with his new charges in early March, for a potential dogfight at the bottom. Asked about it, his response was typically unsentimental: "That's your train of thought, not mine."