The Strange Case of Hanno Balitsch

The last weekend of the Hinrunde in the 2011/2012 Bundesliga season was one of the low points of the last five years for Bayer Leverkusen fans. Floating dangerously between the final European spot and the middle of the pack, the match against FC Nuernberg in the BayArena was supposed to send Leverkusen into the winter break with a victory and an important 3 points. The result was anything but that. Looking timid, tired, and totally out of ideas, Leverkusen had their collective rear-ends handed to them by a Bundesliga team battling to get out of the relegation zone. The mood of the trainer, team, and, most importantly, the fans after the game was a mixture of disbelief, confusion, and cynicism. Already during the game, fans had turned their backs to the embarrassing charade on the pitch and serenaded Robin Dutt and his players with sarcastic chants suggesting the trainer and a large portion of the team might be better off with other clubs.

The shock of finishing the first half of the season so poorly quickly gave way to feelings of anger, however, as Robin Dutt seemed to have taken the fans advice and began to clean house. The first player (and maybe not the last) to feel the wrath of the controversial trainer was Leverkusen’s defensive all-arounder, Hanno Balitsch, who was told that he no longer fit into Dutt’s plans for the team and could begin looking for a new club. Both trainer and player seem to have had a very strained relationship, one that apparently wasn’t helped by the outspoken Balitsch’s suggestions that Dutt’s system wasn’t working or wouldn’t work at Leverkusen. And so it seems the qualities that made Hanno such a fan-favorite, namely his outspoken nature and confrontational spirit, also helped speed up his departure from the club. Those fans who remember how Balitsch arrived at Bayer Leverkusen will also remember that he had a similar run-in at his former club, Hannover 96, with then-coach, Dieter Hecking. I am neither condemning nor condoning Balitsch’s supposed behavior, and at this point what occurred between trainer and player is still unclear, but Dutt’s reaction should be examined.

It’s no secret that Bayer Leverkusen has one of the smallest rosters in the Bundesliga. Add to that the fact that several key players, including Renato Augusto and Tranquilo Barnetta, are only just returning from injury, and Dutt’s release of an experienced and combative defender/midfielder seems, at best, bold. At the very least, Balitsch would have provided depth for a squad sorely in need of players, but for many fans he was also an answer to some of Leverkusen’s problems between defense and midfield. An active Balitsch, for example, could have been played at the RB (right-back) position, where the creative Gonzalo Castro has been marginalized in a limited defensive role. Alternatively, Balitsch’s style could have (and has) worked as a midfield “destroyer,” in which he is responsible for breaking up the opposition’s link-up play between midfield and offense. In short, his ability to play a number of positions like a pitbull should have made him an attractive candidate for more playing time. Dutt, ostensibly with the tacit permission of Rudi Voeller and Wolfgang Holzhaeuser, nevertheless felt Hanno’s worth on the pitch was not worth the headache he caused off of it.

Robin Dutt has made the task of bringing Leverkusen back among the top four Bundesliga clubs that much more difficult for himself. Not only because he removed a player from the roster, but primarily because he has removed a player who had very little to do with Leverkusen’s first-half swoon. Dutt seems to be grasping at straws as he tries to reassert his authority over a team that has seemingly stopped listening to its trainer. Whereas the removal of a player such as Simon Rolfes or Michael Ballack from a position of influence would have made a statement, the dismissal of Hanno Balitsch appears to be spiteful and not a little short-sighted. For the remaining players on the team, Dutt’s move will appear to be retribution for opening one’s mouth against the coach, and one has to question if any trust exists between the two parties anymore. If it does exist, there is a chance that Bayer Leverkusen can find their way back into the top three at the end of the season. If not, then Hanno Balitsch will be one of the lucky ones at the end of the season.

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11 responses to “The Strange Case of Hanno Balitsch

  1. “at this point what occurred between trainer and player is still unclear” – “For the remaining players on the team, Dutt’s move will appear to be retribution for opening one’s mouth against the coach”

    Wouldn’t you agree that those statements contradict each other in a way? If we don’t know what happened between Balitsch and Dutt, we cannot know how the players perceive the dismissal of Baltisch.

  2. Balitsch seems to be only the beginning if I read Voeller/Holzhaeuser words between the lines.
    I think there are quite a few of players who have worked in some way against the coach.

    Balitsch is probably the one who caused the biggest scene in the locker room and where a quicker reaction is needed. The management of Bayer 04 doesn’t want to give out the exact reason for his “dismissal”, so it has to be something heavy. I can imagine a heated discussion on tactics previous to a game in front of all the rest of the squad.

    Or did it get violent at some point with shoes flying, i.e. ferguson vs beckham? 😉

    The German Press is reporting today that there will be a manifestation against Dutt on Thursday at 8 pm in front of the BayArena. Organised by a Facebook Group “Wir (04) gegen Dutt” – “We (04) against Dutt” which counts 600 members.

    Our club is a serious mess, all what we have build up over the years, can quickly disappear if we don’t get our act together.

  3. schnixb04

    Thanks, first of all, for reading, sondermann2!

    You make a good point, and I certainly agree that I couldn’t possibly know what’s on the mind of every single player on the team. By the same token, I think it’s fairly clear and quite common knowledge that several of the players on the team, beyond just Balitsch, had expressed frustration with (not necessarily to) Dutt and/or his training style/system/philosophy. Balitsch, who is certainly one to let his feelings be known, probably expressed this frustration most vociferously and paid the price. I can’t imagine his dismissal would go over well with other, like-minded players.

    That said, perhaps my point would have been clearer and closer to my intent had I written, “For SOME/SEVERAL of the remaining players…” Again, thanks for checking out the site, reading the article, and leaving a comment – hope to see you here again!

  4. I will never say i like Dutt and many of his decisions, like starting line ups and even substitutes, but if coach should show some results of his work, he should have respect and mainly trust of both, players and fans.
    Lets give hime some more time.

  5. schnixb04

    As pessimistic as my post sounded, Daniel, I’m in agreement with you. Dutt deserves more time. But also like you, I’m often totally confused by his decisions – including this decision to remove a player from an already small roster.

    Certainly, if the results are there in the second half, he’ll have proved all of the doubters wrong. And I’ll be the first to admit I am doubtful.

  6. Anonymous

    Hello, as always,nice article! I got a feeling that Dutt will stay short for what he was planning, unless a miracle is done by the players, not the coach. He can’t be here for next season, he will damage our club Image history and structure..most of all our Bayer Leverkusen Style!

  7. I think I should have made my point clearer. What I meant was that you acknowledge that we don’t know what happened between Dutt and Baltisch. But then go one assuming that it was more or less simply a case of “opening one’s mouth against the coach”. It might very well have been more than that.
    And as you point out yourself – it’s not as if Baltisch hasn’t got a history of falling out with coaches.

  8. schnixb04

    The fact that he is killing the Leverkusen “style” is something that really bothers me. Anyone who saw the opening 30 minutes of the Dresden Pokal match (that seems so long ago), would have said that Dutt had turned Leverkusen into Barcelona. The way the players were moving into space and changing positions seemed to suggest that Dutt had even improved the Leverkusen “style.” Sadly, we haven’t seen that type of play since.

    After those 30 minutes in Dresden, I thought he understood the Leverkusen style. Everything I’ve seen after that seems to suggest he’s lost his way.

    Thanks for reading, Anonymous! Leave your name some day 🙂 !

  9. schnixb04

    Hi Sondermann2!
    After some of the info. I’ve read today, and granted that it’s only coming from Hanno Balitsch, it doesn’t seem like he did more than open his mouth after the Schalke match and tell Dutt that it was crazy not to make any substitutions. He and Dutt allegedly even talked about it for an hour the following training session. Granted, these words may have been heated, but I don’t think there was any “shoe throwing,” for example :-).

    Hanno, as he is inclined, may have expressed himself poorly (yelling and aggressively), but I’m inclined to think that’s all it was (I could be totally wrong, of course). And to dismiss an important player (and team leader!) on account of a disagreement, no matter how loud, tells me that Dutt may not be able to repair relationships very well. That doesn’t give me a good feeling for the second half.

  10. lol its me d25, I forgot to type my name, that game against Dresden… I can remember Schurrle’s goal, i can even suggest he thought this was going to be a great season, the fans also thought that.. so sad.
    So sad about hanno, lets hope someday he returns…

  11. schnixb04

    Ha, hi d! happy holidays! Cheer up (by drinking), the Rueckrunde is a whole new ball game. We can still achieve some of our goals. That’s what I will be telling myself over the winter break, anyway 🙂

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