Staying the course with Alex Nouri pays off for Werder Bremen

Werder Bremen is in contention for a Europa League place after being mired in Bundesliga's relegation zone.
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Sometimes doing nothing is an active choice, too.

In the case of sporting directors often under pressure to fire or change a coach, the decision to sit on hands is not always a passive one. In the case of Frank Baumann at Werder Bremen, he backed Alex Nouri, even when his team was in the bottom three with 16 points after 20 games. Nouri had been appointed, promoted from the Under-23s, when Baumann sacked Vitor Skripnik after Bremen lost its first four games of the season. Even though the team was still in trouble as recently as February, Baumann could sense an improvement. And so it has proved: Bremen has won eight and drawn two of its last 10 games. The weekend’s 4-2 win over Ingolstadt pushed it up to seventh place and into Europa League contention.

Nouri, who at 37 is the second-youngest coach in the league after Hoffenheim's Julian Nagelsmann, gave his first big TV interview to ZDF Sunday night and said it would always take some time to turn things around.

“We found a team where there was a very large squad, so that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction," he said in a dig at Skripnik (and Baumann).

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Nouri has changed the system to a 3-5-2 and been helped by inspiring performances at both ends of the pitch: In goal, Felix Wiedwald is starting to attract attention from big clubs across Europe, while Max Kruse, whose career looked to be on the decline after a series of off-pitch scandals (including leaving 75,000 euros in the back of a taxi), is on a hot streak after scoring four against Ingolstadt. Kruse, back where he began his career, has scored seven in his last five games.

“I need to be in an environment where I feel comfortable and I am working hard in training,” he said after the game.

Germany coach Joachim Low said Kruse is a candidate for his Confederations Cup squad this summer. A recall would be a reward for what is turning out to be an excellent campaign for the left-footed 29-year-old, despite missing three months in the fall with a knee injury. As for Nouri, Baumann expects to confirm his contract extension, for two or three years, in the next few days.

“We want to continue with him and he wants to stay,” Baumann said.