Winter break: Hannover 96

7th place

Grade: B

Hannover surprised a lot of folks last year, so certainly their fans figured they could do even better. Haha. The 96ers don’t look like they’ll ever move into the next echelon, and I think last year was an aberation. Of course, they have proven that they’re a pretty solid squad, capable of fighting it out. And the highpoint of their season will undoubtedly be the 2-1 win over Bayern, at a time when the Bavarians looked invincible. So they did the whole league a favor and deserve our thanks. I’m still not willing to jump on the bandwagon, as in 2-3 years, they could get relegated again, but I guess for now, they’re pretty respectable.

Youngster Ron-Robert Zieler has solved the chaotic GK situation. In fact, he recently even made his debut in the national squad. Just one of many fine young keepers. Oddly enough, he spent a lot of time warming benches in England behind crappy keepers, which shows you what the English know about goal-keeping.

Zieler is fronted by a disciplined defense, led by ex-Schalker Christian Pander and Austrian Emmanuel Pogatetz. They’ve been solid. American Steve Cherundolo has sometimes been captain, but his best years are behind him and he has largely sucked. Of course, that’s hardly news for followers of the US National squad, but I’m not kidding: Cherundolo had some decent years at Hannover. Swiss Karim Haggui has been decent, Christian Schulz less so, but the collective is greater than the sum of the parts.

The midfield is just a bunch of hackers. It’s pretty much up to Portuguese veteran Sergio Pinto for any creative ideas, he and Cherundolo being the oldest guys on the squad. There are a couple of promising youngsters, such as Manuel Schmiedebach and Moritz Stoppelkamp, but they’ve been ho-hum so far.

The attack is somewhat anemic, as Hannover doesn’t score much. Yet there is surprisingly some talent up front. Norwegian Mohammed Abdellaoue has 9 goals, and Jan Schlaudraff has played well, always a touted forward, but unfortunately for him, not scoring much. Didier Ya-Konan has been unable to continue last season’s breakthrough, largely ineffective.

The coaching has been first rate. Mirko Slomka has bounced around a bit, but has found a home in Hannover, and he’s made them respectable. That’s pretty impressive considering the 96ers pedigree.



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