A nightmare grows from fairy tales: football laws are eating up Urs Fischer and Union Berlin

Until the end, Union Berlin supported the Swiss coach Urs Fischer. It’s not without reason that he is the current “Coach of the Year” in the Bundesliga. But a gigantic nightmare grows out of a fairy tale. The club and coach are now putting an end to this and are bowing to the laws of nature.

The dream is over. For five years, Union Berlin defied the laws of football. Now the Köpenickers also have to bow to the bitter truths of the game. With the departure of iconic coach Urs Fischer, the most beautiful Bundesliga fairy tale in recent memory ends with “evil” triumphing over “good”. The 57-year-old Swiss gave Union Berlin “surreal” years and brought him into intoxicating states that no one had previously known even existed.

Year after year, Union Berlin supporters gathered at the Alte Försterei on the last match day of the season and celebrated wild celebrations. There was the surprising promotion to the Bundesliga in the summer of 2019, which was celebrated with a celebration lasting several days and ended with the promise that a “vacation” in the Bundesliga would now begin. It was the best vacation ever. Because there was the relegation in 2020 and there was of course the qualification for the lower-class European competitions Conference League (2021) and Europa League (2022). And then there was qualifying for the Champions League this summer. One of the main culprits for this? Urs Fischer, who will be named Coach of the Year in Germany in the summer of 2023.

It was hard to believe what coach Urs Fischer had achieved there with clear defensive football. But whoever traveled to the Alte Försterei in Köpenick left points there and had to admit defeat to a stadium that was out of control. Bayern, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund felt this painfully. None of them could win there and when they did, the spectators in the stadium still celebrated. Because that’s what the club’s unwritten rules say. And Urs Fischer always stood on the sidelines, always warned Fischer after the games and he always couldn’t believe his luck.

Fans built a car castle around the stricken coach

Union Berlin’s game was as simple as it was successful. From a well-organized chain of five that drove the opponent to desperation, the Fischer team developed enough goal threat with quick transitions and sensational set pieces to enable the offensive to score exactly one more goal than the opponent. They scored and climbed. There was only one way: up! And then there was only one way left: down! And that did something to Fischer and that did something to the club.

Because things happen so quickly in football. Also in Berlin. Even before the 3-0 defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt, the twelfth defeat in a row, President Dirk Zingler had unconditionally supported Fischer. We have to check who should be entrusted with the demanding task of crisis management at FC Union Berlin, he wrote in the stadium magazine and added: “The answer to the question of who should do it is: Urs Fischer.”

They were words that were also echoed by the fans in the stands of the stadium at the Alte Försterei. During the game, they banded together against the press who had expressed doubts about the coach’s future. On a large banner they expressed their trust in Fischer: “Urs Fischer for life,” it said. Because they really loved him, because they trusted him, because they really believed in defying the football laws this time too. They built a final wagon fort around their badly stricken coach.

The Darda football laws

Anyone who has ever been involved in football knows these laws. It was defined by Pal Dardai, the eternal coach of Hertha BSC, among others. “As a coach, your time is always running out. I know for sure: after every win I get, I still have six weeks left,” he said during his first term in office in October 2015. The Hungarian is currently a coach at city rivals Union Berlin for the third time. His time had already run out twice.

The Dardai quote has been used again and again in the past week. It became a symbol of the fact that the clocks actually tick differently in East Berlin and that the association can also override the laws of nature here. Just as he had managed to do in these five heady years. Union Berlin had become a symbol of a different kind of football not only in Germany, but also internationally when it qualified for the Champions League.

Books worth reading about the club’s rise had been written much earlier. In English and in German. They found their buyers and the focus of the writing was always on Urs Fischer, although he was never bigger than the club. A club that leaves its mark on the community and conveys a sense of life beyond the stadium. One that is fueled by resistance to the establishment.

Suddenly stars become turkeys

As is often the case, with great success came major problems. With the relegation of Hertha BSC, a historic window opened in the capital. Not only was Union Berlin currently the most successful sporting club in Berlin, the Köpenickers were unrivaled in expanding this supremacy. The stadium at the Alte Försterei is also to be expanded. The capacity will be doubled to almost 40,000 seats. The plans for this are still in the drawer. Because Berlin is Berlin, everything takes longer. Construction is currently scheduled to begin in 2025.

But you should not only invest in stones, but also in legs. After successfully qualifying on the last matchday of the 2022/2023 season, managing director Oliver Ruhnert, who once came to Köpenick from Knappenschmiede, was able to shop on other shelves. The Sauerlander had earned an almost mythical reputation in the previous years. He could even sign turkeys, it was said. They would also develop into important pillars of the team in Köpenick.

For the first time, however, the most important transfers were delayed until the final weeks of the transfer window. While Union had placed emphasis on an early end to transfer activities in recent years, well-known and expensive players such as national players Robin Gosens, Kevin Volland and European champion Leonardo Bonucci only came at the very end. Their integration has not yet been completed. However, they changed the squad structure. The other new additions have not yet taken off either. To stay with the metaphor, stars became turkeys.

The crash begins against Leipzig

The start of the series of misfortunes, a 3-0 defeat against RB Leipzig at the end of August, is certainly representative of this. At that time, the game finally ended after the overwhelmed Volland was sent off. Some unfortunate defeats followed, especially in the Champions League. The first two games in the premier class were only lost in stoppage time. Against Real Madrid (0:1) the resistance broke with a goal from Jude Bellingham, against Braga (2:3) after an own corner and a 2:0 lead.

The beginning of the end: Kevin Volland flies down against Leipzig.

The beginning of the end: Kevin Volland flies down against Leipzig.

(Photo: picture alliance / contrastphoto)

The self-confidence disappeared and the view from the outside reveals a normal club that appeared to be paralyzed by the rampant crisis. Repeated interviews after repeated defeats showed that the extent of the crisis had not yet reached Köpenick, despite the great unrest that was partly brought from outside, but sometimes also from player circles into the club.

Urs Fischer’s once clear handwriting was no longer visible for a long time. He switched back and forth frantically. The triple load with the lighthouse premier class did the rest. In none of the four games played so far have they been hopelessly inferior there, but they only got one point and have already been eliminated.

Urs Fischer will receive his monument

When the end was already more or less foreseeable, the German author and podcaster Max-Jacob Ost suspected in a remarkable edition of “Rasenfunk” that it was in the nature of the Germans to accompany the club’s downfall with malice. Even if the supporters of other clubs enjoyed the dramatic fate of a club that had not made friends everywhere due to its difference, they had nothing but respect for the now outgoing coach. He also appeared increasingly depressed in his interviews after the defeats. Declarations of war became slogans of perseverance.

The fairy tale of Urs Fischer and Union Berlin has now been told. No matter which direction Köpenicker goes in, this fairy tale was one of the most beautiful in league history. The Swiss coach suspended the laws of football for at least five years and gave numerous fans unforgettable memories. In the end he had no strength left. Urs Fischer says goodbye to a piece of Bundesliga history. The Swiss has made himself immortal in the east of the capital. He told a story that had never existed in this form before. In a few years a monument will be built for him in Köpenick, but for now it’s all about sporting survival.

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