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Hollywood Reds

1 Dec 2008(Mon)

November 29, 2008: It is quite appropriate that Urawa Reds have a working relationship with Bayern Munich, as they are doing everything possible to live up to Bayern's old nickname of "FC Hollywood" -- a reputation earned for events off the field rather than on it.

The latest twist in the Saitama soap opera is the imminent replacement of Gert Engels as manager by another German, Volker Finke.

Just like a Hollywood movie, there has been furtive plotting behind the scenes, rumours, demands and denials, broken relationships and victims in the final scenes.

On this occasion, it was not only Engels who paid the price for Reds' poor season, but the club as a whole for the crass way in which they handled it all.

Regardless of whether Engels deserved the bullet or not, the always amicable German deserved better treatment than that; with seemingly everyone else knowing he would be fired long before he was told face to face by his employers.

With three league games to go, Reds were only a point behind Antlers and still had a chance to reclaim the title. Admittedly, they had not played well as a team this season, despite the quality of players in all departments, but the cold facts did not lie -- that Reds were in second place and could be champions.

The management could not wait, though, and Finke was inside Saitama Stadium for last Sunday's match against S-Pulse. How Reds expected Engels to be oblivious of the development is beyond belief, as text messages had been flying around between agents and managers for some two weeks before the game.

With such an uncomfortable atmosphere, and with his fate as manager sealed, no wonder Engels was taking on more than S-Pulse in that crucial game. Reds lost, of course, and three days later the club decided it was time to tell him he would be fired at the end of the season, despite him having another year on his contract.

One of the English-language newspapers this week found the perfect word -- "shabby" -- to describe the treatment of Engels, who at least will receive a handsome pay-off from the club.

Engels has now been fired three times in Japan, by JEF United, Kyoto and Urawa, but will bite the bullet and see out his commitments with Reds this season, meaning the last two league games.

When he succeeded Holger Osieck two games into the current campaign, I described Engels as "The Survivor", and I am sure he can still do a job for another club with his Japanese language skills and coaching experience; but maybe he will be more comfortable in the No. 2 role.

At least Engels has come out of this sorry episode with his dignity in tact, which is more than can be said for Reds. If Engels deserved to be fired -- and that is not the debate here -- a club as big as Urawa could have handled this with much more class.


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