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Is Union Berlin manager Jens Keller the man to lead Sunderland?

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There have been numerous favourites for the Stadium of Light hotseat but current Union Berlin manager Jens Keller has recently emerged as a leading candidate. If he succeeds David Moyes, what is he likely to bring?

FC Schalke 04 Training & Press Conference Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Current Club: Union Berlin

Previous Clubs: Vfb Stuttgart, FC Schalke 04


Sunderland’s manager search is now reaching into it’s second month.

The club recently released a statement which seems to give some clarity to the delay and perhaps more importantly the ownership situation:

If discussions are not concluded within our defined timeframe, we will terminate the process and move swiftly and positively forward with plans for the new season.

However with the rumours of a German consortium purchasing the club from Ellis Short rife, links to Union Berlin manager Jens Keller have moved him up to second favourite - perhaps indicating that if a takeover move is completed any new owners would have a good idea of who they want to lead us into next season.

He has certainly managed at a higher level during his career - notably with Schalke in the Champions League - but what could the Stuttgart born boss bring to the North East?

Still relatively young at forty six, Keller has managed one hundred and thirty-five matches across three clubs, with a win ratio that sits at 48.88% - the bulk of those wins coming during a twenty-two month stint at the Veltin’s Arena. Although he does lack any experience of managing outside of Germany he is noted for his ability to blood youth successfully whilst working on a budget. Coupled with those statistics and potentially you can see what has given the potential German investors reason to look towards Keller as the man to rebuild Sunderland.

Berlin Dom Cathedral
Would Keller fancy swapping the sights of Berlin for Penshaw Monument?
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Retiring as a player in 2005 after fifteen years in the Bundesliga, Keller was given the role of under-19 coach at former club Stuttgart. Within a year he was promoted to the role of assistant where he worked under former Tottenham Hotspur boss Christian Gross. They sensationally qualified for the Europa League that year despite early season predictions of a relegation struggle but, sadly, the following season didn’t work out for Die Roten. Six defeats in seven games meant he was presented with the task of becoming interim manager as he took on his first management role. Winning five of his thirteen matches in charge, he managed to keep them in the Bundesliga but wasn’t given the job in a permanent capacity and he left the club in 2010.

He was later appointed coach of the under-17 team in the Summer of 2011 at FC. Schalke, quickly moving up the ladder and appointed head coach at the club by December. Playing a formation of 4-2-3-1 (or a modern day 4-3-3 like we’ve see at the SoL recently) he had a very impressive season, leading the club to fourth in the Bundesliga before going one better the following season with Die Königsblauen achieving Champions League qualification by finishing third, meanwhile coaching the team to the club’s best ever performance in a Rückrunde (thirty-six points from their last seventeen matches).

His time at the club also saw him successfully integrate many of Schalke’s youth team into the first team squad, with the likes of now €38m rated Tottenham target Max Meyler and new Arsenal signing Sead Kolasinac becoming the focal point of a title chasing team at the age of only seventeen and nineteen respectively. Keller was also praised for his success in the loan market, with Michel Bastos the pick of the bunch.

His sacking at the club was viewed as unlucky because of his success although they had started the following season poorly. He was sacked after only seven games, with the media commenting his previous record-breaking performance should have afforded him more time. In fact Schalke’s sporting director even commented:

We shouldn’t forget that Jens Keller has done great work here over the last 22 months. He took over the team during a difficult period back in December 2011 and he managed to get them to the group stages of the Champions League twice in addition to leading them to the last 16 of that competition on two occasions. Additionally he has managed to integrate several of our own youth academy players in our squad. Because of all of those accomplishments Schalke are grateful.

FC Schalke 04 Training & Press Conference
Keller is known for a belief in togetherness, he’s a believer in a team ethic, not individuals.
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

His most recent season at Union Berlin is what Sunderland fans will perhaps find most intriguing. It was widely expected that on a shoe-string budget the club of the capital would finish mid-table in Bundesliga 2, however Keller’s team ended the season pushing for the title in an incredibly tight division, topping the league in mid-March.

With a belief in team ethic there was no individual who stood above the rest. Instead Keller oversaw a small, tight knit group of players who pitched in when the team needed them to - something that we need on Wearside. Interestingly, his defence remained the same back four for almost the entire season; a decision which paid dividends with Union finishing as with one of the tightest defences in the league. Keller’s team were also second highest for interceptions and tackles per game. Everyone doing their bit helped Union Berlin become one of the most energetic, cohesive units in the league.

Such was the 'togetherness' of Union Berlin last year that their fanatical fanbase would chant “Fussballgott” (Football God) after every player when their name was announced. This was not about individuals, it was about a team collective - something we can all agree Wearside desperately needs.

It is interesting that Keller was recently in the frame to take over at Norwich City this summer before the appointment of Dortmund II’s head coach Daniel Farke. The success seen by David Wagner at Huddersfield Town last season was in part due to their sporting director Stuart Webber, who has since moved to East Anglia. After the unarguable success of appointing Wagner at Huddersfield Town last year, who could knock his opinion?

A youthful coach, astute in the transfer market and lauded for building a team that focuses on 'togetherness' and work ethic. When it comes to Sunderland perhaps Jens Keller is the man we need?