April 24, 2017

1.FC Kaiserslautern: A Historic Club Who Has Lost A Lot Of Talent

There was a time where 1.FC Kaiserslautern were a top 7 Bundesliga side back in the 2010-11 season. But that isn’t the case anymore, as Kaiserslautern finished tenth in last season’s 2.Bundesliga and are currently in the 13th spot in Germany’s second division . The decline that 1.FCK have undergone has been brutal for their fans, because they’ve lost a lot of academy talent along the way. Even though they aren’t close to the Bundesliga right now, the Red Devils have certainly been a relevant team in the past.

Getting To Know Kaiserslautern

1.FCK aren’t a very relevant side in the German football landscape at the moment, but they have been throughout their history. The Red Devils were one of the original Bundesliga clubs and have been a presence in the top flight for most of their history. One of Kaiserslautern’s finest moments came in the 1990-91 season, which saw them win the Bundesliga after winning the DFB-Pokal in the previous season. This period was one of 1.FCK’s finest, as they became a powerhouse for a short period of time. Unfortunately, this success didn’t last very long, as in 1996 they suffered their first relegation from the top flight, which put them in the 2.Bundesliga for a brief period of time. Kaiserslautern came back to the Bundesliga in the 1998 season where they did the unthinkable: win the Bundesliga.

The league title that Otto Rehhagel’s 1.FCK won was an incredible achievement as they beat out a vaunted Bayern side. That was also the first major honor for future Germany captain Michael Ballack, which shows how much of a role Kaiserslautern have played in German football throughout their history. The Red Devils got to participate in the next seasons Champions League as a result, but their decline afterwards was a steady and painful one, especially for a club that, prior to the formation of the Bundesliga, were twice Germany’s champions and were totally dominant in the Oberliga Südwest during the  first decade following the end of World War II.   

The first few seasons after winning the title they remained competitive, with two fifth place finishes. The club had notable players such as Miroslav Klose that allowed the club to stay very competitive. But within the next two years, they fell out of Europe and eventually became a side routinely in the lower half of the league. Players like Klose then left the club, and in 2005-06, another relegation occurred as the Red Devils went back down to the 2. Bundesliga.

But in the midst of some poor displays on the pitch was the financial crisis the club found itself in. The 2006 World Cup was upcoming and Kaiserslautern were building a new stadium named for Red Devils’ legend Fritz Walter. But the construction of this stadium along with the lack of revenue from European matches resulted in massive amounts of debt for the club. Then in 2002, the club was on the verge of bankruptcy before miraculously selling the stadium and then staying up in the Bundesliga. The debt caused a 3 point deduction in the 2003-04 season, but since then the club hasn’t had a lot of financial issues.

The aforementioned relegation followed these issues, and 1.FCK were in the 2.Bundesliga for four seasons before winning it and gaining promotion. As Bundesliga fans have seen with plenty of promoted sides, Kaiserslautern had a solid first season, which saw them finish in 7th. But then an 18th place finish and relegation saw them go back down to the second tier. Since their return, Kaiserslautern made a relegation playoff but lost, and had two 4th place finishes. At one point, they looked destined to come back to the top flight once again, but now they are a mediocre side in the 2.Bundesliga. There are many reasons for this decline, but the main one is the loss of young talent.

Academy Products Who Left

Just like many second tier sides including 1860 Munich, Kaiserslautern have a tough time retaining their academy players. Klose and Ballack were the first academy players to leave, but a lot of quality players have departed the Red Devils more recently as well, including German international Kevin Trapp, Leipzig star Willi Orban and teammate Marius Muller,, Koln’s Dominique Heintz, Hertha’s Alexander Esswein,  and Jean Zimmer of Stuttgart.

All of these players have accomplished a lot in their relatively short careers so far. Trapp is the most notable player on this list with the career he’s had as he currently players for French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, now a European power. But before that, he established himself as one of the Bundesliga’s finest goalkeepers while at Frankfurt. Trapp played in 32 matches for Kaiserslautern’s senior side after playing 50 matches for the Red Devils’ reserve side.

Orban’s rise has been very fast as well. The German has been one of the stalwarts for Leipzig this season and during their promotion campaign. His goal against Leverkusen capped off an extraordinary comeback for Leipzig, and Orban has been incredibly important with all of the injuries they’ve had at the back. While Werner, Forsberg, and Keita have gotten most of the plaudits, Orban has been brilliant this season as well.

The other more notable Kaiserslautern products are Heintz and Esswein, who are both solid Bundesliga players. Heintz is a first team player for Köln, and he’s consistently solid at the back. The German has been an underrated part of Köln’s rise up in the table during the last few seasons. Heintz is only 23 years old, and he’s been improving steadily for the Billy Goats. With his age and quality, Heintz has a big future ahead of him. Esswein has also been solid for Hertha this season as an occasional starter and bench contributor. He has two goals and an assist this season with Hertha, after he was a solid player for Markus Weinzierl’s Augsburg with three goals last season.

And last but not least Muller and Zimmer, who both left Kaiserslautern this summer. Zimmer now players for Stuttgart, but last season with Kaiserslautern he was solid. The 23-year-old had five assists from the right side, along with a 6.82 match rating and this great goal. With VFB, playing time has been hard to come by, as Zimmer has only played 361 minutes this season. Muller has also lacked playing time on his new club, as the German has yet to feature in the Bundesliga this season. But before leaving for Leipzig, the goalkeeper was also solid as he had a 6.57 match rating.

All of these academy players are under 27 years old, which shows how many players Kaiserslautern have produced recently. Unfortunately, all of them left Kaiserslautern relatively early in their career, which has led to the demise of this once great club. With the Bundesliga titles, and players they’ve produced, Kaiserslautern has certainly laid it’s mark on the Bundesliga. If they can keep their talented players and start to regain their form, hopefully they make a Bundesliga push once again.

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.

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