Season Preview – Fortuna Düsseldorf – Beware the Lumpi

The capital of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region is back in top flight play, bringing with it the Rhenish Carnival and rich culture (Kraftwerk! Altbier!). The move up happens to coincide with marking Fortuna Düsseldorf’s, or “F95,” 50th year jubilee. Hopefully, this time around they can break their elevator habit of quick relegation after a fifteen year 1.Bundesliga hiatus.

First, let’s get the drama out of the way. Fortuna Düsseldorf’s fifteen year campaign to 1.Bundesliga promotion was finalized in court.  In May, Fortuna defeated Hertha Berlin 4-3 (on aggregate) in a relegation playoff. Fortuna won the away leg at Berlin 2-1, thanks to a header from defender Roman Hubnik and an own goal from Hertha’s Adrian Ramos. The return leg in Düsseldorf was a tense affair. Winger Maximilian Beister opened the scoring for Düsseldorf, while Ben-Hatira equalized for Hertha. However, Ranislav Jovanic scored what eventually came to be the goal to the promise land for Düsseldorf. Meanwhile, with under ten minutes left, Hertha’s supporters disrupted play with flares, while Raffael scored the Hertha’s second equalizer.

Cue the drama of consequence: after seven minutes of stoppage time, jubilant Fortuna supporters stormed the pitch with flares in hand. Hertha’s players understandably fled the pitch. Remarkably, the final 90 seconds were still played out about 30 minutes later after the crowd was cleared, but play was flat and Fortuna held on. Fortuna’s emotional captain and midfielder, Andreas “Lumpi” Lambertz was even seen with contraband in his hand. How can you blame the long-suffering captain, who made history in being the first Bundesliga player to remain with the same team through at four different domestic league levels?

Lumpi with the flame of promotion

Hertha appealed the result to the DFB, who ruled in favor of Fortuna. Hertha appealed a second time. This time DFB’s chief legal advisor, Götz Eilers, chaired a tribunal from the Bundesgericht that upheld the initial ruling after 10 hours and 16+ witness later, including referee Wolfgang Stark. Fortuna’s passport to 1.Bundesliga was stamped.

The relegation playoff drama didn’t come without a cost though. Because of the pitch invasion, Fortuna was fined 100,000 €, but more importantly they will play the home opener in Esprit Arena (51,000+), a derby game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, behind closed doors with no support. (Look for the home support party to kick off on Matchday 4 against SC Freiburg.) Oh, and Lumpi was suspended for two matches, thanks to his bengalo.

Fortuna’s famed supporters

Who is Fortuna  Düsseldorf?

Before I preview the upcoming season and made-over squad, introductions are in order. So below is my thumbnail review of Fortuna Düsseldorf’s history in German soccer. For more thorough coverage, see Niklas’ coverage here.

The current incarnation of  F95 began in 1913 after two previous club mergers from the original gymnastics club (a familiar German story). The club’s greatest triumph is still the 1933 national football championship, in which it defeated Schalke 04. Fortuna were also the first champ from the Rhine-Rhur region. Eight men from this squad started for the German national team – a positively Bayernesque achievement. Dominance followed as Fortuna won the Third Reich-organized top division five times in the 30s. After WWII, the club emerged as a mid-table side in the Oberliga West. The famous Toni Turek was GK. In the 50s-60s their success was largely defined by Cup play.

Skipping ahead, they won the DFB Cup in 1979, while stringing together an 18 game Cup winning streak from 1978-1981! Also of note was their second place finish in the 1979 Euro Cup Winner’s Cup against FC Barcelona. From the 70s and 80s, Fortuna earned its reputation as a runners-up club (much like Bayer Leverkusen now). Sadly, from the 80s-00s Fortuna struggled, hitting its all-time low by playing fourth division football in 2002-2004, only being “promoted” to 3.Bundesliga by default in 2004. Famously, however, the club was sponsored by German punk group, Die Toten Hosen from 2001-2003, providing a bright spot of publicity and funding that saved the club from obscurity.

A punk band sponsor – one of the many things that make Fortuna such a unique club

In 2008, the journey to 1.Bundesliga began when Norbert Meier, previously at Dynamo Dresden and MSV Duisberg, joined as manager. However, Norbert “went viral,” albeit for humiliating reasons, for this “dive” and headbutt against FC Köln:

Meier was suspended for three months for the embarassing incident. Overall, he has a 43% career winning percentage as a manager. Last season, Meier seemed genuinely surprised at Fortuna’s promotion, claiming it “wasn’t part of our plans.” Finally, don’t expect any Rex Ryanisms from Meier, who stated that success for Fortuna will simply be staying up in the Bundesliga – not success on the Bayern or Dortmund level.

Elevator to the Top

Fortuna Düsseldorf finished third in 2.Bundesliga last season with 16 wins, 14 draws, and only 4 losses; they scored 75 goals in all competitions, while conceding 48 for a goal differential of +27.

In league play, Die Fortunen tore through the Hinrunde with 10 wins, 5 draws, and only 1 loss. After losing to SC Paderborn 07 at home, however, Fortuna went on a six game winless streak (including the heroic 5-4 DFB Pokal loss to Dortmund). By the end of this streak, Fortuna was no longer atop the 2.Bundesliga table, hitting rock bottom with an 1-2 away loss to cellar dweller FC Hansa Rostock on April 5th. Thus, relatively poor form defined Fortuna’s Rückrunde with 4 wins, 8 draws, and 3 losses. They needed a St. Pauli misstep on the season’s final matchday just to guarantee the Hertha playoff.

In the Hinrunde, Fortuna grabbed headlines with their fluid 4-5-1 (or 4-2-3-1) attacking formation, although Norbert also used the more staid 4-4-2 formation.  Regardless, Norbert Meier demonstrated tactical creativity during the 2011-12 campaign, even if his avant-garde formations weren’t always successful. For instance, see the now departed Maximilian Beister’s positioning  in this diagram from matchday 3 against Eintracht Frankfurt versus his positioning in this diagram against Hertha in the first leg of the playoff. Beister’s function as a winger be damned, according to Meier’s tactical logic. The formation featured a striker and attacking midfielder partnership, while relying on menacing ball movement and passing from the right flank. Luckily, Fortuna’s defensive backline with Assani Lukimya-Mulongtoti was solid, enabling Meier to frequently play attractive football during the Hinrunde.

The now departed Sascha Rösler led Fortuna with 13 goals, but also contributed with 10 assists. Additionally, Beister led Fortuna with 13 assists while chipping in 11 goals. These two players were the main offensive threats from last season, so Fortuna will surely struggle to replace both players’ goal production and assisting.

Who’s Out, Who’s In?

Hold on tight. Fortuna had a very busy offseason. Broadly put, Fortuna’s squad moves reflect the need to increase quality, while benefiting from 1.Bundesliga’s greater revenue stream than that of 2.Bundesliga. In terms of quality, Fortuna has to fill the holes left by the departures of these key players: Sascha Rösler (MF), Maximilian Beister (Winger), Congolese-German Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti (CB), and the goal keeper spot.

Fortuna’s transfer market activity looks like this:

Goalkeeper:

  • Out – Michael Ratajczak (to Asteras Tripoli).
  • In – Fabian Giefer (from Bayer Leverkusen) and Nikos Papadopoulos (from Olmpiacos Piraeus).

Centerback:

  • Out – Assani Lukimya-Mulogoti (to Werder Bremen).
  • In – Bruno Gabriel Soares (from MSV Duisburg), Leon Balogun (from Werder Bremen reserves), Stelios Malezas (from PAOK Thessaloniki).

Winger:

  • Out – Maximilian Beister (on loan from Hamburger SV) and Kai Schwerfeger (to Alemannia Aachen).
  • In – Cha Du-Ri (from Celtic).

Midfield:

  • Out – Adam Matuszczyk (on loan from 1.FC Köln) and Sascha Rösler (to Alemannia Aachen).
  • In – Axel Bellinghausen (from FC Augsburg), Ronny Garbuschewski (from Chemnitzer FC), Bastian Müller (from Bayern Munich reserves), Mazin Ahmed Al-Huthayfi (from Al-Ittihad, Saudi Arabia), Ivan Paurevic (from Borussia Dortmund), André Fomitschow (from VfL Wolfsburg), and Aliosan Aydin (from Fortuna’s own reserves).

Forward:

  • Out – Thomas Bröker (to 1.FC Köln).
  • In – Andriy Voronin (loaned from Dynamo Moscow), Nando Rafael (from FC Augburg), Stefan Reisinger (from SC Freiburg), Gerrit Wegkamp (from VfL Osnabrück), Dani Schahin (from Greuther Fürth), and Adriano Grimaldi recalled from SV Sandhausen).
The biggest signing, of course, is the ponytailed Andriy Voronin for 4.2 million €. The Ukrainian international (74 caps, including this summer’s Euro tournament) has previously played in the Bundesliga and scored 15 goals in 63 domestic appearances for Dynamo Moscow. Voronin has a history with Meier, too. The latter promoted him from Mönchengladbach’s youth team. At 33, Voronin is old enough to accumulate bloopers like this one, but also accumulate highlights like this vintage YouTube reel. Look to see if he can replace Rösler’s goal production, as the season wears on and a veteran scoring presence is needed up front for F95.
Voronin is back and settled in Germany
Don’t overlook Angolan striker Nando Rafael, who is known for his strength and dramatic background story. The former U-21 German international made his debut with the Angolan national side during the 2012 Africa Cup. Rafael scored 18 in 39 appearances for FC Augsburg from 2010-2012. He plays well poaching in front of the goal with head and feet, as well as cutting in from the right side, where his strong foot is effective. Along with Voronin, he could play the lone striker position in Meier’s 4-5-1 formation.
In terms of euros spent, Fortuna has invested 3.75 million € on the centerback spot to replace Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti. Currently, there’s a two-way competition for the spot between Stelios Malezas (the 6′ 4″, 27 year old was signed for  2.4 million €.) and the Brazilian Bruno Gabrial Soares (the  6’3″ 23 years old fetched 1 million € salary-wise). Mazelas has two caps with the Greek national team, whose backline is crowded with talent. Given Soares’ Bundesliga seasoning, the Brazilian appears to be the starter on the season’s eve.
Du-Ri Cha, a Korean-German and South Korea international, is the next signing of note. The 32 year old was released by Scottish club Celtic; however, he is no Bundesliga stranger, having begun his career at Leverkusen in 2002. His best season was 2004-2005 with Eintracht Frankfurt, when he scored 11 goals. Cha is a natural replacement for the striker/winger/rightback roles that Meier had the departed Beister play last season. Cha, too, has played these positions. When interviewed after being signed, Cha was excited about the fan atmosphere in Düsseldorf. Watch a clip of his speed on the right side of the pitch here. Honestly, Cha is probably a stopgap until the younger prospects like Al-Huthayfi are tested. But Cha’s 500,000  € salary is a bargain.
Although unheralded, Ronny Garbuschewski is another candidate for the old Beister spot on the right flank or right midfield. The East Germany native averaged 9 goals a season for Chemnitzer FC in 104 appearances. Here‘s footage of him crossing a goal in and here of him bloinking in a freekick.
 Across in left midfield, new signing Axel Bellinghausen looks like a starter. He’s pretty disciplined, with decent speed and tackling abilities. Don’t look for much scoring from the former FC Augsburg man though; he’s more of the lunchpail, blue collar worker type, who emotes passion on the pitch. Watch an English interview with him here. His license plate says all you need to know about his long-abiding passion for Fortuna. The Kevin Grosskreutz of Düsseldorf?
Finally, Fabian Giefer, the young (22) former Leverkusen reserves goal keeper, looks like he’s won the starter job. He’s tall: 6’5″ with long legs, resembling Petr Cech in physiology a bit.
Who Stayed on from 2.Bundesliga?
A core group of players remains from the squad that catapulted Fortuna into the top division:
  • Jens Langeneke (centerback): a seasoned veteran (35), who actually scored on 9 of 10 penalties last season! He can lead the Humba, as well.
  • Johannes van den Bergh (leftback): 25 years old, will be the linkup with the new man Bellinghausen on the left flank.
  • Tobias Levels (rightback):  25 years old, joined the club at the holiday break in January 2012. Great work rate, but underwhelming in all other respects.
  • Adam Bodzek (holding midfielder): 26 years old, the Polish native has appeared 45 times for Fortuna, known as the midfield battler.
  • Andreas “Lumpi” Lambertz (central midfield and captain): who F95 without its literal and figurative center? He of his own webpage, bengalo, and long-suffering? He scores goals here and there (e.g. 4 in 30 appearances in 2011-2012). However, he also collected 12 yellow cards for Fortuna last season. While not the most technically proficient midfielder in the Bundesliga, he is hard to push off the ball, has incredible stamina, and obviously is not afraid to aggressively patrol the midfield. I look forward to him bringing four leagues worth of struggle to the Bundesliga in 2012.
  • Ken Ilsø (attacking midfield and striker): the 25 year old Danish attacker. While Lumpi is the heart of F95, Ilsø could be its assassin. The Dane will probably play behind either Voronin or Rafael as the other primary attacker in Meier’s fluid 4-5-1 system. Let him wow you with this fine free kick and get on the Ilsø bandwagon while it’s still the hipster thing to do. Besides, he’s on twitter.
The Meier Formation
Putting together the new signings and the existing core of players from 2.Bundesliga, the Fortuna starting XI and formation will look something like this in a 4-5-1 starting formation:
Fortuna’s projected line up for the coming season
Starting at the back, Fortuna will probably be okay at goal keeper with Giefer; however, it’s likely that neither Soares nor Malezas are equivalent replacements for Lukimya-Mulongoti at centerback. Besides, we’re used to seeing newly promoted sides exposed in the backline – a problem that will be exacerbated for F95. So don’t be surprised if Meier has to switch to a more conservative starting formation at some point, like 4-4-2 with a flat four in the midfield and a Rafael and Ilsø parternship as dual strikers.
Fortuna’s next weakness will probably be playing balls through the middle. Although Lambertz and Bodzek are charismatic fighters in the middle circle, they lack ball control pedigree of top flight midfielders. Hence, F95 will probably have to over-rely upon the relatively green Garbuschewski or underperforming Cha  as the real engines of the offense on the right flank.
Fortuna’s strength lies up top with Ilsø as attacking midfielder and Rafael as the lurking poacher and strong presence in the box. Though don’t expect these men to get the best service, since Fortuna simply a notch behind other Bundesliga clubs in terms of quality. However, what F95 relinquish in technique, they gain back in fight and persistence with Lumpi’s crackling personality.
Prediction:
17th and relegation.
I’m so sad to predict this result, but it’s honest. Fortuna don’t have the quality to stay up. In sum, they’ll leak goals and struggle offensively through the midfield. Besides, if this club struggled as much as they did in the 2.Bundesliga Hinrunde last season, then I don’t think we can merely wish away weaknesses simply because they snuck into promotion – anyhow, I can think you can validly argue that the current squad is a touch weaker on quality than the 2011-2012 iteration.
Fortuna’s only hope will be Meier tactical smoke and mirrors to compensate for their weaker sqaud, good luck, or “diamonds in the rough” lurking on the bench, who will develop into bluechip starlets for F95.
Personally, I’ll be cheering for Lumpi, Ronny, Ilsø, and Bellinghausen, as well as welcoming the cauldron of supporters at Esprit Arena, who broke the record for season tickets sold. This squad and their fans are so lovable. So enjoy F95 and their dashing new kits with odd letter detailing while you can.
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Travis serves as an editor and regular columnist here. He writes for Howler magazine's website, as well as The Short Pass where he covers the USL and other topics. Born and groomed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Travis is a college English instructor in Pittsburgh. Coffee, books, and sports are his passions. His writing has also appeared in Bloomberg Sports, the Good Man Project, and his former blog, Sportisourstory.tumblr.com, and elsewhere. He tweets at @tptimmons. Heja BVB!

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