The collapse of Fortuna Düsseldorf: What went wrong?

Fortuna Düsseldorf began the season as one of the darlings of the Bundesliga. They started their 2012/13 Bundesliga campaign with five straight clean sheets on their way to two wins and three draws. To begin the season, Norbert Maier’s Fortuna came out blazing after being promoted to the top flight, beating Hertha Berlin in the promotion/relegation playoff.

After that 2-3-0 starting streak, things would level off but, at the winter break, Düsseldorf still had a respectable 5-6-6 record, one that gave them the appearance of a club that would be able to fight off relegation. Norbert Maier’s defensive tactics, while maligned by those who favor a more attacking game, were effective to begin the season and it showed in the results, as Fortuna managed to pull off a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund, even managing to put in some offensive performances in the first half of the season, such as a 2-2 draw with Schalke and a 4-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, which led them to a 13th place finish in the Hinrunde.

However, the Rückrunde would turn out to be a nightmare for Fortuna. After rising to the occasion in the first 17 matches, the complete opposite could be said about their campaign after the winter break. Everything seemed to fall apart for them from then on as they registered just two wins, one on February 2nd over Stuttgart, when Robbie Kruse’s brace lifted them to victory, and a 1-0 win over bottom club Greuther Fürth on February 16th.

After that point, the magic was gone, Düsseldorf lost seven of its last eight matches, getting just three points from February 16th onwards, points that come from draws with Wolfsburg, Mainz and Werder Bremen which closed their campaign with a whimper. That magic and fight to claw to nil-nil draws that drew the attention of the Bundesliga towards them in the opening month of the 2012/13 campaign seemed to be absent from the players as the season progressed. Matches that a team that would stave off relegation would get a result from, Düsseldorf could not do such thing, as all three of their aforementioned draws came at the hands of equalizers from their opponents in the second half.


Fortuna’s week-to-week season progress

One could point to the record amount of transfers that Maier made as an excuse for Fortuna’s woes, but that would just be wrong. This side had the chance to gel after the moves to create a team to stay up were made before the season, but were unable to get the job done. Sitting in 15th place in the table for a nine-game streak, all they needed was just one win to send Hoffenheim to the 2.Bundesliga and match Augsburg’s result at Greuther Fürth to avoid finishing out of the bottom three, but it was simply not in the cards.

Looking back, their 3-0 loss away to Hoffenheim could be pointed at as the turning point in both Fortuna and Hoffenheim’s season, a match which gave Hoffenheim  a chance to put out their  fire and start their  battle to avoid relegation. Fortuna’s 3-0 drubbing in what was Markus Gisdol’s first match as manager of Hoffenheim was indeed a turning point. That result, compounded with the failures to hang onto results in the second half, show why Fortuna will be battling in the 2. Bundesliga come August.

In the end, this should not come as a surprise as the Fortuna squad wasn’t particularly special. Dani Schahin, their leading goalscorer, managed just eight goals and only one other player amassed more than five goals, Stefan Reisinger with 7. No matter what tactics Maier could come up with and all the defensive fight in the world, the fact was that this recently promoted side was almost always the lesser XI on the pitch could not be overcome. In the end, even their sterling start to the season could not save them.

Next year, Fortuna Düsseldorf will look to begin their climb back to the top flight of the Bundesliga. They are a club that has seen massive heights and lows in their history, so it is not an unusual event for them. Their relegation didn’t come without a valiant fight from their manager and players but, at the end of the day, Fortuna was not Bundesliga caliber and despite their blazing start, they could not find that same magic to save them at the end. A lesser glory awaits them in the fall, but Fortuna Düsseldorf’s fighting spirit, especially on the defensive side of the pitch, should not be forgotten as we look forward to August.

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