FC Ingolstadt 04 Season Preview: Another Season in Limbo for the Audi Boys?

Even a beautiful ground at the Audi Sportpark in the factory town of the famous German car manufacturer doesn’t seem to help this club, as FC Ingolstadt 04 have failed to gain much ground in their three 2. Bundesliga seasons, unable to finish in the top ten in each time. After tying for 11th with VfL Bochum in 2011/12, Ingolstadt took a step back last season and finished tied for 12th one point behind Duisburg. It was business as usual as one of the 2. Bundesliga’s lower-table clubs.

Affected by Low Attendance

Ingolstadt did manage to improve their point total to 42, but at the end of the day a 10-12-12 season in their 3rd run through 2.Bundesliga puts the club in limbo. Ingolstadt  is too big of a club to be toiling away in the 3. Liga, but not nearly deep or talented enough to make a run at promotion or in the Pokal. Yet the club is also a handful of wins away from being mid-table, or losses away from relegation. In the city of roughly 127,000 people, Ingolstadt hasn’t grown its fanbase with these limbo-like results. Their home attendance barely surpasses the 7,000 mark.

The low attendance figures amd resulting low ticket revenue prevent Ingolstadt from increasing squad depth, curbing the club’s development. Three years of survival, but no mid-table breakthrough, makes the 2013/14 season a defining one for FC Ingolstadt with the mission to finally vault themselves into a position that at least give supporters hope it can grow towards promotion.

Oral Out, Kurz In

With manager Thomas Oral being let go at the end of the 2012/13 season, the man now entrusted with that mission is Marco Kurz, a manager with 2. Bundesliga experience at Kaiserslautern and nearby 1860 München. Kurz, 44, managed Hoffenheim briefly until being dismissed this April and now returns to the 2. Bundesliga after guiding Kaiserslautern to promotion in 2009/10 with 19 wins. A former defender at 1. FC Nürnberg and 1860, Kurz kept Kaiserslautern up in their first season in the Bundesliga, as the club finishing in a surprising 7th place finish, before a disastrous 2011/12 season brought relegation and Kurz’s departure from the club.

However, Kurz did not have to wait long to get another shot at the Bundesliga, getting a second chance during Hoffenheim’s survival campaign after the winter break.   He couldn’t right the ship, though, and was dismissed after posting a 2-2-6 record. Having won 2. Bundesliga just three seasons ago, Ingolstadt Sporting Director Thomas Linke is counting on Kurz again finding success in the second division.

With Kurz, Ingolstadt hope to have a manager who can propel them to the next level. Whilst his 2. Bundesliga record isn’t that impressive (39-20-28 lifetime record), Ingolstadt fans should be happy that the team made a serious effort towards promotion by bringing in a manager who will be a massive upgrade from Thomas Oral, who couldn’t quite get Ingolstadt to grow in the right direction during his two-year stay. With Kurz, there is no doubt that they have a manager who is qualified to push the team to new heights.

New Arrivals

Kurz must deal with Oral’s leftovers. Although Ingolstadt added three key players, it didn’t exactly overhaul the squad or inject a ton of money into new transfers. Defensive midfielder Alfredo Morales from Hertha Berlin and left-back Danilo Teodoro Soares from SC Austria Lustenau (of the Austrian Erste Liga) should shore up the back and inject some young blood after being signed to full-term deals. The most exciting addition for Ingolstadt, however, isl undoubtedly Schalke loanee Philipp Hofmann, who had a breakout season on loan with SC Paderborn last year, scoring 7 goals in 31 matches. The 20-year old will give Ingolstadt a much-needed threat up front. Hofmann’s seven goals last season would have been good enough to be Ingolstadt’s second leading scorer during 2012/13, and the promising young Schalke talent will be expected to grow even further this season. The deal was done on the cheap, but still should bolster Ingolstadt’s finishing, despite doing little to help in the depth department.

Hofmann will pair with Caiuby up front, who was Ingolstadt’s leading scorer last season with 10 goals. A former Wolfsburg prospect, Caiuby has found a home in Ingolstadt and has been their best young attacker, bouncing back from a letdown of a 2011/12 season where he scored just one goal. In 2012/13, he hit double figures for the first time in his career, good enough for Top 10 in the 2. Bundesliga. Crucially, he scored a late header against FC Erzgebirge Aue to keep Ingolstadt up for another season. At 24, Caiuby was Ingolstadt’s workhorse last season, playing the most minutes of any outfield player (2730) and will be expected to continue to grow this season. If Caiuby can continue to shine with the added help of Hofmann, Ingolstadt should have much more firepower this season than last year, as Christian Eigler was the club’s second-highest scorer with a measly 6-goal tally.

At the back, the addition of Soares will do well to replace Andreas Schafer, who left for FC Viktoria Köln after playing 2378 minutes in 27 appearances last season. Soares will be an upgrade and at 21 years of age has much more potential than Schafer. Beyond the replacement of Schafer with Soares, a player 8 years younger, Ingolstadt should look nearly identical to last season.

Season Preview

Despite the three new youngsters brought in for this season, Ingolstadt  supporters will still be disappointed that more money was not spent. The squad has been built cheaply; for example, just 100,000€ was spent on keeper André Weis from VfB Stuttgart. Yes, they added younger talent at keeper, defender, midfield and striker, but by the same token these four moves seem small for a club not even close to promotion. That lack of overhaul makes the pressure on Kurz extremely high as he has to now find a way to make things work with the players he was given, rather than rebuilding from ground up.

For now, Kurz seems to be guiding Ingolstadt in the right direction based on their unbeaten play during their preseason friendlies, including an impressive win over Borussia Mönchengladbach and a 0-0 draw with Maccabi Tel Aviv in June and July. Kurz’s philosophy is rather simplistic and based on a 4-4-2 formation that will provide young strikers Caiuby and Hofmann plenty of playing time, a formation that he has translated to 2. Bundesliga success before. That simplicity has led to a quick transition under Kurz and clean sheets in four friendlies, something that bodes well for the beginning of the season.

Kurz has been saddled with the burden of trying to find the magic mix from a group of young and rather unproven players as the club tries to grow itself and make some real strides. Currently, life at FC Ingolstadt 04 remains  about survival, but at some point this club is going to sink or swim, and the 2013/14 season will go a long way in showing us if  Kurz will the man to teach the club how to swim across to the Bundesliga or drown with the club entirely. The former is the most likely outcome as an improved manager and a team that increased their point total last season should make another step in the right direction and see mid-table success this season.

Header courtesy of brc08.de

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