Season Preview 2014-2015: 1. FC Köln

nicknames: Geißböcke (billy goats), Effzeh (local dialect for ‘FC’)

founded: 13 February 1948

club colors: white and red

primary rivals: Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Fortuna Düsseldorf

fan friendship: Borussia Dortmund

trophies

  • Bundesliga champion(2): 1963-64, 1977-78
  • DFB Cup winner(4): 1967-68, 1976-77, 1977-78, 1982-83

 

stadium: RheinEnergieStadion (formerly Müngersdorfer Stadion)

opened: 1923 (renovated 2001-2004)

2013-14 Finishes:

2. Bundesliga: Champion

DFB Pokal: 3rd round

capacity: 50,000

2013-14 attendance: 784,348 (46,235 per match)

The 1. FC Köln are returning to the Bundesliga after a two year absence. It is not the club’s first time trying to re-establish itself semi-permanently in the first division, where it feels it belongs considering the club’s size and history, but it does arrive this time with a different outlook on the future, thanks to the leadership tandem of sporting director Jörg Schmadtke and coach Peter Stöger.

The media swirl in the Cathedral City and the ravenous expectations of the fan base have eaten alive many of Schmadtke’s and Stöger’s predecessors. Though it’s early, the duo seem to possess the demeanor needed to successfully navigate the distractions so that the focus can remain fixed on football above all else.

And both men have already proven elsewhere they can deliver the goods. Schmadtke’s work  at Hannover helped the red shirts move from the edge of relegation to their most-successful era. Stöger was at the helm for FK Austria Wien’s 2012-13 Austrian Bundesliga title before moving to Köln to help return the Billy Goats to the Bundesliga.

But it’s the men on the pitch who will determine the fate of this storied club, and it’s a very young and inexperienced group of men which has been charged with the task of securing 15th place sometime before the end of the campaign. Few on the Köln roster have much Bundesliga-level experience, and those who do have limited time in Germany’s top flight and none of it all too recently.

Yet, with DFB Cup opponents last year praising the Effzeh by saying they’re a Bundesliga-ready side and looking at the assembly of young talent, there is plenty of reason for fans to feel good about retaining the class, if not also maybe becoming one of the season’s surprises and creeping into the middle of the table.

Though the Patrick Helmes-Anthony Ujah tandem never quite found its rhythm last season, both are proven goal-scorers. Schmadtke secured one of the second division’s top young guns from 1. FC Kaiserslautern in Simon Zoller and snagged Japanese sensation Yuya Osako from 1860 München to bolster the options at striker.

In the midfield, Yannick Gerhardt is widely considered one of Germany’s top young talents, and the Bundsliga will get to see him in action thanks to Köln’s rising star having decided against a transfer to Portugal power Benfica over the summer.

Defensive depth was a huge area needing improvement, especially for the rigors of the Bundesliga. Central defense was bolstered by grabbing Mergim Mavraj from SpVgg Greuther Fürth and a loan of Czech national Tomas Kalas from Chelsea. Pawel Olkowski, coming from Gornik Zabrze, is a versatile player for the right side of the field, ostensibly a long-term replacement for aging captain Miso Brecko at right back, but already showing he can step capably into midfield as he did in replacing injured Marcel Risse for Köln’s DFB Cup opening-round 0:4 victory over FT Braunschweig.

If you ask the fans, this season is just a rest stop before next year’s run into Europe. Some of the fans actually mean it, while others say it because such bravado is stereotypically Effzeh. What is not as stereotypical is the measured approach by those in charge in the club.

And that may ultimately be the difference in this return to the Bundesliga.

Club Reputation

Though fans of the club have a healthy amount of self-deprecation when dealing with their reputation as “only a Karneval club,” the struggle to stay in the Bundesliga over recent years makes the celebration of what is intended as an insult increasingly less charming. The size of the city and club should be enough to have the first Bundesliga champions and consistent power in German football, yet it’s a tradition of mismanagement that reigns in the Cathedral City.

Reality

Köln’s most-recent relegation, from the 2011-12 season, triggered a massive response inside the club. Jörg Schmadtke was brought in to help get a grip on player personnel, and Andreas Wehrle came to help get finances in line. The moves seem to have the club headed in the right direction. When Holger Stanislawski stepped down at the end of his first year, it was the sort of thing that would have helped torpedo the rebuilding process under prior regimes. Instead, it opened the door for Austrian coach Peter Stöger to arrive and quickly gain a place of high esteem among fans. By winter break last year, people were already referring to the new-look Billy Goats as a “Bundesliga-quality side.” Now everyone will get to see whether or not that is the case.

Philosophy

Perhaps nothing is more telling of the shift in how the club is going about its business than the casual distancing of itself from favorite native son Lukas Podolski. ‘Poldi’ headed to London to play for Arsenal while his beloved club headed to the second division to rehabilitate itself. The question as to when, not whether, the two-time effzeh winger will return arises frequently. To their credit, all concerned speak first about what’s right for the team and club finances, rather than attempting to shoehorn the player into plans and then structuring around him. Laying a foundation without the single identifiable building block is a new approach for the club. So far, it has paid dividends . . . but it is early.

Plan B

Despite getting 23 goals from storm duo Patrick Helmes and Anthony Ujah, Köln went striker shopping and snagged Simon Zoller, who had 13 goals in 28 appearances for FC Kaiserslautern last season, and Yuya Osako, who potted six in 15 matches after joining 1860 München at the winter break. The signings could indicate that Stöger is looking for more offensive flexibility at the top level, but whatever the strategy is, he will not lack for options.

Strengths

Stöger arrived to 1. FC Köln with a reputation for a highly productive, attacking brand of football, from his championship run with FK Austrian Wien. Yet, his first year in Köln is most notable for the defensive efforts of his club which led to a total of 20 goals conceded in the league, which Köln fans will be happy to tell you is fewer than even what almighty Bayern München allowed in their dominant 2013-14 Bundesliga campaign. Stöger and Schmadtke have each indicated they believe play will be a little more open in the top flight, which they hope will allow the offense to shine as brightly.

Weaknesses

When you build through youth, you eventually have to deal with the fact that young players are . . . well . . . young. Keeper Timo Horn has been outstanding for the Billy Goats the last two seasons, in general, but he also, at times, showed his inexperience in making key mistakes. Likewise for another rising young star, Yannick Gerhardt, who is poised to become a key to the future of the club at defensive midfield. Additionally, left back Jonas Hector is a converted midfielder about to take a huge step up in class of competition. The margins for error for the developing players will be greatly diminished in Germany’s top flight. How quickly they adapt will make a huge difference in how Köln starts their survival campaign.

Takeaway from 2013-14

The 1. FC Köln will arrive to the Bundesliga with the confidence from their DFB Cup play against FSV Mainz 05 and Hamburger SV, as well as their having dominated the 2.Bundesliga last season. But as they learned when they were bounced from the tournament by HSV, playing well is not the same as getting the required results. They were held scoreless nine times last year, but managed five points from those matches. Scoring droughts in the Bundesliga will not always have such acceptable returns.

Trivia

The 20 goals allowed last season is a new 2.Bundesliga record, shattering Preußen Münster’s 1978-79 prior mark of 25. Bayern München’s 2012-13 mark of 18 remains tops for professional German football.

Verdict

Stöger and Schmadtke proved last season they were willing to under-promise and over-deliver, as they preached patience from the start, selling the idea that the rise to the Bundesliga would be a long road. One year later, the same tone is being taken with the excitable fan base and media outlets of the football-crazy city, stating again and again that the goal is 15th place. With a high ratio of players lacking Bundesliga experience and new faces to integrate into the system, we may not see early returns for the second-division champion, but there is enough depth and experience to survive until everyone gets comfortable in their new surroundings. Expect this team to at least achieve their very modest goal.

The Boss

The frenzied Köln media had Peter Stöger tagged as a fall-back choice for the 1. FC Köln, after assuming that both Mike Büskens and Roger Schmidt had been targeted, but turned out to be unwilling to be lured to the club. Because Schmadtke and Wehrle held their cards closely, nobody really knew much different when reports surfaced they were in negotiations with FK Austria Wien to secure the release their coach to bring him to Köln. Now, with Büskens having flunked out at Fortuna Düsseldorf and Schmidt taking the reigns at Bayer Leverkusen, everyone is happy to tell you that Stöger was the clear candidate all along. It helps, of course, that he led the team decisively to promotion in his first season. He and co-trainer Manfred Schmid signed extensions this summer to keep them in the fold until 2017, but as far as the locals are concerned right now, the duo can have lifetime contracts.

“60-second dossier”

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals:  11

Number of Matches won by 1 goal:  8

Number of Matches drawn:  11

Number of Matches lost by 1 goal:  3

Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals:  1

Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in loss:  0

Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in draw:  2

Number of matches in which a defecit was overcome to earn a draw:  4

Number of matches in which a defecit was overcome to earn victory:  4

Top Scorers

Patrick Helmes – 12

Anthony Ujah – 11

Marcel Risse – 9

Daniel Halfar, Yannick Gerhardt, Miso Brecko, Slawomir Peszko (tie) – 3

questions with a club fan:

Dominik Hardt is a life-long fan of 1. FC Köln and contributing writer to effzeh.com, a German-language blog intensely focused on the club. Follow him on Twitter at @DooMiniK2k.

  • Keep an eye out for . . . “If you followed the club last season: none. There won’t be too many chances for trying new players as long as the key players are fit. The ones not in the starting eleven you might be interested in are Kevin Wimmer and Bard Finne.”

  • Terrace favorite . . . “All of them. Seriously. I’ve never seen the whole crowd standing united behind the team like this before. Probably Anthony Ujah, Marcel Risse, or Yannick Gerhardt stand out a little but everyone can feel loved right now.”

  • Player you’d happily drive to another club . . . “It’s 25 players right now. I’d rather add a few than get rid of someone. Even though I don’t get what Thomas Bröker is still doing here.”

  • Advice you’d give your manager . . . “Maintain this beautiful calm you and your staff established over the last year and you’ll be able to achieve everything with everyone behind your back.”

  • Opposition player you secretly admire . . . “Secretly, right? The only allowed answer here is Kevin Großkreutz, not-so-secret effzeh-Fan himself.”

  • Opposition player you despise . . . “Marco Reus. But for personal reasons, nothing to do with his sports performance.”

  • What will opposing sides underestimate? . . . “That there’s a team on the pitch/turf that will fight and run for one another. There are no big names, nothing on paper to be afraid of. That’s Cologne’s recipe for success.”
  • What are fans overestimating? . . . The team. To be fair, Cologne fans always seem a little out of touch with the real world, but most of them know what’s going on. I myself wrote about Cologne winning the championship this season. Which actually is possible. . . but just as it is for all the other 17 teams.”
  • Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting Müngersdorf for the first time  . . . “Get in contact with some of the locals, preferably prior to the game, stick to them and enjoy a full day including game prep (drinking beer early morning) and victory celebration (regardless of the game’s result). And make sure to have standing-place tickets.”

  • Where will you finish? . . .  On one of the 15 positions that entitle us to play Bundesliga next season. Ask me after week 5 and I’ll tell you if it is somewhere between five and eight or close to being relegated.”

  • What is your all-time favorite Effzeh memory? . . . “Most of them are great. One of them is a match vs. Hertha BSC where Lukas Podolski was sent off (for no reason, seriously), and the whole crowd was whistling at the ref for the remaining 20 minutes. That day was the loudest I ever experienced inside any stadium, way louder than the promotion in 2008, which was breath-taking as well.”

fixture list

August

  • 23 Hamburger SV (H)
  • 30 VfB Stuttgart (A)

September

  • 13 SC Paderborn (A)
  • 21 Borussia Mönchengladbach (H)
  • 24 Hannover 96 (A)
  • 27 FC Bayern München (H)

October

  • 04 Eintracht Frankfurt (H)
  • 18 Borussia Dortmund (A)
  • 25 Werder Bremen (H)

November

  • 01 SC Freiburg (H)
  • 08 1899 Hoffenheim (A)
  • 22 Hertha BSC (H)
  • 29 Bayer Leverkusen (A)

December

  • 06 FC Augsburg (H)
  • 13 Schalke 04 (A)
  • 16 Mainz 05 (H)
  • 20 VfL Wolfsburg (A)

January

  • 31 Hamburger SV (A)

February

  • 03 VfB Stuttgart (H)
  • 07 SC Paderborn (H)
  • 14 Borussia Mönchengladbach (A)
  • 22 Hannover 96 (H)
  • 28 FC Bayern München (A)

March

  • 07 Eintracht Frankfurt (H)
  • 14 Borussia Dortmund (A)
  • 21 Werder Bremen (H)

April

  • 04 SC Freiburg (A)
  • 11 1899 Hoffenheim (H)
  • 18 Hertha BSC (A)
  • 25 Bayern Leverkusen (H)

May

  • 02 FC Augsburg (A)
  • 09 Schalke 04 (H)
  • 16 FSV Mainz (A)
  • 23 VfL Wolfsburg (H)

crucial stretch in schedule

There is a five-match stretch starting toward the end of September that sandwiches English week visits from hated rival Borussia Mönchengladbach and the always-daunting Bayern München around a trip to Hannover 96. The matchday that follows is a visit from Eintracht Frankfurt, maybe being already a crucial home match, what with a visit to Borussia Dortmund lingering after that. If the FC can emerge from that in reasonable shape, they should be able to get to winter break feeling pretty good about things. Take a beating over those five matches, and it could be a blue Christmas in the relegation zone.

 

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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