When Süleyman Koc was taken off the pitch by his coach Andre Breitenreiter in the 81st minute of the match against Mainz Sunday, hethe ovation of the Benteler-Arena rang in his ears. The 25-year-old had just debuted in the Bundesliga, as one of Paderborn’s most creative players going forward. Germany’s biggest football magazine, kicker, rewarded Koc with a grade of 2.5 (1 being the best and 6 being the worst grade) for his efforts. Not bad for a player who has only played half a season at the Bundesliga 2 level before getting promoted to the Bundesliga.
For Paderborn, this season is about achieving something that most people deem to be impossible: staying in the league. For many players, like Uwe Hünemeier or Marvin Bakalorz, this season represents a second chance. Both players had been dropped by Bundesliga sides, because they weren’t considered to be good enough. Coach Breitenreiter has been at the club for more than a year now, because the club chose to take a chance on an inexperienced coach who only had led a 4th tier side before joining Paderborn. Now he has a chance to shine in one of Europe’s finest leagues.
Every expert and most Bundesliga followers regard the club from North-Rhine Westphalia to be too weak to stay in the league. Paderborn had the smallest budget of all second division sides last season, but yet they still managed to achieve the impossible and won promotion to the Bundesliga. After the Hinrunde, Paderborn were only in 9th position, but the team’s excellent Rückrunde saw them take a big leap into second place. Süleyman Koc helped the team to achieve all this with 2 goals and 2 assists upon his arrival from 4th tier side SV Babelsberg 03.
From talent to inmate
The fact that Süleyman Koc has made it to the Bundesliga is almost a miracle. The midfielder had been a promising talent at third tier level upon arriving at Babelsberg, stirring the interest of several clubs from the Bundesliga 2. Even the Turkish football association took an interest, and there was talk about Koc getting a nomination for the Turkish U21 national team. However, all of that changed on April 18th in 2011. On that day, the police stormed the apartment of Süleyman Koc’s brother Sedat, arresting the two of them.
The brothers were suspects in case involving a gang of younger men robbing casinos in Berlin. The yellow press in Berlin labelled the gang as the ‘machete gang’, given their tendency to use knifes, swords and machetes during their robberies.
‘I couldn’t say no’, Koc would later say during the trial. The footballer felt lonely at his new club in Babelsberg, and two of his brother’s friends needed of a place to live. The friends were living a fast life between drugs and crime. At first, they needed Koc’s car; later on, they asked him to be the getaway driver. Koc would wait in the car, whilst his brother and his two friends would rob cafes and casinos.
Koc even managed to make one of his teammates, Guido Kocer, join in one of the group’s robberies. Kocer staked out the place before the robbery, as he later confessed to the police. His career wouldn’t suffer from his actions, as Kocer was handed an 18 months sentence on probation. Afterwards, Kocer would move on to become a regular at Erzgebirge Aue.
Süleyman Koc, on the other hand, kept his mouth shut when questioned by authorities. First during the trial, he started talking, apologising to the victims and explaining that he loved his brother dearly and that he couldn’t say no. The judged handed Koc a sentence of 3 years and 9 months.
The footballer spent the first 11 months of his sentence in prison, oftentimes only seeing the outside of his cell for one hour of a day. A warden took Koc outside and onto a football pitch 3 or 4 times during that time. ‘You’re good, make your second chance count’, the warden told Koc.
Making the second chance count
The time inside had been the worst time of his life, the player confessed later on in an interview with 11 Freunde. Upon his release, Süleyman Koc asked his former club to take him back. At first Koc was allowed to join the training sessions of Babelsberg, despite a number of board members having serious doubts about allowing a former prisoner back into the fold. Koc’s teammates Anton Makarenko and Almedin Civa had written him letters while he was in prison, telling him that the team missed him.
The midfielder’s inability to say no was apparent even during his time in prison. During that time, he gave several training suits sent by his family to other inmates who were far worse off than him. Upon his release, Koc started psycho therapy and worked on being able to set boundaries.
In the end, Koc was rewarded with a one year deal by Babelsberg. At the end of the season, SV were relegated, but Koc had conducted himself professionally, causing the club to extend his contract. During the Hinrunde of the Regionalliga Nord/Ost, Koc scored 8 goals in 14 matches, once again stirring the interest of a higher division side.
The fact that Koc had spent time in prison was well known, but SC Paderborn president Wilfried Finke wasn’t too worried about the player’s past upon signing him, stating in the press:
I’ve gotten to know the player personally. Everybody does deserve a second chance in life!
Eight months later, Süleyman Koc was on the pitch during a first division Bundesliga match, one in which he distinguished himself as one of the top players that day. Second chances don’t come around for everybody, but several of the players at SC Paderborn have received the opportunity to redeem themselves in Germany’s top flight with the small-budget club from the North-Rhine Westphalia. Given Süleyman’s Koc’s life story, one could be tempted to state that he has already taken his second chance, but both Koc and the rest of the club are not going to rest until they have managed to achieve another impossible goal – staying in the Bundesliga.
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