1. FC Köln at Rückrunde Start: Modest Goals and Big Dreams

“Fifteenth place.”

Certainly not “at least fifteenth so we have a chance to defend our position in the Bundesliga,” but also not “comfortably above the relegation spots,” “firmly mid-table,” or “flirting with Europe.”

Coming into the season as one of the two clubs promoted from the 2. Bundesliga, leadership at the 1. FC Köln established a firm goal for the 2014-15 season and one that does not entirely mesh with the stereotypical expectations of its rabid fan base.

“Fourth from bottom” is not exactly the stuff of “Europapokal” dreams, which, if you talk to any fan of the Billy Goats for any length of time, is precisely where their beloved club is headed at any and every juncture . . . eventually.

Hence, when Peter Stöger’s crew began their campaing with a steady stream of points, fuelled by a stetch of clean sheets that had both Köln mingling near the top of the table early in the season, nobody from the front offices joined along when the fans would sing, “First round Budapest; second round, Rome . . .”

Despite compiling the second-lowest goals-scored total in the league and winning just one game before their home faithful, Köln finished the Hinrunde as the second-best road team and settled in eleventh place for the winter break, able to reflect fondly on victories over Borussia Dortmund and at Schalke on what had to be regarded as a successful, if far from flawless, first-half of the campaign to establish the tradition-laden club as Bundesliga perennials.

And all the while, the song remained the same.

“Fifteenth place is the goal.”

The actions of the 1. FC Köln, though, tell a slightly more-optimistic tale.

Though Köln leveraged a well-organized defense to win a mid-table spot for Christmas, Stöger and sporting director Jörg Schmadtke seem determined to improve the offensive production, rather than hope to squeeze enough points for survival from a strictly defensive position. In the club’s Florida Cup-clinching 3:2 victory over Brazil’s Fluminense FC, Stöger’s selected eleven definitely showed a more aggressive offensive game plan than what had been seen in the first half of the season. Rumors of Köln potentially playing in a 3-4-3 formation certainly raised some eyebrows in the Domstadt. Whether that comes to fruition or no, everyone is expecting to see some evidence of effort put into becoming a better goal-manufacturing side.

Along those lines, the hottest transfer chatter surrounding the club all winter was confirmed by Schmadtke when he said he would like to land former Hoffenheim attacking-midfielder Carlos Eduardo. With an absence of creativity from the midfield being a huge contributor to the lack of offensive flow, the hope would seem to be that the highly skilled Brazilian could provide a link between the stout defense and better presence in the opposition’s defensive zones.

More dynamism from the midfield could also take a bit of pressure away from the search for a second scoring threat from the striker corps. especially now that pricey summer purchase Simon Zoller was loaned back to selling club 1. FC Kaiserslautern this week to replace the departed Srdjan Lakic. Stöger still has another transfer from last summer, Yuya Osako, to work into the action, as well as the young and talented Bård Finne, but most of Planet EffZeh continues to expect some late transfer window magic from Schmadtke.

Just a few weeks ago, Finne was thought to be on his way to Bavaria on loan to 1860 München. The 19-year-old Norwegian then delivered goals in each of two friendly matches, seemingly enough to end any speculation of his going away in the current window.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN7iIO0u6Dk

But the personnel moves and expansion of offensive strategy are not the only signals that Köln mean business beyond surviving their Bundesliga-reentry season.

Plans to expand the capacity of RheinEnergieStadion by 50% to 75,000 by 2018 would seem to indicate that leadership have bigger plans for the club. Though the stadium at Müngersdorf was often filled even for second-division matches, the idea of consistenly having that many fans in attendance and collecting enough money to make the investment worthwhile leans more toward regular participation in mid-week matches on the continent, lofty goals for a club that has been better known for their trips between the top two leagues in Germany than for their European adventures over the last two decades.

One goal established and achieved in the winter break, though, revolves around the concept of “Karneval Club.” Depending on who is using it to refer to the 1. FC Köln, “just a Karneval Club” is either an insult or a warmly embraced term of endearment. Fans of the FC love being a Karnevalsverein, and now their Verein has taken action to make official the long-standing relationship between the city’s biggest tradition and it’s biggest football club.

Club president Werner Spinner, after the deal for the club to become a “promoting member” of the Cologne Karneval Festival Committee, said that the agreement only meant his club had work to do to live up to the expectations of Karneval.

“Our members and fans love football, but they also love the Karneval — you know at least that much if you’ve ever experienced how thousands of fans, on Karneval Saturday, travel costumed to Munich or Aue to support us,” detailed Spinner. “Though this step, we are still no Karneval club. This title must be earned over the years, just as must be establishment in the Bundesliga.”

And that’s where things sit as the 1. FC Köln prepare to start the second half of the season in Hamburg. The goal for the next few months may seem very low, but finishing at fifteenth would mean that all the plans for a bigger and brighter future can continue without too much interruption. The pace may not be satisfactory to all, but if we know anything about the people of Cologne, we can bet that they’ll enjoy the ride, however it goes.

Even if, by nature, they can’t take Schmadtke’s directive to stay ruhig.

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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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