2016-17 Season Preview: Will 1. FC Köln Pursue European Glory?

Basics

nicknames: Geißböcke (Billy Goats), FC, ‘effzeh’ (local dialect for ‘FC’), Rut un Wiess (red and white)
founded: 13 February 1948
club colors: white and red
primary rivals: Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Fortuna Düsseldorf
fan friendship: Borussia Dortmund

Stadium

RheinEnergieStadion (formerly Müngersdorfer) opened in 1923 (renovated 2001-2004)

capacity: 50,000
2015-16 attendance: 827,500 (48,676 per match)

Trophies

Bundesliga champion(2): 1963-64, 1977-78
DFB Cup winner(4): 1967-68, 1976-77, 1977-78, 1982-83
Florida Cup winner: 2015

2014-15 Finishes

Bundesliga: 9th with 43 points (38 goals scored, 42 goals conceded)
DFB Pokal: 2rd round (1-0 loss at SV Werder Bremen)

Number of Matches won by 2 or more goals5
Number of Matches won by 1 goal: 5
Number of Matches drawn: 13
Number of Matches lost by 1 goal: 5
Number of Matches lost by 2 or more goals: 6
Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in loss: 1
Number of matches in which a led was blown, resulting in draw:  4
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn a draw:  4
Number of matches in which a deficit was overcome to earn victory:  4

Top 2015-16 Scorers

Anthony Modeste: 15
Simon Zoller: 6
Marcel Risse: 3
Leonardo Bittencourt: 3

Summer Test Results

Record: 5-0-2
Goals Scored: 12
Goals Allowed: 5
Arminia Bielefeld 2:3 FC
Fortuna Köln 1:0 FC
FC 0:1 FC Malaga (45-minute match in Aachen)
FC 0:1 Olympique Marseille (45-minute match in Aachen)
FC 1:0 FC Bologna (in Kitzbühel)
FC 2:0 SD Eibar (in Kitzbühel)
1. FSV Mainz 0:3 FC

Transfer Action

IN: 

  • Sehrou Guirassy (LOSC Lille)
  • Marco Höger (FC Schalke 04)
  • Artjoms Rudnevs (Hamburger SV)
  • Konstantin Rausch (SV Darmstadt 98)

OUT:

  • Yannick Gerhardt (VfL Wolfsburg)
  • Kevin Vogt (TSG Hoffenheim)
  • Dusan Svento (Slavia Prag)
  • Philipp Hosiner (end of loan from Rennes, transferred to 1. FC Union Berlin)

Questions with a Club Fan:

You can purchase Born’s book at Amazon.de

A native of Cologne from the day of his birth in 1985, Mirko Born was raised from an early age to follow the right club. Knowing the glory days of FC only from hearing about them, his FC experience has long been only promotion and relegation battles. Any title of any kind would undoubtedly overwhelm his mental capacities. Yet, he has maintained his space in Köln’s famous Südkurve (South End) for 15 years.

In his online column “Born Staubt Ab” for Köln tabloid newspaper Express, he has covered match-day events in a totally biased manner and made a name for himself among FC fans.

A collection of Born’s columns are also available as a book: Aufgestiegen dringeblieben: Born staubt ab – Zwei FC-Jahre zum Verlieben (Promoted stayed in: Born cleans up – Two FC-years to fall in love with)

Keep an eye out for . . .

Well, I don’t think there is a clear answer to give. As in the last three years, the team works best as a collective.

But I do think that Leon Bittencourt will play a good season. In the last year, he has delivered some great performances. With the renewal of his contract until 2021, he proved that he has some plans with Cologne.

Another player I am looking forward to watching this season is Milos Jojic. He had a bad run last year, but in the last few matches of the season he showed his potential. Maybe he will be like another “new signing.”

And, of course: What will Sehrou Guirassy do? Is he worth the money Jörg Schmadtke paid?

Terrace favorite . . .

The FC is becoming more and more the team of Cologne natives. Timo Horn, Marcel Risse, Marco Höger, Thomas Kessler, Lukas Klünter, Salih Özcan, and Marcel Hartel all were born in Cologne or in the surrounding area. With this team of “Kölsche Jungs” it is not too difficult to identify with the team.

But of course there are some favorite players, too.

Jonas Hector: the silent star player. He is the FC’s first national team player since Prinz Poldi (Lukas Podolski) and played a great Euro-Cup. He refused offers from the Premier League and from FC Barcelona, just to extend his contract with the Effzeh. Who would not love this guy?

You also have Timo Horn. He is not only one of the best three keepers of the league (some see him as number two behind Manuel Neuer), he is also a Kölsche Jung par excellence; one of us. Plus, he made us proud in Rio; the Effzeh-face of the Olympics.

Last, but not least, I think most of the little girls (and some boys) on the terrace like Leon Bittencourt. 😉

Player you’d happily drive to another club . . .

Hey, we have the smallest squad in the league! I must not send anyone anywhere.

The player I was happy to see leave the Effzeh after the season was Kevin Vogt. I could not bear his style of football. Yes, he was tall and a lighthouse in the box, someone you could substitute when you have to defend your lead in the last few minutes. But in my opinion, he often tried more than he was capable of doing. He slowed down the counterattacks. He seemed often to be distracted and destroyed promising opportunities.

Advice you’d give your manager . . .

Stay calm, just as you have the last three seasons. After being a supporter of an absolutely chaotic club over more than 20 years, i don’t want them to change anything! This is the best effzeh I have ever seen. (Please do not wake me up).

Okay, one thing. Maybe this year, you can try to risk a little more. Sure, a point is a point, but if there is a chance to go for the winner – got for it!

Opposition player you secretly admire . . .

Are you expecting some realistic players, or am i allowed to dream? Then give me David Alaba and the Beast, Arturo Vidal!

To be more realisitc: Zlatko Junuzovic of Werder Bremen. We still need someone for free kicks and corners.

And, of course I envy Wolfsburg for having Yannick Gerhardt in their team and that they were able to pay 13 million Euro to get him. Though I honestly do not envy Yannick Gerhardt for playing in Wolfsburg now. Have you seen the color of their jerseys? Come on!

Opposition player you despise . . .

The players with that awful bull on their jerseys . . .

What will opposing sides underestimate?

I think the time of underestimating the effzeh is finally over.

Really! I have never experienced so much respect for the development of the effzeh than I have in the last year. The work of Werner Spinner, Toni Schumacher, Jörg Schmadtke, Alexander Wehrle, and Peter Stöger & Co. has come to fruition. Cologne is a serious and feared member of the Bundesliga again.

Isn’t that great? Yes, it is!

What are fans overestimating?

Maybe we are not as feared as we wish, but are we not?

Okay, we are not feared, but we are irritating! Yes, that is what we are. Haha! Nasty and irritating!

Tip you’d give foreign fans visiting RheinEnergie for the first time  . . .

Come to the stadium around two hours before kickoff. Come by tube or by bike to inhale the atmosphere, which is notable all over the city.

Then have what I call a “Stadium-Breakfast.” Go to the beer stall and have one or two Kölsch and get your Stadionwurst. With a beer in the one and the bratwurst in the other, go forth among the other Cologne supporters there and chat football! Just wander over and talk to us. Remember: The spirit of Cologne is “Drink doch ene mit” (Drink one with us).

Where will you finish? . . .

I really hope that we will get another relaxed Bundesliga season. Put to rest sufficiently early any fears of relegation and secure a safe placement anywhere between 9 and 12.

And then, who knows? When we all believe and the effzeh has the luck that was denied them last year and one or two of the favorites goof a bit . . . maybe then, the breakthrough into Europe won’t seem impossible.

What is your all-time favorite 1. FC Köln memory?

I think it was the match which ultimately made me an Effzeh-Fan!

It was the 10th of July, 1995. I was nine years old when I went to good ol’ Müngersdorfer Stadion with my Dad (to this day, we go to every home match together).

I got tickets for the derby (yes, I consider it a “derby”) against Bayer Leverkusen for my First Communion.

After 60 Minutes, Leverkusen was up 3:0, after goals from Rudi Völler and Ulf Kirsten (2x), and it seemed destined to be a terrible afternoon.

But in the 67th minute, Bruno Labbadia, Patrick Weiser, and Rico Steinmann flipped the script in just 17 minutes, and the effzeh even had a chance to go for the win.

At the end there was 3:3 on the scoreboard and an absolutely stunned little boy who finally fell in love with this very special club in red and white.

When last we saw them

For the second-consecutive season, those in charge at 1. FC Köln set very modest goals for themselves (i.e. Don’t get relegated!) and achieved them fairly comfortably, even flirting with the possibility of finishing in a European spot.

Köln had not finished a first-division campaign as high as ninth since 1992 when they finished fourth, so fans are understandably excited for the upward trend of the club’s current iteration. Even more thrilling for longer-term fans, however, is the sense of peace and stability in the front office, something that had been severely lacking the last 20-some years while this former champion bounced back and forth between the top two tiers.

Aspiration

Because the club was able to hold onto key pieces Timo Horn and Jonas Hector in the face of growing outside interest, there is no reason there should not be some expectation of a continuation of the year-to-year improvement. As the Bundesliga had its top seven clubs earn European competition slots, there isn’t a lot of room, placement-wise, for Köln to improve its placing without also having to look at a trip to the Europa League.

Then again, Köln finished a full seven points behind Hertha BSC for that final European spot. Hence, points-wise there is plenty of room for growth without taking the big step into Europe. If you take into consideration a missed hand-ball here and a momentary defensive lapse while expecting a stoppage for injury there, the points left on the pitch last year close that gap significantly.

Officially, any talk of Europe will be met with a “remain calm” response, but even Hector has publicly said he believes the quality to achieve such a spot is already on the roster.

 

Reality

Without dismissing the significance of Köln keeping most of its best players, the fact is that almost everyone near them in the table added significant pieces in the summer. Guirassy is a wild card and Rudnevs is still Rudnevs, so the identification of a second goal-scoring threat to complement Anthony Modeste will be the biggest factor in how much Köln improves its standing.

Also, coach Peter Stöger wants to move Hector to defensive midfield and eventually be able to play with a three-man back line. Integrating such a new look for the long-term will take some transitioning in the short-term. There will be growing pains, no doubt.

The Boss

Outside Köln, Peter Stöger is known mostly for his stoic touchline presence and for presenting a very conservative, defensively oriented approach to the game.

Stöger stars as newsstand operator complaining about . . . Stöger
Stöger stars as newsstand operator complaining about . . . Stöger

FC fans know that Stöger’s demeanor is a huge component of his ability to manage amid the swirl of Köln’s infamously manic media coverage, but have also seen Stöger’s sense of humor at work in promotional videos produced by the club, giving perhaps a glimpse of the personality that helps him field a team that works so well together as a unit.

And there remains some hope that Stöger will eventually bring to Köln the offensive-minded game that made him a champions in his home country with an FK Austria Wien side that scored 84 goals in 36 matches.

For now, though, expect the same no-nonsense, all-business approach that took him from Austrian outsider to one of the Bundesliga’s most-reliable managers.

Philosophy

As noted earlier, Stöger will continue to investigate the deployment of three central defenders in the back row, while always keeping the option of using either 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with a double-pivot.

Stöger has said he currently is blessed with the deepest team he has had since arriving to Köln. He’s also traditionally held firm to the idea that his eleven best players from the week of training sessions will be the eleven who play on match day. This would technically mean that he could adjust his formation and philosophy based on who earns starting roles, but Stöger is no stickler for positions, either. Strikers Yuya Osako and Simon Zoller often played in the midfield last season. Meanwhile, midfielder Marcel Risse became a full-time right back when personal affairs made Pawel Olkowski a less-than-great option at the spot. Konstantin Raush has seen a lot of time at left back this summer, despite the presence of Jonas Hector and Filip Mladenovic.

Essentially, Stöger does what he thinks is best for the team and club, while tuning out the any chirps of criticism from fans or the press, which is precisely why he’s the best person for the job in Köln.

Personnel Changes 

The departures of Kevin Vogt and Yannick Gerhardt necessarily thins the defensive-midfielder ranks. Both men played at the six on a regular basis. Between the arrival of Marco Höger and the continued transition of Jonas Hector to the middle of the pitch, however, Stöger has plenty of quality options at his disposal.

Further supporting Hector’s shift to the center is the arrival of Rausch as another option at left back. The veteran Bundesligist has looked good teamed with Leonardo Bittencourt along he left flank in summer tests.

Artjoms Rudnevs is the latest hopeful at providing Anthony Modeste a proper running mate up front. A legitimate secondary scoring threat would be huge for Stöger and crew, but the real hope rests on young Frenchman Sehrou Guirassy. He’s a bit of an unknown commodity, but his price tag forces an assumption that he can be special. Due to an injury discovered at his medical exam, he’s not yet played with his new club, but when he finally takes the pitch in red and white, he’ll be met with plenty of expectation.

Strengths

Backstopped by Olympic silver-medallist Timo Horn, the defense that gave Köln a 2. Bundesliga title and two relatively comfortable Bundesliga seasons will continue to be the foundation on which all else is built.

Weaknesses

After Anthony Modeste, there is no legitimate proven scoring threat on the roster. Additionally, the attack has oft been limited to getting the ball in to Modeste and letting him figure out how to create chances. Build-up play and offensive creativity are something this team must develop to continue to progress.

There is hope that Milos Jojic will finally provide a spark in attack after a somewhat-lost first season with the club. Leonardo Bittencourt has looked fantastic this summer. And, if Pawel Olkowski is back to his old self, Marcel Risse can move back to midfield and further improve the offensive look from the right flank.

But these are all “if” situations that have yet to be proven.

Crucial Stretch in Schedule

Shortly after returning from winter break, the FC have consecutive home matches against Wolfsburg, Schalke, and Bayern, with trips to promoted sides Freiburg and Leipzig sandwiched between them. February (and early March) has the potential to set a tone for the Rückrunde; this team is either a legitimate threat for a European spot or will find itself scrambling to recover from that stretch to avoid falling into the relegation dogfight.

Verdict

The most-likely outcome for this side is yet another convincingly acceptable mid-table finish because leadership will not overreach too early and jeopardize the long-term plan for one of Germany’s biggest clubs to return to prominence.

 

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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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