Why FC Ingolstadt Are the Bundesliga Story of The Season

The Bundesliga Fanatic shines the spotlight on FC Ingolstadt with different takes from three observers on how the low-profile club with little history is looking quite capable of surviving their first-ever Bundesliga season.  Click here and here for more thoughts on FCI.

Besides Bayern and Dortmund at number 1 and number 2, consistently topping the table this season, the rest of the Bundesliga so far this season has been almost impossible to predict. Teams such as FSV Mainz 05, Hertha Berlin and FC Ingolstadt are all in the top half of the league, with the first two competing heartily for European places. At the same time, teams like FC Augsburg and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are in the bottom half of the league after impressive top seven finishes last season. Even though teams like Mainz and Berlin are getting the love they deserve from the media and the fans, if you look closely, Ingolstadt might be the most remarkable story of them all. Since Ingolstadt are mostly comprised of 2. Bundesliga players, and they’ve never had any previous glory outside of their promotion, they are clearly the story of the season.

Success Without Spending

Most of the new boys that have success in the Bundesliga right away do so by spending a decent amount of money. Hoffenheim are a prime example of this, as they bought multiple players in the summer that they arrived in the top flight.  While they didn’t spend that much on transfer fees, they had to pay all of those players significant amounts of wages that they acquired from gaining promotion.  

Even though most promoted sides spend money to try to stay up, Ingolstadt are a slightly different case. They only spent 2.78 million pounds in the summer (according to transfermarkt), which is barely more than Mainz spent on summer signing Fabian Frei, who was bought for 2.70 pounds. The amount that Die Schanzer spend this summer is also less than Hertha spend on Vladimir Darida (who has also been a great story), who was bought for 2.85 million. The Berliners spent almost double the amount of money that Ingolstadt did this summer, and Mainz spent more than double the amount that Ingolstadt spent. And even though Mainz and Hertha would be expected to spend more money than Die Schanzer, the amount that they spend is much more than what Ingolstadt spent in both transfer windows. The signings that these clubs have made has helped them surprise everyone, while Ingolstadt lack the funds available to buy players that Mainz and Hertha have.

Pascal Groß
Pascal Groß

The difference in money spent makes the success of 9th place Ingolstadt more surprising than 3rd place Hertha or 5th place Mainz. Since Die Schanzer spend so little, they are basically a 2. Bundesliga side personnel wise that is in the top half of the Bundesliga. What players like Pascal Groß have done this season has surprised everyone as much as the rise of Ingolstadt, and what Ralph Hasenhuttl has done cannot be overlooked. The ability to get results consistently, and play the big teams like Bayern and Dortmund head to head, is something that newly promoted sides never do. The wage gap between FCI and most of the sides in the Bundesliga is what makes their story better than the narratives of Mainz and Hertha Berlin this year. Those two clubs have top players like Loris Karius, John Brooks, Yunus Malli, Salomon Kalou, Julian Baumgartliner and Vedad Ibišević who are the catalysts of the incredible seasons that Die Nullfünfer and the Berliners are having this term.

While those players have performed really well, most of the bottom clubs can’t afford players of their quality. Ingolstadt is one of those clubs, and the players that they are fielding aren’t players with Premier League experience like Kalou, or some of Germany’s best young players like Karius. For Ingolstadt to be in 9th despite spending less than Hertha did for Darida this summer makes their story remarkable to say the least. And the pocket change that was their summer spending spree makes them the story of the season for sure.

New Territory this Season

Die Schanzer were founded back in 2004, and have never been in the top flight before this season. The only other club that’s new to the top flight this year is SV Darmstadt 98, who after a 30 year absence from the first division, have punched above their weight but are slowly being sucked into the relegation battle. And while they’re going to have to stave off relegation, Ingolstadt are sitting pretty at 9th place. When new clubs join the Bundesliga they often struggle, SpVgg Greuther Fürth is a prime example of this, as they were easily relegated when they came to the top flight for the first time in their history. They proved to be no match for the top flight competition, and they haven’t been back in the top flight since. That side didn’t know how to win  Bundesliga games, and though occasionally providing some sparks, they often looked like a second division side.

The recent lack of success of promoted clubs surviving in the Bundesliga shows that what Ingolstadt are doing isn’t easy. Despite Germany’s second division being sound financially and drawing big crowds, the Bundesliga is a completely different animal than the 2.Bundesliga, and you have to get results in different ways then you had to before.  The gap between the two divisions in the quality and consistency of finishing is arguably substantial, and it’s very difficult for promoted clubs to score enough to survive, but Ingolstadt are making it look easy.

FCI manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and almost all of Die Schanzer players have no Bundesliga experience. This lacking makes their story unique and the best of this season because Mainz and Hertha have had plenty success in the top flight. Contrary to Ingolstadt, Mainz have been in the top flight for seven and soon to be 8 seasons, and they’ve have success prior to this season. Under the management of current Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel, Mainz qualified for the Europa league in the 2013/14 season, and they also had an impressive season in 2010/11 when they finished 5th in the league with a hot start from their ‘boys-band’ lineup. Mainz have certainly become a Bundesliga regular, and they’ve compiled seasons like the one they are having in the past. Ingolstadt can’t say that, and they are only a few points behind Mainz in the table. The company that the small Bavarian club are in is absolutely incredible.

Next up is Hertha Berlin, whose recent seasons are more similar to those of FCI than Mainz. The Berliners won the 2. Bundesliga in two out of three seasons from 2010-11 to 2012-13, but after surviving last season, they’ve had success in the past. Before they were relegated, they had multiple 10th place finishes, and they finished 4th in the table in the 2008-09 season. And if you want to go further back, they also qualified for the Champions League in 1999. Additionally, BSC  have acquired money from players like the Boateng brothers that Ingolstadt, the kind of transfer sales that FCI could never make. Since Hertha and Mainz have been in the Bundesliga in the past, and they’ve had success as well, the fairytale seasons that they’ve had aren’t as rare as new boys like Die Schanzer finishing in the top half of the league.

The way that Ingolstadt are making their first top flight season seem easy is something that is admirable for any fan of German football, and their manager Hasenhuttl deserves a lot of credit for getting the best out of his players. If Die Schanzer can keep their top performers like Groß and Marvin Matip, and young players like Max Christiansen, seasons like this could go from being abnormal to becoming the routine for the Bavarian club. After all, until 1. FC Nürnberg return to the top flight (which could be very soon), Bayern will need some local rivals like Ingolstadt. And once RB Leipzig start facing the inevitable struggles of a newly promoted side next season, maybe Ingolstadt will finally receive the recognition that they most obviously deserve

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.