Many Bundesliga fans will have fond memories of SC Paderborn’s lone season in the Bundesliga.
The small club was a breath of fresh air, especially in the opening months of the season. Few would have predicted before the season that when Bayern Munich hosted Paderborn on match day 5, it would have implications at the top end of the table. Paderborn were unbeaten at the time and riding high in first place following a win over Hannover 96 the previous week, helped by Moritz Stoppelkamp’s unforgettable, record-breaking goal from the edge of his own penalty area. Led by youthful manager André Breitenreiter, Paderborn were an inexperienced team playing as if it had nothing to lose.
Located in a small city of just under 150,000 residents, Paderborn spent the majority of their history in the third and fourth divisions. Promotion to the 2. Bundesliga in 2005 for the first time was the highlight of the club’s history. Paderborn would go on to establish themselves at that level, spending eight of the next nine seasons in the second tier. Despite this relative success in maintaining their place in the second division, few thought the club was capable of mounting a serious promotion challenge. Managerial instability in the form of ten managers in their first nine seasons following promotion from the Regionalliga in 2005, together with one of the smallest budgets in the league, meant expectations were rarely of anything higher than a mid-table finish.
André Breitenreiter, a former Bundesliga striker, faced minimal expectations when he took the Paderborn job before the 2013-14 season. Nine matches into his first campaign, Paderborn looked nothing like promotion contenders, picking up just nine points.
Despite a difficult Hinrunde, Breitenreiter finally created a consistent, attacking side. Paderborn lost just twice in the Rückrunde, jumping up the table into second place heading into the final match day. Paderborn knew a win in their final match (at home to VfR Aalen) would see them secure direct promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history. It appeared as though it might all go wrong for Paderborn when Aalen’s 19-year old striker Joel Pohjanpalo struck in the ninth minute to make it 1-0 for the visitors. Less than fifteen minutes later, Breitenreiter’s men had managed to turn the game on its head via goals from Marc Vucinovic and Mario Vrancic. This slim lead would remain until the final whistle, sealing promotion in front of a sold out crowd at the Benteler-Arena. Paderborn had done it!
Paderborn’s promotion into the Bundesliga shocked many around the football world. Even the Archbishop of Paderborn was shocked by the club’s success!
“As a cleric, I’m cautious using the term ‘miracle’,” said Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker, Archbishop, “but SC Paderborn’s promotion to the Bundesliga is certainly something you could at least call a footballing miracle!”
While the city celebrated, the club was forced to turn their attentions to the the task of Bundesliga survival. At the top of the “to-do list” was keeping André Breitenreiter and upgrading the playing squad.
Despite links to several Bundesliga clubs, including Eintracht Frankfurt and Mainz, Breitenreiter agreed to stay at Paderborn and lead the team in their first-ever top-flight campaign.
Only one member of the promoted squad had more than 15 Bundesliga appearances in his career! Despite being his club’s Bundesliga veteran, Martin Amedick featured only seven times in the promotion campaign and wouldn’t feature in the 2014-15 Bundesliga campaign at all. Paderborn were very active in the summer window, signing seven new first-team players, as well as signing Marvin Bakalorz and Elias Kachunga on permanent deals following their loan spells at the club the previous season.
Even with the new recruits, Paderborn entered the season as heavy favorites to finish in the drop zone. A great start to the season had Paderborn top of the table after four matches, making safety appear to be not just “possible” but perhaps even “likely.” Even after the inevitable drop-off in form, Paderborn entered the winter break in a respectable tenth place. The winter also saw experienced striker Srdjan Lakic join from Kaiserslautern to ease the scoring burden on the young shoulders of Elias Kachunga.
Paderborn made a horrible start to the Rückrunde, losing 5-0 in Mainz and 3-0 at home against Hamburg. Unfortunately, these results would set the tone for the rest of the season. Paderborn would win only three more matches by season’s end, picking up just twelve points during the entire Rückrunde. This poor form saw Paderborn slip lower and lower in the table until they eventually reached 18th on the penultimate match day. Paderborn would finish the season bottom of the Bundesliga, a dramatic fall after their incredible start. Paderborn’s Bundesliga ride was over. At least for the time being.
Lower League Struggles
Heading back to the second division, Paderborn could not retain Breitenreiter as he left to become FC Schalke 04 boss. In his wake, Markus Gellhaus became the man tasked with returning Paderborn to the Bundesliga. Gellhaus, though inexperienced, knew the club well, having spent six seasons there in the early 2000s, mostly in an assistant coaching role. He was also put in charge on an interim basis for 24 matches.
Breitenreiter wasn’t the only one whose ability interested other clubs. Paderborn, like most relegated clubs, saw many of their top performers find new places to play. The exodus included many key players, including captain Uwe Hünemeier, Elias Kachunga, Mario Vrancic, and Patrick Ziegler, all of whom were sold. Meanwhile, Jens Wemmer, Christian Strohdiek, Alban Meha, and Lukas Rupp all left on free transfers. The eight departing players had played pivotal roles in Paderborn’s promotion and Bundesliga campaign, combining for more than 400 league appearances over the two seasons. Of the eight, only Lukas Rupp was not a part of both seasons.
Gellhaus had the unenviable task of trying to rebuild a team that had lost so many key contributors with very little money to spend on transfers and wages. Experienced midfielders Oliver Kirch and Marcel Ndjeng were brought in on free transfers from Dortmund and Hertha, respectively. These two Bundesliga veterans were joined by solid pros like Nick Proschwitz and younger players Kevin Stöger, Dominik Wydra, and Hauke Wahl. Despite some respectable summer business, it was clear that Paderborn’s squad lacked the same match-winning individual quality offered by players like Vrancic and Meha in years past.
Paderborn made a poor start to the season, winning just two of their first ten league matches and scoring only five goals. Despite the start, eyebrows were raised when the club decided to replace Gellhaus and give former Mönchengladbach and Bayern superstar Stefan Effenberg his first management job.
Effenberg won his first two matches, but then it all came crashing down, beginning with a 7-1 defeat in the DFB-Pokal in Dortmund. No wins from the next twelve matches signaled the end for the outspoken Effenberg as Paderborn had dropped into the relegation zone. Assistant coach René Müller took over, but could not turn the tide. Paderborn finished bottom of the table, winning just six matches and scoring 28 goals total through the entire season. SC Freiburg, the club relegated alongside Paderborn the previous season, finished comfortably atop the table, scoring the most goals in the league by a significant margin.
Again, Paderborn suffered a severe loss of players following their second relegation in two seasons. Still in charge, Müller entered the current 3. Liga season with just three first-team members of Paderborn’s Bundesliga campaign still at the club. An almost completely new team from the season before, Paderborn struggled in the Hinrunde, and Müller was sent along his way in November following a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Sportfreunde Lotte, which left the club just one place above the drop zone.
Stefan Emmerling recently became Paderborn’s fourth coach since they exited the Bundesliga 18 months ago. Wins in Emmerling’s first two matches have Paderborn up to 14th at the winter break. Still just eight points off a promotion playoff spot, a productive winter and a strong Rückrunde could see Paderborn rise from their malaise and even challenge at the top of the 3. Liga as early as this season. If Emmerling’s early results, however, are merely symptoms of the famed new manager “bounce”, Paderborn could face a serious relegation battle for the third season in a row, which could result in the club dropping out of professional football and into the fourth tier.
If Paderborn suffer relegation from the 3. Liga, it is unlikely we will see them back in the Bundesliga anytime soon, if at all! The Regionalliga has proven to be a very difficult division from which to win promotion and has become something of a trap for former Bundesliga clubs including Alemannia Aachen, SSV Ulm, and Kickers Offenbach.
While the Bundesliga continues to see success stories of recently promoted teams having success in the top-flight, none more notably then RB Leipzig this season, Paderborn offers a cautionary tale of how horribly wrong it all can go.