September 23, 2017

Are the wheels coming off the Darmstadt wagon?

No team celebrated staying in the league like Darmstadt. In their third season in the Bundesliga the club had finally managed to end a season without getting relegated. The remarkable journey that had brought them there has truly been staggering. More than three years ago the team was taken over by Dirk Schuster who managed to turn things around in the 3. Liga, but in the end all of it came seemingly too late. Captain Aytac Sulu had already found himself a job as a car dealer when Kickers Offenbach’s financial troubles meant that the Lillies would stay in the third tier. From there on out the team have been promoted twice and now they have managed to stay in the league with the lowest budget, the oldest stadium and one of the squads lacking most in depth.

However, through grit, termination and simply being clever by preventing injuries or getting yellow card bans at convenient times, Darmstadt’s existence in the Bundesliga was never threatened throughout the entire season. Now that the season is over it is safe to assume that the Lilies are going to be contenders for suffering from second season syndrome.

Second chance taken, now on to greener pastures

One of Darmstadt’s key problems is the fact that the team consisted of a lot of players who were found to be not good enough for a number of other Bundesliga teams. Now that these players have put in a good shift for one of the surprise packages of the league the interest from bigger teams has suddenly re-emerged.

Konstantin Rausch has already confirmed that he won’t extend his contract and that he has signed for 1. FC Köln. With him Darmstadt are loosing their set piece taker and a player who stood for 2 goals and 6 assists. Hardworking midfielder Jerome Gondorf is also set to leave the club and it looks like he’ll join HSV or FSV Mainz 05.

At the back the club has already been forced to sell first choice keeper Christian Mathenia to HSV. Luca Caldirola, who has been a rock at both left back and in central defence next to captain Sulu, is also leaving the club as he’ll rejoin Werder Bremen after his successful loan stint at the Böllenfalltor.

In terms of attacking fire power the Lilies have already heard from their top striker Sandro Wagner that he’ll leave the club. Additionally there seems to be a lot of interest from abroad for Marcel Heller’s signature. These two players combined have scored 20 of 38 goals for Dirk Schuster’s side.

This exodus of players might very well fill the coffers of the club, but it is doubtful that the club is going to be able to increase its wage bill considerably or spend all of the money from the transfer fees on new signings. It’s well known that Darmstadt have problems with their infrastructure, more specifically the state of their stadium. The club is going to be forced to build a new stadium or re-build certain parts of the Böllenfalltor at some point. A killing in terms of transfer fees generated for these players might provide some valuable cash for the much needed stadium upgrade.

Dirk Schuster – The engineer of the success set to leave the ship

If this season was supposed to be tough, there’s little doubt that next season is going to be a lot tougher with all these vital players missing from the team. Replacing one or two important players is often times a challenge for teams at the bottom end of the league. Potentially having to replace 6 of the names who were considered shoe ins for the starting line up seems to be an almost impossible task.

It’s not going to be made easier by the fact that coach Dirk Schuster has asked the board to be let out of his contract to join FC Augsburg. The Fuggerstädter are looking for a capable replacement for Markus Weinzierl and the 48-year-old Schuster seems to fit perfectly in terms of his accomplishments and the club’s size. For Darmstadt that means a busy summer, where a new coach with a new philosophy is going to have to work with new players who have to replace a bunch of guys who were key members of this season’s side.

The club’s size and the fact that the team probably have been punching above their weight ever so slightly made Darmstadt massive contenders to be among the candidates for the drop next season. Now that the team is going to be dismantled and Dirk Schuster might be on his way out, staying in the league next season would be a bigger miracle than staying in the league on the first go around.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.