Sometimes shiny new play things don’t turn out the way a child had hoped they would. This season the Bundesliga has gotten two of them in newly promoted sides Ingolstadt and Darmstadt and at first everybody seemed to love how these sides with very little resources have managed to grind out results against much bigger oppositions on a somewhat consistent basis. Both of the teams are comfortably out of the relegation mess at the moment, which in itself should be considered a massive accomplishment (and FC Ingolstadt added another point to their total following Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with 1. FC Köln).
However, when it comes to Ingolstadt the mood has somewhat turned over the last few weeks. At first both teams were the media’s shiny new play thing it seemed. Sports shows on German television used large chunks of their programming to find out who Ralph Hasenhüttl is, why he loves to play Chopin ballades on the piano before matches and what makes FCI a special club.
Now though the club has been at the end of some severe criticism both from players and officials from other teams and the German media. Both Lewis Holtby and Josip Drmic had nothing good to say about their opponents after the 1-1 draw at the Volksparkstadion on Saturday. The Swiss international simply stated that the match was horrific to watch for anybody who had been in the stadium, but Holtby felt the need to take it a step further when he told Sky:
“All they want is to talk trash, rumble and fall to the floor. They are a disgusting opponent.”
Already in the Hinrunde the first discussions came up about how Ingolstadt’s players approach the ref and how they handle their opponents after Hasenhüttl’s team’s 0-0 draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach. After the match a befuddled Alvaro Dominguez told kicker:
“We wanted to play football, but all they wanted was to talk trash.”
After last weekend’s matches the discussions about Ingolstadt’s style of play were the main focus in the coverage of the team. German football broadcaster Arnd Zeigler went even as far as telling the story of his son watching the match between Ingolstadt and Werder with him and in the end telling him that he wouldn’t be a football fan if all football matches were like that. Zeigler then played a montage of Ingolstadt players diving in order to get free kicks and the refs going for it. From just the two matches against HSV and Werder Zeigler had managed to compile an impressive collection of dives that no fan would like to see.
Zeigler concluded that Darmstadt were playing rough, just like Ingolstadt, but they weren’t sinking to Ingolstadt’s level by diving in order to break up the flow of the game and in order to gain time and favourable free kick positions.
FC Ingolstadt vs 1. FC Köln – Calmer minds prevail
Being aware of the discussions over the last weekend I myself took the trip to the Audi Sportpark to watch the team, that had turned from media darlings to a nasty bunch of divers and trash talkers, take on 1. FC Köln. Having brought with me a notepad I decided to jot down a line for every time a player tried to provoke a free kick by diving. Given the reputation that Ingolstadt had gathered over the weeks I thought there was no need to write down what had happened as there were going to be so many situations that the sheer number would serve as overwhelming evidence.
Well, in the end the number of questionable decisions ended at a meagre five, four of which went Ingolstadt’s way. That is what I saw from the stands without the benefit of slow motion replay from all the angles (in addition to some of the action happening on the opposite end of the pitch from my position).
In the post match analysis there was little chatter about one team being nastier than the other or the ref’s performance. What Florian Meyer had done fairly early on to both sets of players is that the had waved on some borderline situations that could have also been seen as free kicks, showing by example that he wouldn’t just hand out free kicks for anything.
And maybe that is the key, rather than blaming one side for its style of football. Ingolstadt are, just like any other side, trying to gather the most points possible. They’ve developed their style, but at the end of the day the tone the ref sets from the matches’ first minutes might just sway the match away from becoming a niggly affair that nobody wants to witness.