Season Preview – SpVgg Greuther Fürth – Bundesliga Bow for Die Kleeblätter

After a number of seasons where they would just fall short, SpVgg Greuther Fürth finally managed to make it into the postwar 1. Bundesliga for the first time in their history – restoring the top-flight status of what had been one of Germany’s greatest clubs during the 1920s and 1930s. In joining their great prewar rivals 1. FC Nürnberg, Die Kleeblätter would rekindle one of the great rivalries of the postwar era.

A successful mission accomplished

Since their promotion to the 2. Bundesliga in 1996/97, Greuther Fürth had finished no lower than ninth – until 2009/2010 when they finished outside the top ten for the first time with a very ordinary eleventh-place finish. Midway through that season they engaged former Schalke 04 stalwart Mike Büskens as coach, a move that would soon pay dividends.

The disappointing 2009/10 season would be followed by a more successful 2010/11 which saw the Bavarian club just miss out on promotion in fourth place, and the momentum would be continued into the following season where they would be crowned champions.

Büskens’ side would storm to the top of the table early on, and would remain in the top five for the remainder of the season – making their final push at the end to clinch the title with a game to spare. Stars of the show were strikers Christopher Nöthe and Olivier Occéan, with ex-Dortmunder Nöthe bagging thirteen league goals in twenty-eight appearances and Canadian Occéan – one of the most-watched players in the 2. Bundesliga – netting seventeen times in thirty-three games.

There were no great stars in the Greuther side, but a collection of hard-working professionals who gelled with the astute and hard-working Büskens: men like skipper Mërgim Mavraj, Kazakhstan-born midfielder Heinrich Schmidtgal, former FC Bayern München youth player Stephan Fürstner and the ever-present former Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender Thomas Kleine. Towards the latter part of the season the club would also snare former international Gerald Asamoah from struggling 1. Bundesliga side St. Pauli, and the veteran would play no small part in the final push for promotion with five goals in ten matches.

Top flight change and transition

Inevitably, promotion to the top flight would see some changes in personnel. Nine players would leave the club, including top scorer Occéan who made his way to rivals Eintracht Frankfurt – also promoted to the 1. Bundesliga – for 1.3 million Euros. Meanwhile, a dozen new players would be added to the squad.

Rather than chasing after big names on the way down as has been the habit of many a newly-promoted club, Büskens would focus on building a squad of young players on the way up – many of whom could turn out to be bargain buys. Senegalese international Baye Djiby Fall would be signed from Belgian club SK Lokeren as a replacement for Occéan – the club’s biggest signing at a million Euros – while twenty-three year-old Hungarian international winger Zoltán Stieber would be picked up from FSV Mainz for just under a million. These two new signings would be joined by German-born Greek defensive midfielder Thanos Petsos – a snip at 50,000 Euros from Leverkusen – and Danish international Tobias Mikkelsen, who would join from FC Nordsjaelland for half a million Euros.

Two loan players would also bolster Büskens’ squad: another youngster in the form of Cameroonian striker Frank Ohandza would take time out from Thai Premier League side Biriram PEA, and the highly-rated German Under-21 international centre-back Lasse Sobiech would be released by champions Borussia Dortmund to earn more top-flight experience. A number of others would join Die Kleeblätter on free transfers: two new ‘keepers in the form of Senegalese Issa Ndoye and former Dresdener Wolfgang Hesl, SpVgg Unterhaching central defender Michael Hefele, promising TSV 1860 München youngster Thomas Pledl and eighteen year-old Ghanaian left-sided defender Abdul Rahman Baba – currently being mentored by the Ghana-born Asamoah.

Pre-season form

Fürth’s pre-season form has been solid, with just one defeat in four friendly pre-season warm-up matches. A 5-1 thrashing of Regionalliga side Eintracht Bamberg would get things under way, and a 5-0 demolition of one-time 2. Bundesliga rivals SpVgg Unterhaching would see Die Kleeblätter start their build up with a bang. Veteran Asamoah would find the net twice, but the real star of the show would be Nigerian striker Kingsley Onuegbu with two braces in as many starts.

This unbeaten run would come to an end with a single-goal defeat against Turkish side Trabzonspor, but in their final pre-season fixture Büskens’ side would earn a 1-1 draw at the Trolli-Arena against English Premiership side Stoke City courtesy of a Bernd Nehrig penalty.

Men to Watch

Many eyes will be on the on-loan Sobiech – who looks set to follow that German tradition of having a season-long internship before returning to Dortmund as a fully-fledged Bundesliga player – and new signing Djiby Fall, but the man I have earmarked for success is the twenty-two year old Nürnberg-born Turkish international Sercan Sararer.

A Greuther Fürth man through and through having joined Die Kleeblätter as a ten year old back in 2000, right-sided midfielder Sararer – who already has four international caps and is being closely watched by Turkish club Fenerbahce – clearly has what it takes to make it on the big stage. With a market value of three million Euros according to transfermarkt.de, he is the most valuable player in the squad.

Predictions

With such a young squad – there are just three players over thirty in the twenty-nine man Kader that has an average age of just over twenty-four – inexperience could be the major factor for Fürth as they start for the first time in the top flight. However, recent times have shown that trusting in youth has reaped its reward – and there is plenty of youthful talent in this Fürth side.

On paper, Fürth look to have what it takes to maintain their new-found top-flight status – and this will no doubt be the primary mission for Büskens and Co. in a season that starts with what is probably one of the toughest fixtures that could have been thrown at them – a home encounter with FC Bayern. Before that however they have to take on 3. Liga side Kickers Offenbach in the first round of the DFB-Pokal, a competition where they reached the semi-final stage last season.

Transfers

In:

Franck Ohandza (Buriram United, THA, loan)
Djiby Fall (KSC Lokeren, BEL)
Tobias Mikkelsen (FC Nordsjaelland, DEN)
Issa Ndoye (Volyn Lutsk, UKR)
Zoltán Stieber (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Lasse Sobiech (BV 09 Borussia Dortmund, loan)
Wolfgang Hesl (SG Dynamo Dresden)
Abdul Rahman Baba (Asante Kotoko Kumasi, GHA)
Thomas Pledl (TSV 1860 München)
Michael Hefele (SpVgg Unterhaching)
Thanos Petsos (Bayer 04 Leverkusen)

Out:

Christian Rahn (Jahn Regensburg)
Franco Flückiger (Hallescher FC)
Christian Dorda (SC Heracles Almelo, NED)
Olivier Occéan (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Dani Schahin (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
Fabian Baumgärtel (Alemannia Aachen, loan)
Stephan Schröck (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
Jasmin Fejzic (VfR Aalen)
Asen Karaslavov (Botev Plovdiv, BUL)

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.

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