November 18, 2017

Upheaval in the Carnival city: Why did Wolfgang Overath quit?

One thing is for sure, it never gets dull with Köln.

Things had gotten a little too quiet around Köln lately. The team has done reasonably well under the leadership of their new coach Ståle Solbakken. The relationship between the Norwegian and sporting director Volker Finke is one of mutual respect and trust, and none of the players have made negative headlines so far this season. Lukas Podolski has been in impressive form this campaign as well with 9 goals and 4 assists to his name. With 16 points on the board Köln already have one more point than they had after the first 17 matches last season, telling of the progress made since Solbakken took over. With the improvement of their performances and no visible internal turmoil, everything seemed a little too normal around Köln but the annual meeting of the club members changed that last Sunday.

What changed over night?

Club president Wolfgang Overath told Bild on Friday that he would be serving the club in his function until 2013.  Anything else would have been a shock at this stage because for the first time under Overath’s reign things had calmed down and Köln were seemingly aiming for achievable goals in the league. To put the 74 world champion’s reign into perspective:

”Overath has been president since 2004. In that time the club got promoted twice, relegated once, Podolski was sold to Bayern Munich, Podolski was bought back from Bayern Munich, former BVB manager Michael Meier ran wild with the finances, 7 coaches have been trying to get the best results out of the team (including Solbakken) and a tenth place finish in the Bundesliga was the best result the team managed in that time.”

Needless to say, the volatile nature of the club has been heavily criticized by both fans and the vicious Köln press. Some sections of the Köln supporters have at times even protested Overath and his position at the club during some of the side’s home fixtures.  The fan initiative ”FC Reloaded” has been especially critical towards Overath and his work.  According to their website their goal is to transform Köln into a club ”where it is possible to have a conversation about football in a quiet manner, and where fans can intervene when things start to go wrong.”

Overath was essential in bringing Podolski back to the club.

Amongst their biggest grievances they list Overath’s meddling in the club’s transfer policy as well as the undemocratic nature of the club structure. Furthermore, certain segments of the Köln fans have expressed their frustration about former coach and club veteran Frank Schäfer leaving the club last season, stating that it was Overath who more or less forced Schäfer out.  Schäfer had been coaching at Köln since 1982, mostly at the youth level, and was a firm favorite of the Köln supporters.  Suffice to say, Köln supporters put a lot of value to local players and coaches.

Overath addressed the fans that protested against him in the speech he gave to the members of the club:

”Last year we were ostracised and insulted by a tiny a group of fans. I had not experienced anything like that before. I know that they are in the minority. It was still unnerving. Regretfully some people have been malicious, and never made any constructive criticism at all. At some point, enough is enough.”

Overath’s resignation resulted in different reactions from the fans. One fan pointed out that ”Weisweiler taking you out of the team was what gave us the championship in 1978”, while another asked Overath to stay, stating ”you are the most important man at this club”. The minds got so heated during this debate that the security personnel at the meeting had to break up mobs that were ready to have a go at each other, one side being pro Overath the other side being against him.

Impact on the future

At this very moment it is difficult to tell what the possible consequences of this change are. Both Bild and the local Köln paper Express are speculating that this might affect Lukas Podolski’s future at the club. Overath was influential in bringing Podolski back to the club, and now that he is gone this might impact the German international’s decission about signing a new contract. Lazio and Arsenal have been linked to the striker in recent weeks.

If the changes demanded by FC-Reloaded are made has yet to be seen. A group of Borussia Mönchengladbach fans had a similar project recently but their efforts did not amount to much. Toni Schumacher and Klaus Allofs have been floated as possible successors to Overath. For the time being the head of the Köln board, Dr. Werner Wolf, will take over Overath’s duties. A new president will be elected in 2012 when the club members will meet once more. Only one thing is certain: Until then we’ll have plenty of drama to look forward to. If Bayern is the FC Hollywood, Köln has always been the FC Soap Opera.

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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.

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