Russian Money and Second Chances – The Story Behind KFC Uerdingen’s Rise

One needs to take a deep dive into the history books to find the glory years of KFC Uerdingen. Back in the days of Bayer’s involvement at the club the team from Uerdingen could be regularly seen playing successful football in the Bundesliga. The 2-1 win over Bayern München in the DFB Pokal final of 1985 and the insane 7-3 win over Dynamo Dresden in the Uefa Cup in 1986 are now relicts of the past. These days the club plays in the third division, far away from the glamour of Bundesliga football.

However, the last two years have represented a massive upswing for the team from Krefeld. Two promotions in as many years have seen the team rise from the nether regions of 5th tier football to the professional level of 3rd tier football. These days the club is playing for promotion to the Bundesliga and after 6 matches this season KFC are now in second place.

Out with the sun king, in with the Russian

Over the last few years KFC Uerdingen made headlines with insane transfers. Mo Idrissiou and an aging Ailton have both played for the club, although both players were on the decline as they arrived at a club that was playing its football in the 5th or 6th tier. The man behind such ridiculous transfers was Agissilaos Kourkoudialos. The owner of a property company made headlines in the German press for his flair and his big ideas, but in the end very few of them worked out.

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Over the years “the sun king” represented a refreshing break from the controlled environment most clubs tried to foster. However, after 8 years in charge Kourkoudialos stepped aside and allowed Mikhail Ponomarev to take over. Ever since, the club has gone from strength to strength on the pitch. The Russian business man moved to Düsseldorf in 2011 and ever since he has gotten involved in the fortunes of several sports club in the Rhine area. These days he focusses on bringing KFC back into the Bundesliga 2. He told

“KFC Uerdingen is a club with a great tradition. I’m a business man. It’s my goal to make this club profitable. The club should be able to stand on his own feet.”

The 44-year-old has gathered a lot of experience in the world of business over the years. Already as a 25-year-old Ponomarev was charged with the task of leading the fortunes of the oil company Tatneft. According to Uerdingen’s owner the club needs to get out of the 3rd tier in the long run if KFC wants to be self sufficient:

“This can’t happen in the fourth or third tier, but it can happen in the second or first tier.”

However, the stunts of the past are not going to re-occur according to the Russian:

“I can tell those who believe that the Russian is supposed to make it rain with money: I’m here with all my heart, but I’m not a fool.”

Some of the bigger teams in the region are examples to follow according to the 44-year-old:

“Mönchengladbach is far away, but we want to get closer to Düsseldorf and Duisburg. Duisburg has the advantage of a stadium and Düsseldorf has a better infrastructure. But, there are chances for KFC. We want to get closer to those teams.”

A team of second chances

The transfers that have been made since Ponomarev’s arrival have been more sensible than those of the past. During last season’s 4th tier campaign the club hired former Arminia Bielefeld and Energie Cottbus coach Stefan Krämer to oversee the fortunes of the team. With Maximilian Beister the club managed to get a young goalscorer who had fallen on hard times after a tumultuous stay at Mainz.

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Ahead of this season’s third tier campaign Uerdingen managed to secure the services of several players who needed a lucky break. Former World Cup winner Kevin Grosskreutz had struggled ever since he left Borussia Dortmund and  these days he’s in charge of doing the dirty work in midfield. Alongside the former BVB great the club managed to secure the services of Dennis Daube and Christopher Schorch, two defensive minded players with pasts in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2.

Upfront former Germany Under 19 international Samed Yesil is waiting for his first match for the team from Krefeld. Additionally there’s the arrival of Stefan Aigner, who needed a break after his ill-fated stint in the US. All in all the club has managed to create a squad that should be challenging at the top of the division.


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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-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.

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