Monthly Archives: April 2012

Bundesliga Matchday 33 Review – Schalke and Gladbach prepare for departures

It was an emotional weekend in the Bundesliga, not because of any spectacular results, but more to do with departures. The two clubs occupying third and fourth, Schalke and Gladbach, are coming to terms with losing players next season.

Whilst Gladbach will be saying ‘auf wiedersehen’ to Roman Neustadter, Dante and Marco Reus, Schalke have to bid farewell to Raul, a man who’s made quite an impression in his two years in Gelsenkirchen.

Signing a month after his 33rd birthday, Felix Magath, the man who brought him over to Gelsenkirchen, has called him the most influential foreigner to play in Germany. This is an exaggeration but you can understand where the-now Wolfsburg coach is coming from.

Raul has only missed one game in the Bundesliga since joining Schalke. During that time, he’s amassed 28 goals along with 11 assists. Add to that the Bundesliga Goal of the Year in 2011 (an extraordinary chip over Michael Rensing) and it is little wonder the Spaniard was overcome with emotion such was the send off he was given after Schalke’s victory over Hertha Berlin on Saturday.

Teammates bowed to the Spaniard when celebrating his obligatory goal against Hertha. That in itself isn’t much of an achievement such has been the form of Otto Rehhagel’s side. Schalke’s 4-0 victory means they will go straight into the Champions League group stages – without Raul however. Saturday’s win pushed them out of reach of fourth placed Borussia Mönchengladbach. They were held to a goalless draw at home by Augsburg.

Gladbach have somewhat limped over the line in securing a place in the 4th Round Qualifying of the Champions League in 2012-2013. That said Lucien Favre’s side deserve credit for their performance over the course of the season, going from relegation play-off survivors to Champions League qualifiers. The problem for Gladbach is that three key players who helped to make this possible depart this summer.

Roman Neustadter, Dante and Marco Reus have all played their final game for the Foals at Borussia Park. They’ll move to the three sides above them in the table. Neustadter’s departure to Schalke has gone slightly under the radar, a bit like the player himself, whose contribution has been underestimated.

Dante and Reus meanwhile are off to Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Dante has been part of the second best defence in the Bundesliga this season whilst Reus is the most high profile departure. With 16 goals and 11 assists, he’s certainly one of the players of the season in the Bundesliga. It’s not too surprising that Dortmund were so keen to get a former trainee of theirs back at the club.

At Gladbach though will come Lucien Favre’s greatest test. It would be most impressive if he can build a side which can compete in the Champions League and most importantly in the Bundesliga.

Schalke are better equipped to deal with the departure of Raul than Gladbach with their leavers. Nevertheless, it’s overlooked that last season they finished 13th in the Bundesliga, only four points ahead of Gladbach in the Relegation Play-Off position. The Royal Blues excellent run to the Champions League Semi Finals and their DFB-Pokal win helped erase memories of the league campaign though.

Memories of Raul will arguably remain for longer although it’s odd to see that Schalke have decided to retire his shirt number for an indefinite period, after all he’s only been there two years. Still, Schalke must move on.

They have the squad to cope with Raul’s departure whilst Gladbach are going to have to rebuild. It would be a shame from a neutral perspective to see the Foals flutter away into the ether after the great work done by Lucien Favre so far.

But for now, both clubs can be thankful for what Reus, Dante, Neustadter and Raul have given to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke respectively.

For more on the Bundesliga on Twitter, follow @archiert1

Matchday 33 Results:

Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Hannover

Bayern Munich 2-0 Stuttgart

Freiburg 4-1 Cologne

Gladbach 0-0 Augsburg

Hamburg 0-0 Mainz

Hoffenheim 2-3 Nuremberg

Kaiserslautern 2-5 Borussia Dortmund

Schalke 4-0 Hertha Berlin

Wolfsburg 3-1 Werder Bremen


Rank Club Matches W* D* L* G* GD* PTS*
1 Borussia Dortmund 33 24 6 3 76:25 +51 78 CL*
2 FC Bayern Munich 33 22 4 7 73:21 +52 70 CL*
3 FC Schalke 04 33 19 4 10 71:42 +29 61 CL*
4 Borussia Mönchengladbach 33 16 9 8 46:24 +22 57 CL* Qual.
5 Bayer 04 Leverkusen 33 14 9 10 48:43 +5 51 EL*
6 VfB Stuttgart 33 14 8 11 60:44 +16 50 EL* Qual.
7 Hannover 96 33 11 12 10 39:44 -5 45 EL* Qual.
8 VfL Wolfsburg 33 13 5 15 45:57 -12 44
9 SV Werder Bremen 33 11 9 13 47:55 -8 42
10 1. FC Nuremberg 33 12 6 15 37:45 -8 42
11 1899 Hoffenheim 33 10 11 12 40:44 -4 41
12 SC Freiburg 33 10 10 13 45:57 -12 40
13 1. FSV Mainz 05 33 9 12 12 47:48 -1 39
14 Hamburger SV 33 8 12 13 35:56 -21 36
15 FC Augsburg 33 7 14 12 35:49 -14 35
16 1. FC Köln 33 8 6 19 38:71 -33 30 Play-offs
17 Hertha BSC Berlin 33 6 10 17 35:63 -28 28 Relegation
18 1. FC Kaiserslautern 33 4 11 18 23:52 -29 23 Relegation

Table thanks to Official Bundesliga Website

This article was originally written for Football Fancast by Archie Rhind-Tutt and is reproduced with their kind permission. Please follow this link for the original article.

When Spanish stardust arrived in Gelsenkirchen

After it was announced Raul would not extend his contract at Schalke after the end of the current season, Diana Yeow looks back at the time when Raul first arrived at the club.

Raul at the media conference a week ago to announce that he will not extend his current contract with Shalke. He will leave at the end of the season.

It was striking reading what Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies said at the media conference. Tönnies has always been a big fan of Raul, and played a part in pulling off one of the biggest coups in the club’s transfer history back in July 2010. He paid a glowing tribute to the Spaniard and said that the doors at the club will always remain open to him. And it was done, speaking with emotion.

For those wanting to be cynical, what happened a week ago at Schalke was not a time to be (or unless it is about Raul’s shirt number being apparently retired for an indefinite period of time). Not often someone in Clemens Tönnies’s position will eulogise about someone who will have played at the club for two seasons when the current Bundesliga season ends. But Raul’s announcement also got me even (with my VfB Stuttgart loyalties) walking down memory lane of the time when he did arrived at Schalke.

It was the summer of 2010, post-World Cup and Jose Mourinho had become coach of Real Madrid. There were several arrivals into the club with likes of Mesut Özil, who went to the Spanish capital on the back of his performances for the German national team in the World Cup in South Africa. Then came those Mourinho had to ship off. It soon became clear the man who has always been synonymous with Real Madrid was on that list, Raul. When Florentino Perez returned to the club as president for the second time, there were already questions whether he and Raul could get along given the relationship between the two after Perez’s first stint as club president. Raul did announce his departure from the club where he had accomplished quite a lot, the La Liga titles, the Champions League triumphs, though he didn’t said where he is heading next though.

But over in Germany, rumours were growing of the possiblity of Raul arriving at Schalke. As much as I was beginning to get excited at the idea that someone of Raul’s stature could be coming to the Bundesliga, I also tried not to get my hopes too high, given of the rumours of of a move to the Premier League in England. The rumours of Raul coming to Schalke began after the club had shipped Kevin Kuranyi off to play in Russia, thus leaving a room for a striker to come in. There were factors suggested a Raul move to Schalke. Christoph Metzelder had returned back to Germany and joined Schalke after his time at Real Madrid. Not only that, Schalke were due to be playing in the Champions League.

Then along came photos of Raul’s wife and his sons being spotted in Düsseldorf. That raised the hopes in Germany. For my generation, Raul had always been a one-club man. He could have chosen where the money is and not come to play in Germany. But that is just the man who just wants to play football, and enjoy playing it.

There was much pomp and pageantry when Raul was officially unveiled; such was the stature of the Spaniard. For the Bundesliga, this was a statement of the increasing allure of the league and for Schalke, it was quite a transfer coup by their standards. It was Christoph Metzelder, who had been Raul’s team-mate at Real Madrid which swung the deal Schalke’s way, and that was despite the then-Schalke coach Felix Magath who also played a part in the transfer. But it was already clear at that time who was really excited by the presence of Raul at the club. Club chairman Clemens Tönnies.

Schalke chairman Clemens Toennies, he is quite a big fan of Raul.

I personally nearly got choked up when Raul talked about his greatest moments at Schalke last Thursday. Schalke’s DFB-Pokal win last season was significant for him given he had never won the domestic cup with Real Madrid, but it was the mention of when he went to celebrate with the fans after Schalke had beaten Inter in the Champions League last season which gave me the goosebumps. That is my personal favourite Raul moment at Schalke. Not any of the goals he had scored, but that.

As much as I am sad that Raul will not be extending his current contract with Schalke, I am also comforting myself that I am privileged in the knowledge that someone like Raul did come to play in the Bundesliga where his professionalism has rubbed off on the young upstarts at the club like Julian Draxler. For all the stardust he has brought to German football, he has always been down-to-earth and humble. You cannot say that often in football these days.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 63 – Dortmund Are Champions And Kaiserslautern Are Down

This week on The Bundesliga Show, Terry Duffelen and Jon Hartley are joined by the Bundesliga Lounge’s Matthias Suuck to talk about the crowing of the Champions Borussia Dortmund and the season they have had. Also there is a look back at the rest of the action from matchday 32 and the key battles in the relegation fight.

Also on the podcast, a look at the weekend’s action in the 2.Bundesliga and a preview of the up coming next weekend in the Bundesliga.

The Greatest? Euro 1972

In the first of a three-part series looking at German triumphs in the European Championships ahead of this summer’s tournament, Kyle Barber harks back to one of the most impressive national line-ups in history.

Maier, Breitner, Beckenbauer, Netzer and the eponymous Gerd Müller: some of the most lauded and recognisable names of German footballing history, and all synonymous with success. Having forged such reputations over the five or so years which preceded the 1972 European Championships, returning from Belgium with the trophy aloft both cemented their collective place in the annuls, and paved the way for the future.


Played out over an 18-month group league phase, followed by two-legged quarter finals and then the semi-finals and final, the format of Euro ’72 was somewhat different to the two-week setup of this year’s extrav. Of course at that time,Germany was still very much a divided nation. And while West Germany enjoyed a fairly routine passage through the league stage – topping their group with an unbeaten record (four wins and two draws, from games with Poland,Turkey and Albania) – their neighbours fared less well. Drawn with the imposing Yugoslavs and free-scoring Dutch (and whipping-boys,Luxembourg),East Germany were always likely to face a tough task to secure qualification (with only one team from each group progressing to the last eight). Thus it proved, as an opening run of three wins was overshadowed by two losses and a draw, leaving the side in third spot, two points behind group winners Yugoslavia.

Group 8






West Germany





10   2 10





10   6   6





  5 13   5





  5   9   3


Group 7











  7   2   9





18   6   7
East Germany





11   6   7





  1 23   1


The quarter-final line-up shaped up with Italy playing off with Belgium, Hungary taking on Romania, Yugoslavia facing the USSR, and West Germany drawn against England. It is generally regarded that a good deal of the self-belief engendered in the West German side of the 1970s had been generated a little over four years before the 1972 Final; through a 1-0 friendly win over World Champions England in Hanover. Harking back to his solitary strike that decided the game, Franz Beckenbauer would later proclaim: “It was the first time in history we had beaten the English. That was when we realised we could, and [we] lost some of the respect we had [for them]”.   Cast forward to 1970, and that confidence was reinforced as the two squared off in the World Cup quarter-final; this time with the Germans coming from two goals to take the victory 3-2. Now they would do battle once more, this time over the course of two legs.


The first leg saw the two teams returning to the hallowed Wembley turf. On a floodlit, damp late-April evening, the away side confirmed that the tide had fundamentally turned in their favour, producing a stirring, fluid display to comprehensively wash their hosts aside. In front of a crowd of 96,800, the West Germans took the lead through Uli Hoeneβ after 26 minutes, yet failed to reinforce their dominance, and England’s equaliser came courtesy of Franny Lee’s 77th minute tap-in. Eight minutes later, Bobby Moore mistimed a challenge on Siegfried Held, bringing the wideman crashing to the floor. Up stepped Günter Netze to drive the resulting penalty just beyond Gordan Banks, before ‘Der Bomber’ all but finished the tie three minutes later, beating six England defenders in the process. The post-match clamour that followed the away side’s performance was typified by L’Equipe’s proclamation of “football from the year 2000”, lending it an extra, ethereal quality. The second leg was something of a non-entity in all honesty, as the two teams played out a lacklustre goalless draw in Berlin’s Olympiastadion. Nonetheless,West Germany’s stock was rising, and their status on the global stage had been noted.


Quarter-Final, First Leg





Lee 77’



West Germany

Hoeneβ 26’

Netzer 85’(p)

Müller 88’



Quarter-Final, Second Leg




West Germany






But it could just as easily never have come to pass. In Tor’, Uli Hesse notes how team coach, Helmut Schön, felt he was looking at “a dressing room of doubting men” before the double-header with the 1966 World Champions, recalling how injuries to the likes of Weber, Vogts and Overath left a depleted squad, adding to the malaise felt by the Bayern Munich contingent; who had suffered debilitating defeats to Rangers (in the Cup Winners Cup) and Duisburg (in the Bundesliga). With the 20-20 vision of history, that all merely serves to enhance the legend subsequently enjoyed by the early-1970s side.


And so to the ‘final’ tournament, and the semi-final match against the hosts Belgium(with the winners to meet either Hungaryor the USSR). Despite making notably heavy work of the home side, the dominance of the West Germans has since been acknowledged and well-credited by both sides. With Beckenbauer employed in his newly-ported deep-lying midfield playmaker role, the Belgians struggled to adapt their 4-4-2 sufficiently to shut down the space afforded to Der Kaiser, who was thus left to dictate the pace of the game. As a result, they frequently found themselves pulled out of position, allowing Jupp Heynckes and Erwin Kremer significant freedom on the flanks, and Netzer likewise in support of Müller. It was this pairing that would combine for the opening strike of the game, the latter heading home an inventive lob from the former with 24 minutes on the clock. It was at nigh-on the same juncture in the second half that the lead was doubled; the same duo coming together for Müller to steer home from close range on 71 minutes. And although Belgium had their chances – eventually pulling one back through an 83rd minute strike from Odilion Polleunis – the visitors’ ascendency was never really challenged.



14/06/1972Antwerp55,669 Belgium

Polleunis 83’



West GermanyMüller 24’, 71’


Just four days later, and the apparent failure to get into their stride in the semi-final showed no sign of being revisited as the West Germans lined-up against a USSR side that was itself a scant memory of the 1960s behemoth. The match bore all the hallmarks of the old adage of ‘the King is dead; long live the King’, as the West Germans veritably tore into their opponents. Bouyed by a new-found level of belief, the West Germans prowled the surface of the Heysel Stadium as if it were their own, and the opening goal never seemed too far away, eventually arriving through the reliable instep of Müller after 27 minutes. Half-time recorded West Germany as having enjoyed over 60% of the ball, and an equal territorial advantage. Within 15 minutes of the restart, it was all over; Herbert Wimmer netting the second on 52 minutes, and Müller rounding things off just six minutes later, to register the largest ever winning margin in a European Championship final. The harmony of the performance was summed up by Müller as the final whistle blew: “we understand one another on and off the pitch, and you can’t ask for any more than that. Everything worked”.



18/06/1972Heysel Stadium43,437 West Germany

Müller 27’, 58’

Wimmer 52’





The West Germans took six places in the overall Team of the Tournament, Beckenbauer, Breitner, Hoeneβ, Netzer, Heynckes and Müller lining up alongside four Soviets, and one Belgian.


Gerd Müller took the Golden Boot with 11 goals across all stages (five in the post-Group phase), to go with his Europe-wide equivalent. Beckenbauer secured the European Footballer of the Year title, and the quintessential West German ascendancy and efficiency was spawned; thus to dominate the next decade.

Raul will be an impossible act to follow

Earlier today, Schalke 04 announced that their striker, Raul, would be leaving at the end of the season. Terry takes a few moments to assess the former Real Madrid legend’s impact on his club and on the Bundesliga.

If we’ve learned one thing from Raul’s two season stint at Schalke it’s that he does not shirk from a tough challenge. After a long and legendary spell at Real Madrid other players would have considered a move to a far less pressurised environment than the football mad region of North-Rhine Westphalia. In Gelsenkirchen, there was no way that he was in for an easy life at a club that has such a tremendous appetite and expectation of success and his record at Schalke demonstrates his commitment and appetite for the game.

So far, Raul has played ninety six matches in the blue of Schalke. In his first season he scored nineteen goals, including five in the Champions League and one in the DFB Pokal Final at the Olympiastadion which gave him his first domestic cup win. This season he has been even more impressive with twenty goals and ten assists in all competitions. By any standards this is an extremely impressive record for a player who is heading slowly toward the sunset of his career.

But the statistics don’t tell the whole story. The former Spain international has had to play in a deep position and doing a lot of fetching and carrying. What is striking about his play is his work rate and tenacity. In his first season, he played in a side that struggled in the League (but excelled in cup competitions) and he would be in the unfamiliar position of playing on the back foot, often in a losing side. Occasionally there was talk in the press that he was unhappy but there was very little evidence of this on the field. Furthermore, the impact that a player, who has achieved so much in his career, must have in the dressing room is impossible to measure. This as much as everything else he achieved on the pitch, will be missed when he says farewell in May.

His response to those difficult earlier months earned him almost universal respect among this who watch the Bundesliga and his departure is a sad moment for the League. For Schalke it must be a bigger blow. His experience and talent would have been of tremendous benefit to coach Huub Stevens as he attempted to steer his young team through a rigorous Champions League campaign, next season. Even at 34 years old, he will be missed and almost impossible to replace. Consequently, the club have decided to temporarily retire his number 7 shirt so as not to place too much pressure on his successor.

And with regards to his destination? Well that lies slightly beyond our purview. However, a return to Spain and Malaga has been suggested, as has a gig in the US with an MLS club. However, the smart money seems to be on a move to Qatar. As 2022 World Cup hosts, the Qatari football has a lot of work to do in developing their domestic game and supplying some home grown players for their national team. If he accepts an offer to join one of their domestic league clubs then he will be sure to embrace that challenge with the same gusto and professionalism that he did when he arrived in Germany.

It may be easy to think that he is settling for an easy life in the sunshine. However, the Qataris have a lot of work to do and in Raul they will have signed a standard bearer, a top professional and a hugely talented player who will inspire a generation.

The Bundesliga Show 62 – Dortmund on the brink and advantage, Bayern

On this week’s Bundesliga Show, Jon Hartley and Terry Duffelen discuss the last weekend’s action in the first and second division of the Bundesliga. We anticipate a Borussia  Dortmund title win after their victory over Schalke and welcome Greuther Fürth into the German top flight after they sealed promotion at the weekend.

We also discuss Bayern Munich’s 2-1 win against Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Bundesliga Review – Composure the key to Dortmund’s success

Dusel – a German phrase, describing the undeserved luck Bayern Munich “usually” get. It is a myth, a myth that some believe exists but as Borussia Dortmund look set to clinch back-to-back Bundesliga titles, dusel hasn’t been apparent at all of late. In fact, what looks to have separated Germany’s top two has been composure.

On Wednesday night, Borussia came out on top when playing Bayern, putting a six point gap between the pair. Yet had Arjen Robben kept his composure and concentration on three occasions (playing Lewandowski onside, missing the penalty and missing from 3 yards) in the last 15 minutes, Bayern wouldn’t be out of the title race.

They are though. Borussia Dortmund deserve great credit for keeping their cool in the last week. Firstly they rode out late pressure against Bayern at Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday. Then on Saturday, BVB completed what was perhaps an even more meaningful victory over arch-rivals Schalke, despite not being at the best.

It wasn’t easy for Dortmund as they probably anticipated. Their Gelsenkirchen neighbours are ranked third in Germany and they took an early lead thanks to Jefferson Farfan’s spectacular effort which took a sizeable nick off Shinji Kagawa. Borussia were unflustered and duly responded with a terrific effort.

Right back Lukasz Piszczek has been superb for Die Schwarzgelben but his goal scoring prowess isn’t what he’s noted for. However, his strike against Schalke was majestic. On his weaker foot, he struck a half volley from a tight angle wide on the left in the penalty area, which flew past the diving figure of Lars Unnerstall – one all. Surely the game couldn’t produce an even better goal?

No, it couldn’t. The winner was scrappy. Club Captain Sebastian Kehl latched onto a poor touch from Christoph Metzelder inside the six yard box to stab the ball home, securing victory in the Revierderby for Dortmund. What’s more it meant BVB extended their unbeaten run in the Bundesliga to 25 games.

“Twenty-five games? That’s crazy! What we have done is unimaginable.”

It’s hard to disagree with Jürgen Klopp. What Dortmund have done is fantastic and they only need two points to create an unassailable total for Bayern Munich after they drew against Klopp’s former side Mainz on Saturday evening.

Jupp Heynckes did make changes with the Real Madrid game on Tuesday in mind. However, they lacked the necessary intensity to break down a resolute Mainz team, who deserved more credit than they received in the aftermath of Saturday’s result.

Victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach this weekend will secure the Bundesliga title for Dortmund. In fact, if Werder Bremen take anything off Bayern Munich earlier in the day, then it will be all over before a ball is kicked in the Ruhr.

As Klopp said in the aftermath of Saturday’s victory though, “This team is never satisfied and is incredibly greedy.” This thirst is part of what makes Dortmund champions. Their composure at the most critical moments though when others might have flinched is ultimately why Borussia Dortmund will be crowned as Bundesliga winners for a second consecutive year.

Article originally published on - For more on the Bundesliga, follow @archiert1

Matchday 31 Results:

Stuttgart 4-1 Werder Bremen

Bayer Leverkusen 3-3 Hertha Berlin

Hamburg 1-0 Hannover

Kaiserslautern 0-2 Nuremberg

Schalke 1-2 Borussia Dortmund

Wolfsburg 1-2 Augsburg

Bayern Munich 0-0 Mainz

Cologne 3-0 Gladbach

Freiburg 0-0 Hoffenheim


Rank Club Matches W* D* L* G* GD* PTS*
1 Borussia Dortmund 31 22 6 3 69:23 +46 72 CL*
2 FC Bayern Munich 31 20 4 7 69:20 +49 64 CL*
3 FC Schalke 04 31 18 3 10 66:41 +25 57 CL*
4 Borussia Mönchengladbach 31 16 8 7 46:22 +24 56 CL* Qual.
5 VfB Stuttgart 31 14 7 10 59:41 +18 49 EL*
6 Bayer 04 Leverkusen 31 12 9 10 46:43 +3 45 EL* Qual.
7 Hannover 96 31 11 11 9 39:43 -4 44 EL* Qual.
8 SV Werder Bremen 31 11 9 11 45:50 -5 42
9 1899 Hoffenheim 31 10 11 10 38:40 -2 41
10 VfL Wolfsburg 31 12 4 15 42:56 -14 40
11 1. FC Nuremberg 31 11 5 15 33:42 -9 38
12 1. FSV Mainz 05 31 9 10 12 47:48 -1 37
13 SC Freiburg 31 9 9 13 41:56 -15 36
14 Hamburger SV 31 8 10 13 34:55 -21 34
15 FC Augsburg 31 7 12 12 34:48 -14 33
16 1. FC Köln 31 8 5 18 36:66 -30 29 Play-offs
17 Hertha BSC Berlin 31 6 10 15 34:57 -23 28 Relegation
18 1. FC Kaiserslautern 31 3 11 17 19:46 -27 20 Relegation

Table thanks to the Bundesliga Official Website

Chaos at the Carnival Club

Jon Hartley takes a look at the turbulent tenure of Stale Solbakken at Cologne.

Not too long ago, Franz Beckenbauer said of the situation of the situation in Cologne, “Wolfgang Overath (former club President) has gone, Volker Finke (former Sporting Director) has gone, Podolski is likely to go. I ask myself, is the Goat still there?”. Now coach Stale Solbakken has also departed the club…thankfully though, the Goat is still around.

Lets not pretend that things were rosy in the garden of the RheinEnergie Stadium before the beginning of this season, but there was some genuine hope that Solbakken’s appointment might lead to a change in Cologne’s fortunes. The club fought hard to get him, so it was understandable that they left it this late to finally part company. The Norwegian had achieved great things with FC Copenhagen, he was awash with Danish titles and also credible performances in the Champions League. His stock was certainly high and he was due to take over as Norwegian national coach until Cologne came knocking. They must have been quite persuasive, not only financially, but also in terms of the potential of a club like Cologne. Sure, there has always been potential at Cologne, but it seems that turning potential into success is a very tough act to pull off in the Cathedral city.

There was little chance if instant success for Solbakken with the Cologne soap opera in full flow. There was Miso Brecko’s drink driving, Kevin Pezzoni’s Carnival punch-up, Slawomir Peszko’s run in with a Taxi driver, not to mention the Cologne fans stopping the team bus for a chat and smashing up another with Gladbach fans in. There has been a lot to deal with at the Geißbockheim this season.

Solbakken hasn’t always made life easy for himself. Pre-season dithering over the captaincy was not the best of starts, especially when it involved taking the armband from Kölsch golden boy Lukas Podolski and giving it to Pedro Geromel. While the coach may not have got off to a flying start with that move, he also wasn’t given great tools to work with. Cologne spluttered into 10th place last season, yet the nucleus of that side still remains. Summer signings from Volke Finke were few and far between and the only one of any note was Sascha Riether from Wolfsburg. Riether has proved himself as a good Bundesliga player but has also proved that he can’t change a team. Henrique Sereno and Ammar Jemal both arrived on loan to help bolster the defence, but this doesn’t constitute the overhaul needed at the club. One reason that the overhaul didn’t happen is that Cologne don’t have a lot of cash. They have big visions, that is true, but few funds to finance it.

Solbakken arrived with the reputation of playing compact and counter attacking football. Only on a few occasions has his concept really been realised at Cologne and that might have something to do with the coaching, but probably a lot to do with not having the squad needed to execute it.

After two disappointing defeats and a draw in the opening three games of the season, Cologne fans gave the coach and the team time to bond and that is credit to Solbakken’s personality. From the first day of the season he did his press conferences in German and he had to work very hard to achieve that. Even for a native speaker, it takes some bravery to explain your vision and defend decisions to the Cologne press pack, but as a learner of German it was very impressive. It was also done with great humour, which can only have helped his standing with the fans and media alike. This is of course the man who joked in a packed press conference when his phone rang, that it was his wife calling to enquire if he would have a job the following day.

The squad strength aside, Solbakken hasn’t had much luck in other areas either. A string of injuries mainly in defence, and some silly suspensions have played their part to put extra stress on the team. Some of those injuries have also hit the attacking options as well.  A two month lay-off for Milivoje Novakovic and a month without Lukas Podolski, have no doubt had an effect on the abilities of this threadbare squad.

Speaking of Lukas Podolski, his story will have played a part in Solbakken’s and Cologne’s poor showing this season. On the one hand he has been the Cologne saviour, having has scored 17 of their 36 league goals, yet the distraction of his transfer talks and outspoken (yet truthful) interviews can only have caused problems for the rest of the team.

The other elephant in the room has been the relationship between Solbakken and Volke Finke. It is safe to say that the two did not see eye to eye. This was all too evident at the end of the January transfer window with the signing by Finke of Chong Tese from Bochum. Solbakken had barely seen the player and didn’t agree with the signing, and that will have hardly improved relations.

So when the decision came that Finke would leave the club, it looked like Solbakken was the winner in this contest, and he would be the one to take the club forward. That was more evident when the blame was levelled at the team and not the coach after the defeat to Augsburg. One improved performance followed, but the 4-0 loss to Mainz was the last straw, and the club let go of Solbakken.

It wasn’t a decision that Cologne hierarchy really wanted to make. Having got rid of Finke, the last thing they wanted was another change, and more importantly another public failure. Given the trajectory of the club it was perhaps understandable, if a little late in the season, but what about the future and the next step for Cologne? Frank Schaefer is in charge until the end of the season and if he can work the same magic as last season while in charge, it is possible for Cologne to survive. But regardless of what division Cologne are in next season, this summer is the time that the club needs to put its house in order once and for all and capitalise on this potential for the long term. Both the fans and the club need to lower their expectations and look to the example of other Bundesliga clubs who have nurtured success with a blend of young talent and experienced heads. When that happens they should look for a coach just like Stale Solbakken…he would be a perfect coach for a stable and progressive club.

Derby Fever

Matthias Suuck looks at the stories behind some of German’s biggest local derbies…big derbies that are taking place this weekend.

This weekend is derby weekend in the Bundesliga and nothing evokes supporters’ passions more than a derby match. These are the matches where (for the supporters) league position is secondary and bragging rights against their bitter rivals is all that matters. There are plenty of great rivalries in the football world and Germany is no different. There are scores of great rivalries across German football, from the lowest leagues on up to the top of the Bundesliga. The region richest with rivalries is undoubtedly the west of the country, more specifically Nordrhein-Westfalen, since it is one of the most densely populated regions of the country, both in terms of inhabitants and football clubs. It is also the cradle for what is widely recognized as the greatest of all German football rivalries, the “Revierderby”; Borussia Dortmund vs. FC Schalke 04 and it will once again be on display this weekend.

THE derby of the west features two of the most passionate (and similar) fan bases in Germany. In fact, the similarities between the two clubs cannot be denied. Both come from the working-class areas of Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund, where historically most supporters (and even some players) came from the mining industry of the region. These clubs’ supporters are not separated by their religion or their income, but rather simply by the fact that they grew up a mere 35 km apart. Ever since the founding of both clubs over 100 years ago, they drew much of their support, as well as players, from eastern European immigrants. Simply looking at some of the great players’ last names from the past highlights this fact, e.g. Ernst Kuzorra, Fritz Szepan, and Heinrich Kwiatkowski. I believe, in fact that the bitterness of this rivalry does not lie in the differences between the clubs and their supporters (as is the case in the Old Firm derby), but rather in the similarities. They are almost like estranged brothers and nobody likes losing to their brother.

What many outsiders do not realize is that the rivalry did not even exist prior to World War II. Schalke, with its magical “Schalker Kreisel” dominated football in Germany during the 1920’s and 30’s, when it won four German championships and one cup title. Dortmund at that time was more of a lower league or also-ran club. However, after the formation of the Oberliga system in 1947 the rivalry truly began to take shape, especially with a new batch of immigrants to work the local mines, coming from the recently lost eastern reaches of Germany. In the 1950’s the rivalry came to a head when Dortmund, lead by manager Helmut Schneider won two German titles (1956, 1957) and Schalke one (its last) in 1958. Dortmund supporters have never let Schalke supporters forget the fact that the last of their seven German titles came over 50 years ago. In fact, a group of BVB supporters paid for a small plane to fly over Gelsenkirchen in 2008 with a banner reminding them of the 50 years without a league title.

Though the rivalry ebbed a bit in the 1970’s and 80’s, when both teams had their spells in the second tier of German football, it came back with a roar in the 1990’s. This was a decade that saw Dortmund’s greatest success since the 50’s and both clubs winning European titles in the same year, 1997 (Dortmund the Champions League and Schalke the Uefa Cup). Though Dortmund has had more league success than Schalke in the last 20 years (4 Bundesliga titles), the “Knappen” (nickname for Schalke) have had more success in the cup (3 titles).

The animosity of both sets of supporters runs deep, with neither side actually using the name of the other’s city. Schalke supporters refer to Borussia Dortmund as “Lüdenscheid-Nord” and Dortmund supporters refer to Schalke as “Herne-West,” in a way to make each side sound more provincial and less sophisticated. Ironically, Schalke (unlike Dortmund) is one part of the city of Gelsenkirchen (Gelsenkirchen-Schalke) and not its own true city. This deep seated rivalry also extends to the pitch. Nowhere was this more on display than in the recent cup tie between Dortmund and Greuther Fürth. One of the Fürth players (Gerald Asamoah) played many seasons for Schalke. Before the match he stated how much he would enjoy ending “Lüdenscheid’s” cup dreams with a winning goal late in the match. After Dortmund defeated Fürth with a dramatic last-second goal, lifelong Dortmund supporter (and former Ultra member) and star player Kevin Großkreutz (who once said that if his son became a Schalke supporter he would stick him in an orphanage) decided to rub the victory in Asamoah’s face, who took exception to it (but let’s remember who actually started it shall we).

This weekend’s match has added importance for both clubs. With Dortmund hoping to extend their lead over Bayern Munich at the top of the table to claim another title and Schalke in a tight battle with Mönchengladbach for the final direct Champions League spot, neither club (nor their supporters) will give an inch and either side would relish in making life difficult for the other.

The other derby on display this weekend is the “Rheinland Derby” between FC Cologne and Borussia Mönchengladbach. This rivalry only really began to take shape when Gladbach was promoted to the Bundesliga in 1965. By that point, Cologne had already won two German titles. What added to the spice of the rivalry was the fact that Gladbach’s manager was the former Cologne manager Hennes Weisweiler. Under Weisweiler, Mönchengladbach quickly eclipsed Cologne with its young squad of attacking players and rose to prominence in the 1970’s, winning 5 Bundesliga titles. When Weisweiler returned to Cologne in 1976, they quickly won the cup and in 1978 won the double. Now you had two legitimate powerhouse clubs in the same Rheinregion of Germany battling near the top of the Bundesliga for many years in the late 1970’s and early to mid 1980’s. However, both clubs fell on very hard times in the last 20 years, seeing both of them relegated to the 2nd Bundesliga a number of times.

Though the tradition and cultural history behind this rivalry in no way compares to that of Dortmund vs. Schalke, it is a bitter rivalry nonetheless. The edge to this rivalry, as is often the case, is delivered mainly by the fans. In recent years and months there have been extremely ugly scenes from both sets of supporters, but mainly coming from Cologne, which included a recent incident where Cologne supporters stopped a bus full of Gladbach supporters and assaulted them. Part of this is just brain dead thuggish behavior, but some of it clearly stems from the fact that Cologne are once again fighting off relegation, while Mönchengladbach are the surprise team of the season and are fighting for a spot in the Champions League.

There are plenty of other great rivalries across German football that still play out every year, such as the “Nord Derby” between Hamburg and Werder Bremen. There are also more recent derbies that have sprung up over the past decade or two, e.g. Freiburg vs. Stuttgart, Mainz vs. Kaiserslautern, Wolfsburg vs. Hannover, etc. Then there are those rivalries that only success brings with it, such as the ones between Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach, Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, but these lack the bitterness of the local derbies. There have also been historically significant rivalries that have faded a bit over time, since the clubs hardly face off anymore, as is the case between Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich or Eintracht Frankfurt and Kickers Offenbach.

As you can see, the rich history of football in Germany has delivered some outstanding rivalry matchups over the past 100 years, and this weekend’s fixtures of Dortmund vs. Schalke and Mönchengladbach vs. Cologne are sure to be no different.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 61 – Dominators Dortmund Edge Out Bayern

Straight after the big top of the table clash, Terry Duffelen and Jon Hartley, talk over Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich. The English Week is also gets a round-up from the other games in the Bundesliga and the effect on the table.

Also there is a review of what has been happening in the 2.Bundesliga. With four games to go in the 2nd division it is really hotting up! All this and a look forward to the big games coming up this weekend in the Bundesliga.