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Freiburg hope imported experience compensates for key departures

Escape clauses have forced Freiburg into a rebuild ahead of the club's debut in the Europa League. While the club has splashed out (by its standards) on the transfer market, goal-scoring could pose a problem.

Since first gaining promotion to the Bundesliga in 1993, Sportclub Freiburg have established themselves as one of Germany's leading clubs in terms of developing young talent.

The club from the south-western Breisgau region has never been under any illusions about the fact that it will never be able to compete with a Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund or even Bayer Leverkusen in terms of financial might.

Instead, it has made its name by acquiring players in two ways: 1; bringing them up through their youth program and 2; picking up relatively obscure (mainly young) talent from abroad.

Double-edged sword

No matter where such players have come from though, the one constant has always been that when they do well, the club usually winds up having to sell them to a club that could offer them higher wages and maybe even a chance to compete in Europe on an annual basis.

Despite the frustration of always having to give up such players, this double-edged sword has served the Sportclub quite well, providing it with a level of income that has allowed it to spend more seasons than not in the top flight over the past two decades.

However, it has almost always condemned Freiburg to being more of a seller rather than a buyer on the transfer market.

Over the past summer, contract escape clauses meant head coach Christian Streich was forced to wave goodbye to several players he likely would have preferred to keep, as the club embarks on its first European campaign in more than a decade.

Freiburg coach Christian Streich (Photo: dpa)

Forced into a rebuild: Coach Christian Streich

Gone are, among others, winger Daniel Caligiuri (Wolfsburg) midfielder Johannes Flum and striker Jan Rosenthal (Frankfurt), midfielder Cedric Makiadi (Bremen) as well as another striker, Max Kruse (Borussia Mönchengladbach).

Splashing out, Freiburg-style

In the past, Freiburg has been reluctant to delve too deep into the transfer market. This time, though, despite being without a fulltime technical director after the sacking of Dirk Dufner last season, the club opened up the purse strings.

Freiburg's head scout, Klemens Hartenbach and the head of the club's football school, Jochen Saier, who have stepped into Dufner's former role on a caretaker basis scoured the continent, bringing in a number of experienced players.

But despite the club's solid financial health, there were no high-priced blockbusters.

Both striker Mike Hanke (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and defender Christopher Julien (Auxerre) were brought in on free transfers, while midfielder Francis Coquelin (Arsenal) and striker Admir Mehmedi (Dynamo Kyiv) arrived on loan, at a total cost of 500,000 euros ($663.000).

Gelson Fernandes, who, like Mehmedi is a Swiss national team player, was picked up from Sporting Lisbon for 400,000.

By far the most expensive new signing is Felix Klaus, who moved southwest from the relegated Greuther Fürth for 1.1 million euros. He will be tasked with filling the gap on the left flank vacated by Daniel Caligiuri.

The new recruits add some valuable international experience as Freiburg faces a heavier workload (at least until they are eliminated from the Europa League).

Despite the loss of several key players, the defense should remain solid, with all of the club's first-choice back four, Olli Sorg, Fallou Diagne, Matthias Ginter and Mensur Mujdza back for another season, along with the newcomer, Julien.

Mike Hanke signs autographs after training. (Photo: Patrick Seeger/dpa)

Hanke offers experience but not necessarily scoring punch

In midfield, Frenchman Jonathan Schmid who can be counted on for the odd goal should continue to be a key player, out on the right of Julian Schuster, in a more central role.

However, coach Streich knows that integrating all the new recruits will be difficult. Asked by the football magazine Kicker where he sees his team finishing this season, Streich replied that only “the gods know. And I hope they look kindly upon us.”

In search of goals

His biggest question mark, though, must be one that Streich and his predecessors have sought answers to for a good many years: Where will the goals come from?

The club has rarely had a really prolific finisher, with its scoring often being spread relatively equally among the midfielders, and Kruse's 11 goals last season will be particularly hard to replace.

The 22-year-old Mehmedi remains an open book and while experienced, Hanke has never really been known as a great finisher.

This all points to Freiburg having a tough time trying to duplicate it's fifth-place finish in the Bundesliga this coming season. The extra revenue provided by at least the group stage of the Europa League will be welcome, and even if Streich's men slip somewhat in the Bundesliga standings, there may something of a silver lining: Perhaps then the coach won't have as much rebuilding to do in the next off-season.

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