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Homegrown coach Frank Schaefer is turning the tide in Cologne

The key in a relegation fight is to focus on a team's strengths, not weaknesses. That, at least, is Frank Schaefer's idea, and it's working. DW spoke with Schaefer about what Cologne needs to do to avoid the drop.

Cologne's coach Frank Schaefer

Schaefer has a back-to-basics approach

Two weeks ago, Cologne were foundering in sixteenth place and facing two consecutive games against top-five teams, Bayern Munich and Mainz. Hardly the best of scenarios for the Billy Goats to escape the relegation zone, where they had been mired for most of the season.

But 14 days and six points later, Cologne find themselves in thirteenth, above teams like Wolfsburg, Bremen and Stuttgart in the table. In particular, the Billy Goats' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Bayern in round 21 seems to have been a turning point.

To celebrate, Cologne coach Frank Schaefer gave his players permission to go out on the town a bit. And the reins will be loosened entirely, he says, if the team manages to stay in the first division.

"In that case, everything is allowed," Schaefer told Deutsche Welle. "I think the entire city will go crazy and will want to hoist a few cold ones with the guys."

The conventional logic in a relegation battle is to keep an even emotional keel, but Schaefer has been ignoring this.

"There are moments and entire games I've taken very personally," Schaefer said. "If you take our poor performance against [second-division] Duisburg in the German Cup or in the derby against Mönchengladbach, where we were blown out, I can't just forget things like that."

Talk to Frank Schaefer for a few minutes, and it's clear: this is man who lives and breathes Cologne football. He's been with the club since the age of ten. An injury while young put an end to his playing days, but he joined Cologne's coaching ranks early on.

Enthusiasm - indeed near fanatical identification with the club - is one thing Schaefer has tried to instill in his charges since taking over as head coach from the luckless Zvonimir Soldo last October.

But it's hardly the only change he's brought about.

Going for it

Cologne players celebrate after beating Bayern

Cologne have taken to Schäfer's methods

Many coaches who take over struggling clubs talk about the need to avoid mistakes. Schaefer has stressed that taking more risks is the way to go.

"We've tried to become a bit more offensive and active," Schaefer said. "In some games we've paid the price for this, but I think, all in all, it's the right decision, since it also allows us to develop as a team."

One major emphasis has been on forechecking.

"It applies not just to situations in which we have possession but to ones where our opponents have the ball as well," Schaefer said explaining the strategy.

"We still have to try to act and not just react."

As the goals they conceded against Mainz on Sunday show, Cologne are not a particularly good defensive team. They may have left the drop zone for now, but the Billy Goats still rank in the bottom three in terms of goal difference.

Their pressing was what allowed them to come away with a 4-2 win over Mainz, and the goal scorers in that match reflect another sense in which Schaefer is focusing on his team's strengths, not weaknesses.

Resurgent strikers

Lukas Podolski

Podolski has thrived after becoming Cologne's captain

As Lukas Poldolski goes, so goes Cologne. The German national team player, who grew up in the area, was brought back to the city on the Rhine from Bayern last season to great fanfare and at huge expense.

It's been a struggle - Poldi has only scored 11 goals in 48 games since his return, and it had been regularly suggested that the team might be better without him in the starting line-up.

Schaefer made him the team captain.

"He has to be the engine," Schaefer said. "He has do what's best for the team, especially now that he's captain. But he also has to be our engine."

On Sunday, Podolski repaid Schaefer's faith in him with a pair of goals that reminded people of why, not so long ago, the 'Prince' was regarded as one of Germany's top young talents.

Much the same has been true of Podolski's strike partner Milivoje Novakovic, who also bagged a brace on Sunday.

The Slovenian national team player has been Cologne's most potent offensive force for the past five seasons. But at the start of the season, Soldo had him sitting on the bench.

Schaefer immediately restored him to the starting line-up, and that's paid dividends. Novakovic is currently on nine goals for the season.

It's too early to speak of a miraculous Cologne recovery. But the Billy Goats have two of their toughest opponents out of the way, and Schaefer has succeeded in restoring the faith, both of players and supporters, who chanted his name in the waning minutes of the Mainz match.

And in a relegation fight, self-belief is one of the most important commodities of all.

Interview: Kamilla Jarzina / jc
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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