With an attractive mixture of team spirit, commitment and self-irony, Cologne are enjoying their Bundesliga season and dreaming of European soccer. And with very good reason, writes DW sports' Thomas Klein.
It’s the 78th minute of Eintracht Frankfurt’s game at home to Bayern Munich. Mexican midfielder Marco Fabian has just shocked the champions with a goal to make it 2-2 despite the home side being down to 10 men since the 65th minute.
Around 200 kilometers to the north in Cologne, the latest scores flash up on the big screen. The Cologne fans are bemused at first but soon chants of ‘European Cup! European Cup!’ begin to ring around the ground. Cologne, somewhat improbably, are second in the table.
The mood on the terraces is electric. Lately, matchdays at the RheinEnergie stadium have taken on a genuine party feel. Taking into account last season, Cologne are unbeaten in 12 matches and Saturday’s 2-1 win at home to Ingolstadt was their fourth victory of the campaign.
A large part of their success is down to striker Anthony Modeste, who already has seven goals to his name and is top of the scoring chart. But it would be too simple to put Cologne’s impressive run down to the Frenchman’s ruthless finishing alone.
Over at the Bittencourts
In Cologne’s case, another reason can be found on the bench. Coach Peter Stöger and manager Jörg Schmadtke have put together a squad over the past three years that is defined by harmony on and off the pitch. Whether its evenings watching the match round at Leonardo Bittencourt’s house or choreographed goal celebrations, something has clicked in the team.
Stöger and Schmadtke have brought calm and composure. Both seem to understand the right words to say at the right time to both the players and, importantly, the media.
To add to that, Stöger has introduced a process of consultation based on his generally excellent relations with his players. An example? During the game against Ingolstadt, Stöger discussed tactics with defender Jonas Hector. Together, they agree on a switch to a three-man defense. A few minutes later Cologne take the lead.
‘We can mock ourselves’
Cologne have undergone a process of development over the past few years that struggling clubs like Hamburg and Bremen can only dream of. Even after poor results the club management, and crucially the sometimes impatient fans, backed the team. Hasty decisions and knee-jerk reactions have been avoided at the self-styled Carnival Club.
It doesn’t matter either that the supporters have been singing about - or even dreaming about - the European Cup or the German league championship. They have learned not to take themselves too seriously. “We have managed to get to the point where we can laugh at ourselves. We can mock ourselves,” Stöger says.
And that is absolutely one of the Austrian coach’s biggest achievements.