All aboard the Frankfurt football roller coaster | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 24.08.2012
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All aboard the Frankfurt football roller coaster

After the fourth promotion of a founding member of the Bundesliga, there's one goal in Frankfurt: never get relegated again! That's reasonable given the team's strapped coffers, but some have pie in the sky hopes.

In Frankfurt, it's seen as obvious that Eintracht Frankfurt doesn't belong where the team has been in recent years: yo-yoing between the first and second Bundesliga. The team was at least able to correct their last stumble - its fourth relegation - after playing just one year in the second division.

Fußball 2. Bundesliga 32. Spieltag: Alemannia Aachen - Eintracht Frankfurt am Montag (23.04.2012) im Tivoli Stadion in Aachen. Ein Frankfurter Fan feiert den Aufstieg. Frankfurt gewinnt das Spiel mit 3:0. Foto: Rolf Vennenbernd dpa/lnw (Achtung Sperrfrist! Die DFL erlaubt die Weiterverwertung der Bilder im IPTV, Mobilfunk und durch sonstige neue Technologien erst zwei Stunden nach Spielende. Die Publikation und Weiterverwertung im Internet ist während des Spiels auf insgesamt fünfzehn Bilder pro Spiel begrenzt.) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

'Never again in the second league' reads the sign

But Frankfurt's frequent back-and-forth between the two leagues can hardly continue to be dismissed as a mere 'occupational hazard' of professional football, even if the fans see it that way.

Despite losing the last game of last season (a formality against 1860 Munich that came after promotion had been secured with a win against Alemannia Aachen the week before) thousands of fans celebrated - for the fourth time in the team's history - Frankfurt's return to the Bundesliga.

Sporting director Bruno Hübner was carried by the masses in the Frankfurt Arena, and the current coach, Armin Veh - whose one-year contract extension was only secured after a tooth-and-nail fight - was honored in fans' songs.

Financial tight-rope

But Frankfurt is on thin ice. Their return to the Bundesliga came from a show of strength that didn't come cheap. They pushed themselves to the financial limit.

"In the second Bundesliga we completely tapped our reserves," admitted finance director Axel Hellmann. "We wouldn't have been able to manage another year in the second Bundesliga with this structure."

Frankfurt went into last season with a budget of 20 million euros ($24.7 million) and recorded a loss of about 11 million euros. This season, 25 million euros were needed to cover the players' contracts, and Hellman says they've got it covered - barely.

"That was pretty damn difficult," he said, adding that they are walking a tight-rope with their budget.

That shows Frankfurt is thinking in completely different dimensions: mid-table results have always been hard to take; it should be the top half of the table or perhaps even a piece of silverware. The team has done a lot to achieve that end. Since the Bundesliga was founded 50 years ago, there have been more than 30 coaches in Frankfurt, including big names (and the associated big price tags) such as Christoph Daum, Felix Magath and Jupp Heynckes.

Better times

Frankfurt fans, though, keep the memories of the team's successes at the front of their minds, even if they are a few decades back. These high-points include the German Cup in 1974, 1975, 1981, and 1988. In 1980, Frankfurt won the UEFA Cup in an all-German final against Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Players gathered around the UEFA Cup, which Frankfurt won in 1980

Frankfurt won the UEFA Cup at home in 1980

In the club's heyday, there were even members of West Germany's 1974 World Cup championship squad on the team. Jürgen Grabowski was one, and Bernd Hölzenbein, who now heads the scouting department in Frankfurt, was the other.

Frankfurt also won the German title once, in 1959. The following year they made it all the way to the final of the European Cup - the predecessor of today's Champions League. The big game against Real Madrid in Glasgow could have gone better for Eintracht - they lost 7-3 - but it is at least considered one of the best finals in European Cup history.

The current team in Frankfurt is miles away from the successes of the past, whose legacy still subliminally affects today's expectations. That surely doesn't make life any easier in Frankfurt.

The brutal reality

Following their promotion, the reality of the situation in Frankfurt now is quite different from the glamorous memories of yesteryear. In light of the financial situation, you won't find any stars in the team's current roster.

The side has snapped up last year's top division two scorer, Candian Olivier Occean, who helped lead Greuther Fürth to the league title and promotion to the German top flight.

More recently, the team secured signings of defender Carlos Zambrano from St. Pauli and striker Dorge Kouemaha from FC Brugges. Zambrano's contract is for three years, while Kouemaha is on a one year loan with an option to buy.

Coach Armin Veh thinks highly of the 23-year-old Zambrano.

"He goes into duels very aggressively, and is still at an age where he can develop," Veh said. "He can become a good Bundesliga player."

That assumes Frankfurt remains a Bundesliga team. The team can hardly afford to suffer a fifth 'occupational hazard,' especially not with a budget that's already at breaking point.