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Fritz Keller: 'No more one-man show at the DFB"

Herbert Schalling mf
August 21, 2019

The German Football Association is set to elect an unlikely new president as it looks to polish up its damaged image. SC Freiburg President Fritz Keller is to take power, partly because he's prepared to give it up.

Generalversammlung der DFL Fritz Keller
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gora

Hermann Neuberger, Egidius Braun, Gerhard Meyer-Vofelder. The past heads of the German Football Association (DFB) were powerful men. They represented German football within UEFA and FIFA, exercising power and influence over the game not just in their own country but around the world.

The most recent incumbents of the office, Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Reinhard Grindel, were no different - although all three were forced to resign prematurely. Fritz Keller, however, who is set to become the 13th DFB president after being nominated unanimously by the organization's selection committee, doesn't appear to fit the profile.

Keller, from the southwestern region of Baden, is hardly a household name, even among the most well-informed German football fans. And yet the 62-year-old has a long curriculum vitae in the game as chairman, and then president, of Bundesliga side SC Freiburg.

"The role of DFB president was not exactly on my list," he admitted with a smile at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday. "I was very happy with my family, my job and my role in Freiburg.”

Urgent need for restructuring

But Keller, a wine connoisseur who owns several high-end restaurants in Freiburg and the Black Forest, will soon be entrusted with the leadership of the biggest single-sports federation in the world, an organization with over seven million members and which turns over around €400 million ($443 million) a year.

"I'm only doing it to myself because I love football," he responded when asked what led him to take on the role. Or does he feel some deeper calling? After all, Keller's godfather was none other than Fritz Walter, the legendary captain of the West Germany team that beat Hungary to win the 1954 World Cup, the so-called "Miracle of Bern."

Deutschland Zentrale des Deutschen Fußball-Bundes DFB Logo
With over seven million members, the DFB is the largest sporting federation in the worldImage: picture alliance/dpa/F. von Erichsen

But Keller doesn't want to rest on the laurels of tradition; one of his conditions for making the leap to the top of the DFB was reform in the organization. To this end, he has already submitted proposals, which have met with the approval of other leading figures.

And the DFB, having lurched from one crisis to the next in recent years, is in dire need of reform.

"There are far too many tasks for one person to tackle on his own," said Keller. "It simply can't be a one-man show nowadays."

For Keller, it's going to be a case of thoroughness over speed, while involving as many different people as possible.

"A good leader gives people room to work,"he said. "That's what I've learnt in my years as president in Freiburg and that's how I plan to work at the DFB as well."

As part of the planned reforms, Keller has announced that he does not intend to strive for potential positions at UEFA or FIFA – a key departure from his immediate predecessors who seemed to devote a disproportionate amount of energy to acquiring such roles, and the lucrative remuneration that comes with them.

In future, Rainer Koch, a DFB vice president, is to represent German football on the international stage, where Germany currently has no representation at either UEFA or FIFA. Re-acquiring a seat at world football's top table won't be easy.

Fritz Keller
Fritz Keller has presided overe a period of success at SC FreiburgImage: Imago Images/Beautiful Sports

Support from both professionals and amateurs

While Koch focuses on restoring Germany's influence abroad, there's work to be done closer to home too, as Keller well knows. As club president, he has played a major role in establishing minnows Freiburg in the Bundesliga. Women's football is also close to his heart, while he insists he still wants time to "watch a non-league game with a bratwurst and a beer." 

Such remarks go down well at the DFB, an organization in which amateur football clubs across the country have great influence due to their sheer numbers. It is here, at the grassroots, where the DFB will have the best chance of polishing up its image.

At the election on September 27, where he will be the sole candidate, Keller will be able to count on the support of both the 36 Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs, plus the representatives of German amateur football. 

Should he keep them all happy and succeed in his stated ammbition to "restore the unity of German football," maybe Fritz Keller too will eventually be counted among the powerful men who have stamped their mark on the game.