High-flying Freiburg tease Icarus′ sun | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 06.05.2013
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High-flying Freiburg tease Icarus' sun

Freiburg have not just escaped the relegation zone, let's call that Crete, under coach Christian Streich, they've all-but soared into the Europa League in 18 months. Like Icarus, is it a case of too much, too soon?

Considering the very real prospect of Freiburg becoming victims of their own success, it's just as well that their animated father figure Christian Streich is more reminiscent of the practical Daedalus than his overzealous son Icarus.

Having given Freiburg wings since he took charge of a team rooted to the bottom of the table in January 2012, Streich is determined not to fly too far off the ground.

17.11.2012 Hanover: Christian Streich (l) hugs Max Kruse after Freiburg's 2-1 win over Hannover, with Kruse scoring the winning goal. (Photo: Carmen Jaspersen dpa)

Kruse, Streich and co have had plenty to celebrate

"I'm very happy that we'll be playing in the Bundesliga next season," Streich said on Sky before Sunday's crucial win over Augsburg. Streich was talking only about the fundamental target for Freiburg, an outfit almost as modest as its relative spending power in the Bundesliga, when the world really wanted to know his thoughts on the increasingly real prospect of European competition next season.

'Our most important signing'

The high-octane coach is known for his hyperactive touchline tendencies and an apparently overwhelming desire to touch the ball himself in every match he oversees. (I once observed him run more than half way across the pitch to collect a stray ball and pass it 50 yards down the field, where his team had won a free kick; trailing 2-1 at the time, Streich seemed to think his lads were taking too long to set up.)

Freiburg's head coach Christian Streich reacts during the German first division Bundesliga football match FSV Mainz 05 vs SC Freiburg in Mainz, southwestern Germany, on January 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL ROLAND DFL RULES TO LIMIT THE ONLINE USAGE DURING MATCH TIME TO 15 PICTURES PER MATCH. IMAGE SEQUENCES TO SIMULATE VIDEO IS NOT ALLOWED AT ANY TIME. FOR FURTHER QUERIES PLEASE CONTACT DFL DIRECTLY AT + 49 69 650050. (Photo credit should read DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Streich is not renowned for sitting still

He is also renowned as one of the best motivators in German football, but pie-in-the-sky is really not his style. That's one reason why he extended his contract in the southwest, when other offers were supposedly on the table.

"It was out of the question for me to turn my back on this club after 25 years," Streich said of the freshly-signed deal this Sunday, without saying how long he extended for. Club chairman Fritz Keller is a vintner in one of Germany's prime wine-growing regions. When asked how to describe Christian Streich the wine, he called him a "Spätburgunder" (pinot noir), a mature, nosy red with potential that "could reach the very top, at some point in the future."

In one sense, Streich reached a pinnacle this March when he was awarded the DFB German Football Association coach's prize for the year.

Chairman Keller also on Sunday called Streich, "the most important new signing that we have made."

Semblance of stability desired

Signings are a sensitive topic in Baden Württemberg and with Freiburg fans, because most of the summer transactions currently involve star players leaving the club.

Freiburg's Max Kruse (L), Jan Rosenthal and Daniel Caligiuri (R) celebrate a goal against Schalke 04 during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match in Gelsenkirchen December 15, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender)

Just two more weeks with Freiburg for this trio

Four key midfielders are on their way out: attack-minded Jan Rosenthal on a free transfer to Frankfurt; ball-winner Johannes Flum to Frankfurt for 2.2 million euros ($2.88 million); left-winger Daniel Caligiuri joins Wolfsburg for 2.5 million euros, and Freiburg's top outfield performer Max Kruse will go to Borussia Mönchengladbach for the same sum.

Defining a player's market value is difficult. But if Mario Götze's 10 Bundesliga goals and eight assists are worth around 38 million euros, surely Max Kruse's 10 goals and seven assists are worth more than the 2.5 million Borussia Mönchengladbach have paid Freiburg? As was the case with Götze - as well as Flum and Caligiuri - a clause in Kruse's contract said otherwise.

In the back room, too, sporting director Dirk Dufner secured a swift mutual separation in April - shortly after the contentious summer deals were done - to move to northerly pastures with Hannover, who almost certainly will not make the European grade this season.

Max Kruse celebrates a goal for Freiburg against his future employers, Borussia Mönchengladbach. (Photo: Patrick Seeger/dpa)

Outbound Kruse is Freiburg's best attacker

Streich made no secret of his sadness to see his midfield decimated, but there are still silver linings. Teenage defender Matthias Ginter says he's going nowhere for the moment, despite catching Dortmund's now-wealthy eye. Jonathan Schmid is the second-best attacking producer in Freiburg's ranks. Cedrick Makiadi, a scorer on Sunday, is proving a late-bloomer in central midfield, and 23-year-old Fallou Diagne is a rock in defense. As for goalie Oliver Baumann, he would be a sure-fire international star, if he weren't German like Manuel Neuer, Rene Adler, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ron-Robert Zieler.

Beyond that, the coach and former academy boss plans to continue "looking for young, ambitious players who we can train up and who can keep us in the Bundesliga," forever returning to his mantra that job one is top-flight survival, with successes like the Europa League a bonus.

Snug, squashed, but electric

European competition brings another complication to the fore, namely where to play.

The Mage-Solar-Stadion, or Dreisamstadion, in Freiburg, March 2013. (Copyright: DW/F. Vögtle)

Hallowed turf, but there's just not enough of it

Freiburg's Mage-Solar-Stadion - also known by its more revered name that's older than the Bundesliga, the Dreisamstadion - is simply too small. It seats 24,000 and is usually full-to-bursting. On Sunday, Freiburg sold every single available ticket; yet the average spectator figure across the entire Bundesliga was more than twice as high, at 48,574.

As it is a residential area, the 58-year-old stadium's maximum permitted capacity is set at 25,000, making a multi-million-euro renovation and expansion - for just 1,000 more tickets per match - economic folly.

But the dimensions of the playing surface within the supporter stands are the real problem. UEFA rules now stipulate that a pitch must be 105 meters by 68, with a buffer of 10 meters at each end and 6 on either side, allowing for warm-up room, the dugouts, space for the officials - and now hoards of video cameras and photographers.

"We only have 100.5 meters," Freiburg press spokesman Rudi Raschke told the local Badische Zeitung. "We're four-and-a-half short."

The German football authorities have consistently agreed to look the other way - knowing Freiburg had at least begun the arduous process of finding and setting up a new home. UEFA might not be so generous.

From hallowed ground to papal patch?

The short term solution is either a UEFA amnesty, or forcing proud fans to cheer on their team in only its third continental campaign ever at a rival stadium - perhaps in Karlsruhe or at Hoffenheim's Sinsheim playhouse, a pair of unsavory prospects for the faithful.

In the long haul, Freiburg forever hopes its search might be over, with the city's smallish airport considered the most likely location. In September 2011, on his visit to Germany, former Pope Benedict XVI delivered a Mass to roughly 100,000 people there; this prompted a Freiburg city official to tell the Badische Zeitung that "hallowed ground" was being considered for the new stadium.

The club's fans, however, might more readily use that term for their beloved Dreisamstadion, where they seek to sing their heroes skyward each weekend.

When Streich took over, Freiburg were rock bottom and Bundesliga punching bags, now they're the best bunch of fighters in Germany. But signs of strain were shown in back-to-back matches with five conceded goals in a busy passage of play this spring, which Streich put down to tired legs in a compact squad.

With European competition looming, the fixture list is getting busier and the squad runs the risk of getting thinner. Freiburg's frantic Daddy Daedalus needs to keep his lads on a sustainable trajectory.

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