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Perfect end for Paderborn

Jonathan Harding
May 11, 2014

In a remarkable footballing season, Paderborn have secured automatic promotion on the last day of the second division campaign thanks to a 2-1 win. Meet Germany's next top-flight minnows.

Fußball 2. Bundesliga SC Paderborn 07 vs. VfR Aalen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Bayern Munich may have celebrated their 24th domestic German title this weekend, and Thomas Tuchel may have left Mainz, but the biggest story of the weekend belongs to SC Paderborn 07. The German 2.Bundesliga side finished second in the league, denying Greuther Fürth the last guaranteed promotion berth.

When the wonderfully named Joel Pohjanpalo gave visitors VfR Aalen the lead on Sunday afternoon, it would have been easy for Paderborn to get nervous. Knowing a win was necessary and in front of a giddy sold-out crowd of (just) 15,000, Paderborn were suddenly faced with the very real possibility that they could spoil their own finale.

But in the quietly confident manner that has presided over them all season, Paderborn responded positively, and almost immediately. Seizing on a buoyant home crowd, Mario Vrancic set up the first and then scored a second in a furious ten minutes. And they needed nothing more than that. The news filtered in that Fürth had scored, but in truth there was never any real danger of Aalen equalising.

Fürth, who will face Hamburg in the relegation play-off next week, watched on as the final whistle blew in the Benteler-Arena. What a moment. What a season. "What's happened in Paderborn over the last few years has had little to do with professional football," said long-standing goalkeeper Lukas Kruse after the final whistle. Now the side that never finished higher than fifth in the second division before this season, have banished low-attendance memories and will join the best of professional football in Germany. The same struggles that faced Eintracht Braunschweig are now at Paderborn's door but, unlike their history-laden predecessors returning after decades outside the top flight, Paderborn arrive as a fresh face to the Bundesliga.

Identity battle potentially resolved

Fußball 2. Bundesliga - SC Paderborn 07 - VfR Aalen
Mario Vrancic (second from the left) celebrates putting Paderborn into the lead against VfR AalenImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Identity battle potentially resolved

Having spent the best part of two decades battling their way through the lower leagues, Paderborn finally seemed to settle in the second division (with one, brief, relegation trip). There they looked destined to stay after both Jos Luhukay and the soon-to-be-appointed Leverkusen head coach Roger Schmidt failed to take the club over that final hurdle and into the Bundesliga proper.

Even when current coach Andre Breitenreiter was appointed at the beginning of this season, promotion was not even an afterthought. That's hardly a surprise considering that the club spends around 15 times less than Bayern Munich each year. What magic sporting director Michael Born has cast with his meager budget is unknown, but considering that Paderborn "are not Red Bull Leipzig or Hoffenheim, who can make greater leaps in development thanks to unbelievably large investment," the club's promotion was all the more endearing for the football romantic.

Up until February of 2014, though, this story's dramatic ending was nothing more than a hopeful whisper. Having finished 2013 with three wins, fans returned after the winter break full of positivity. But very few would have believed what was to come next. Following Breitenreiter's aggressive, versatile and attacking mentality, Paderborn's squad of forgotten talents and journeymen whose race was seemingly run, won 10 and lost just two of their final 15 games. They scored the second-highest number of goals (61) and despite conceding the second-most in the top 13 (47!), their decision to favor attacking supremacy ultimately delivered the goods.

Behind that success lies an identity struggle. Football has only been part of the club's sporting set-up from 1985 and since then, they've played second fiddle to regional rivals Borussia Dortmund and (even) Arminia Bielefeld. No longer. Throughout their more mediocre second-division campaigns, Paderborn were rarely accompanied by more than 5,000 fans. An extra 10,000 filled the Benteler-Arena for Sunday's decisive game. Every café and pub in town hummed with eager excitement. And thousands of football fans around the country were drawn in.

Forgotten troupe enjoy their moment in the sun

At full time, the crowds spilled onto pitch, out of the bars and across town. Paderborn's stadium, a modern update on a classic lower-league stadium, was rocking like never before, and perhaps never again. While sporting director Born has already laughed off a prompt stadium redevelopment as "a second miracle," the Benteler-Arena's Bundesliga suitability remains in doubt.

SC Paderborn 07 - SV Sandhausen
Success story Süleyman Koc scores the opener against Sandhausen earlier in the seasonImage: Starke/Bongarts/Getty Images

The squad though, looks largely set to stay the same. Mahir Saglik, 31, led the scoring this season with 15 goals and could never have imagined he'd return to the top-flight after his muted first attempt some five years ago with Wolfsburg and Karslruhe. Central midfielder Marvin Bakalorz joined permanently after a loan spell from Frankfurt and has excited, while 28-year-old Albanian international Alban Meha, signed on a free transfer from Trier, has come on in leaps and bounds, scoring 12 goals. There is perhaps no greater story though than Turkish-German Süleyman Koc. Sentenced to just shy of four years imprisonment for involvement in casino gang raids, Koc's good behavior won him an early release. And the moment that time had been served at the turn of the new year, Paderborn made the decision to sign him. While not an out-and-out star, he has contributed - his goal in the 2-2 draw with Fürth proved pivotal.

Breitenreiter the key cog

SC Paderborn 07 - SV Sandhausen
Coach Andre Breitenreiter (second from the left) has been a great leader after his side's unlikely promotionImage: Starke/Bongarts/Getty Images

The biggest remaining piece in Paderborn's promotion puzzle is Andre Breitenreiter. "This is what happens when the coach works with each individual every day," said goalie Kruse afterwards. Perhaps it is no surprise then to hear that Breitenreiter recently progressed through Germany's famous Hennes-Weisweiler-Akademie, the country's top coaching school.

This season, the humbly-financed and meagerly-equipped Eintracht Braunschweig won and broke many hearts with their admirable attempt at survival. Next year, there will be a similar sense of heart and passion about SC Paderborn's tackling of the 34-game challenge. But with perhaps a more daring philosophy and in the hope that Saglik can fire again, the Paderborn squad - whose collective value equates to that of Schalke's teenager Max Meyer - could have the requisite firepower Braunschweig lacked.

Now is not the time for predictions though. In response to what he felt he deserved after the final whistle, Paderborn goalkeeper Lukas Kruse simply said "100 beers." For Paderborn's achievement in the modern age of football, they deserve that and more.

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