FC Köln have made giant strides since Steffen Baumgart took over as coach last summer.
|Steffen Baumgart.||Photo: Sandro Halank, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0|
Those were the words of Koln sporting director Horst Heldt, announcing the subsequent arrival of new coach Steffen Baumgart back in May.
At the time, two matchdays remained in the season, and the side from the Domstadt were in a fierce relegation battle. They would go on to clinch a relegation play-off with second-tier Holstein Kiel, subsequently securing Bundesliga status with a 5-2 aggregate win under interim coach Friedhelm Funkel.
A struggling giant for so long, the club needed a charismatic figure at the helm. They were sure of what they were getting with their new coach, as Heldt indicated:
"He has shown he can develop and improve players, no matter their age. He's the right man for the direction we want to take, and an emotional leader, who fits the club well."
The 49-year-old had done a stellar job as coach of Paderborn. From a side languishing in Germany's third-tier, he achieved successive promotions with them, and a coveted place in the Bundesliga. His popularity was immense despite a bottom place finish the following season. They achieved a ninth place finish back in Bundesliga 2. But it was clear that his time there had come to an end.
"After over four years in Paderborn, it was time for a change for me," he declared.
He has certainly lived up to the highest expectations. Köln sit in eighth position after the 'hinrunde', just two points behind Frankfurt in the European places. He has his team playing with pure emotion and working as hard as any side in the league. The man from Rostock favours an interesting 4-1-3-2 formation, allowing his sides aggressive pressing and efficient counter-pressing to flourish. They stay very compact and strike quickly when possession is won, opening up line-breaking moves.
Like at Paderborn, he is hugely admired already by fans of his current club. The craze of the flat-cap is sweeping through the stadium on matchdays in honor of their leader. And he has shown his hilarious sense of humor on many occasions. This was displayed to great effect during the yearly carnival in the city, when he showed up to training dressed as a unicorn.
Another example of his impact so far can be seen by the form of players like Anthony Modeste and Mark Uth. Modeste, in particular, has had a superb season thus far. He has netted a hugely impressive 11 goals in the league, as well as two in the Pokal. This, from a player with four goals altogether in his previous two seasons.
Uth has also been a great addition to the team, and the forward clearly admires his coach,n stating:
"Just the football he tries to play is impressive. He's the most open, the most honest. He tells you what he thinks, he tells you when he doesn't like something. He is loud on the pitch, and that works with this city and with this club".
The team never give up and fight until the end. A prime example came in the Rheinland derby at home to Leverkusen. Losing to two early goals, they appeared set to be overrun by their great rivals. But they hung on and came storming back in the second half, Modeste striking twice to salvage a deserved draw. It seems the character of the team matches that of the coach.
So how high can 'The Billy Goats' climb to under their revered boss this season? With many clubs struggling for consistency, a European place cannot be entirely ruled out. But they will need Modeste to keep banging in the goals and stay lucky with injuries for this to happen. What cannot be denied is that Steffen Baumgart has made giant strides with this team already, and the club are looking up instead of down.