Whe will, can come. He can see the professional football players from 1. FC Köln during training, talk shopping a bit, get an autograph from his favorite player. Sometimes there is even a selfie or a chat with coach Steffen Baumgart. It is also possible to sit on the sun terrace at the “Geißbockheim” and drink coffee or Kölsch. One or the other player often comes by here – or just Baumgart.
The 50-year-old, who wears a flat cap as his trademark, does not believe in isolation at all unlike most of his Bundesliga colleagues who prefer to train behind closed doors. He enjoys dealing with the fans – and they like his style. Hardly any coach trains so emotionally, hardly anyone cheers so beautifully. And he has every reason to: The team he took over after being relegated last season is fighting for something that seemed completely utopian at the time: qualification for international business.
This Saturday, FC plays against FC Augsburg (15:30, in the WELT blacklist). Should the fourth victory in a row succeed – the dream of European football should feel even more real for the current seventh in the table. More than 200,000 ticket requests have already been received for the last home game next Saturday against VfL Wolfsburg.
The supporters run into the FC stand. Of course, this is primarily due to the success, but also to the fact that the club has also done a lot of things right off the field – or just “noticeably different”, as the traditional club claims. But this season, it’s getting really full of life.
Cologne is unusually open about economic constraints
It is essential that this is also reflected in the way the issues are handled. Although they have been withdrawn into the background due to the hovering, they are still not insignificant. The club urgently needs to save and is exceptionally open about it. The loss of sales due to the corona pandemic for more than two years and the loss of viewer income is not an individual fate in Cologne. But the effects of the crisis have hit them harder than many of their competitors. Because there are hardly any reserves.
“A good portion of the future has already been eaten away,” explained Christian Keller, the new sports director. To compensate for the drop in revenue of just over 85 million euros, the club was paid sponsorship money in advance. A state guarantee was also activated. This again means that now, at all times when the leap into the European Cup is possible, it must be slimmed down. The upcoming team, whether they play internationally or not, must be significantly cheaper.
Keller, who has only been sitting since the beginning of April, has therefore warned in advance. For next season, the salary costs for the licensed player area must be reduced compared to the current “by almost 20 percent”. It should work with the “lowest staff costs that FC has had in recent years”. In addition, according to Keller, transfer income should be generated.
Therefore, for quite some time, people have been working behind the scenes on how to preserve as much sports material as possible despite the financial difficulties. It will not be easy, especially since the successes have also aroused desire – both with our own players and with the competitors.
“I do not see any danger,” Baumgart says
The bidding competition for top scorer Anthony Modeste, who is still the team’s life insurance despite his 34 years, has long since begun. The Frenchman has scored 17 goals this season. However, it is currently uncertain whether he will extend his contract, which expires in 2023, again. The same goes for Salih Özcan, 24. The Turkish midfielder is the rising star of the upcoming season and will be courted accordingly. These are topics that in previous years would have had the potential to more than dampen the euphoric mood. Is there a risk that a successful team will fall apart?
“I do not see any danger, it’s part of my job,” Baumgart counters. “We can talk a lot about romance in football – in the end it’s about money,” he says bluntly. At least it does not bother him. “My job is not only to develop a team, but also to develop market values.” In any case, he is not worried about the future. On the contrary: it speaks for the club that it now has players who are also interesting to other clubs.
It is Baumgart’s sound realism and determination that gives hope that this good season does not have to be an exception. “Our path goes on, and I believe that there are enough good guys who want to play our football. And then we also get our team together – whether we have to spend 20 percent less or not,” he explains. transfer players, loan deals or young talents – there are always opportunities.
In addition, the club also has a new trump card up its sleeve. “If I, as a coach, talk to a player and want to make FC interesting for him, then it’s a lot easier for me today than it was last year,” said Baumgart. He’s not entirely to blame for that.