Christian Keller (43) has been responsible for 1. FC Köln’s sporting assets since April. The kicker talked to the ex-Regensburger about chances and problems for the “Billion Goats”.
The conversation took place before Borussia Dortmund’s concrete interest in midfielder Salih Özcan (24) became public. The homemade player had to switch for about five million euros. A sum that sounds relatively small given the recent achievements of the Turkish international. When it was manifested, however, no club would have paid for Özcan. His development under coach Steffen Baumgart now makes him a coup for BVB.
It is said that the energy costs at Geißbockheim have been rising for just over four weeks because the lights in your office are always on until at least 1 p.m. Will the overview be established soon?
Not as far as I had imagined.
Because I spend a lot of time during the day talking. This is often not possible in 20 minutes. I spoke personally with each player. It sometimes went a little faster with young players, with the more experienced guys I sometimes talked for up to an hour and a half. I really wanted to take this time. To do this, I sat down with each department head and introduced myself to each committee, and I have, of course, attended various committee meetings. It’s all very important, but of course not a time when I work productively. Therefore, it takes some time to get acquainted with the details.
Are you a careful boss?
Yes, I would say that.
Do you like to be loud? Or rather the emphatic type?
I like to regulate things on the factual level. If I get tall, then it went so mediocre. And if someone does not want it to be as I imagine it, then I do not need to raise my voice – a few calm but unmistakably spoken words are enough.
How did Cologne receive you?
Friendly, open, helpful. I am very satisfied.
How do you perceive the differences to Jahn Regensburg?
There are many more employees, many more committees, so there is also a greater need for coordination. But I was just as aware of it as the fact that the club sometimes works with topics that did not even exist in Regensburg.
Here, for example, there is a business development department. The innovations presented by colleagues were sometimes not relevant at the development stage of SSV Jahn.
To what extent are you still learning and to what extent are you already a decision maker? 1
I decide in sports.
They sat in the press box during home games. Do you like to sit among professionals?
(laughs) It’s quiet, you can see. Jörg Jakobs gave me the tip, we sit next to each other. It’s ideal. I hope I can keep the place.
At your inaugural press conference, you called participation in the international competition “the icing on the cake”. Now a triple burden, travel stress, a possibly frustrating elimination from the playoffs awaits. Is there possibly still a pit in the cherry to suffocate badly in?
Basically, I try to think in terms of possibilities. For me, the glass is always half full. There is no alternative to optimism for me. It’s cool to play internationally – also for me personally I experience it for the first time. This is also the first for the entire coaching staff. We are all looking forward to seeing how far we can go.
The whole of Cologne literally longs for a contract extension with Steffen Baumgart and his team. How far are the negotiations?
We sat down and exchanged views. Fortunately, they were identical. Steffen has made a clear commitment that he would like to continue the task here. And then I said on behalf of all FC managers that we also want to continue. Now it’s time to pour it into a mold. It is absolutely positive that Steffen looks at the upcoming tasks in the same way as we do.
Last season should not hide the fact that we still lack the substance to regularly land in a European competition.
In the medium term, we will have to position ourselves as a development club.
A club that usually brings in players who are not yet big names in the Bundesliga and have not yet delivered any quality certificate there. Players who may come from the lower leagues or were in the squad in the Bundesliga, but who have only played a little. Bringing these players forward accordingly, developing them, that’s our core task.
Are setbacks taken into account?
You belong. Nevertheless, of course, we want to avoid them at best.
What are the specific sporting goals?
First of all, last season should not hide the fact that we currently lack the substance to regularly land in a European competition. This is neither economically nor infrastructurally possible. So we are not going into the season and saying we will finish in seventh place or better. We want to further stabilize our performance. Expressed in numbers: We want 40 points as soon as possible and then we have to see how many matches are left to play after that.
Known for his emotional outbursts: Steffen Baumgart.
IMAGO / Eibner
You differ a lot from the coach in your exterior. Do opposites attract or fly sparks?
We have not known each other for so long. Let’s put it this way: When we played against Paderborn with Regensburg, he was not my favorite sideline opponent during the match (laughs). But before and after the match, I have always found Steffen very comfortable because he is very different than he publicly seems to be. A reflective person who seeks and receives feedback. And when the emotions have dried up after the match, he analyzes clearly and factually. There we do not differ so much.
He is not a manager who puts pressure on the club and is constantly asking for new players. How important is it to have a coach who thinks financially?
It is brutally important for the coach to say that things are as they are. And then try to get the best out of it. Steffen is a football coach and sees his most important task as helping players get better. From top player to number 27 in the squad. I think that’s what makes a top coach.
Can you also see the signature of Hanoverian Linton Maina under this aspect?
Linton is a potential player, a development player who brings qualities that objectively must be enough to consistently assert themselves at the first division level. He is lightning fast, can run in depth and go one on one. In addition, he is dangerous.
What he rarely showed …
Linton has areas of development that we have clearly discussed with him and that he will continue to work with along with the coaching staff.
He should now have the right coach.
You said there was no alternative to the path you had taken? How?
So we do not hit the wall financially. The parking brake is activated, but we are still rolling. Our task is to make FC healthy again in the medium term and to make it effective at all levels.
You talked about the necessary savings, 12 million euros is very wood. How does it work?
I can not promise it will work. On the one hand we will get cheap players, on the other hand we will give up one or the other player. But we do not want to pick anyone here. That’s not my idea of leadership. If you behave correctly, you will be treated properly. This also includes a transparent view of each player’s perspective. Then everyone must decide for themselves whether they want to follow our path – also with the risk of not playing so much.
He should stay in Cologne: Anthony Modeste.
IMAGO / sports photo package
What about top-performing sales?
You will see who a market is opening up to.
For Tony Modeste?
His athletic status is undisputed. When it comes to goal scorers, we have a lump formation. A big lump, it’s from Tony. And a few small ones. It’s great to have a player who scores so often. But it would be good if you have a couple in addition to scoring eight-twelve goals. We do not have that yet. But I think Mark Uth is good for eight to twelve goals. As for Tony, we want him to stay. Not only because of the goals, but also because it is important for the locker room. He knows we will keep him. But he also knows that we are not currently in a financial position to extend his contract.
Did he accept it?
He smiled as he left my office (smiling).
They have the term “salary cap” attached to them. Should this be a way to realize savings?
We never communicated a particular number – nor did we talk about it internally. Either way, every club has a salary cap. The only question left is how high it is. What we do not have here is a clear wage structure.
What should it look like?
To put it bluntly: there are top performers who are at the top of the structure. Then comes the midfield, including the potential players and hopefuls. For each category, there is a range of what can be afforded. That is not the case here. Here, many hopefuls are already paid as a high priest. And it’s not a healthy structure.