The marriage between Peter Stöger, Jörg Schmadtke and 1. FC Köln was seemingly a fairytale come true. A great traditional club had finally managed to restore some of its former glory after years of infighting, tumult, scandalous headlines in the local press and decades of performing below par. When Schmadtke took over at EffZeh, he and Peter Stöger found a club disappointed at failing to go straight back up to the Bundesliga. The 2013/14 season should turn out to be one of the most memorable turning points in the club’s history. Promotion was secured and the club had managed to put up a stable structure that could last for some time.
Keeping a calm head, making good signings on the cheap and managing the expectations of a very demanding public is a difficult trick to pull off in a city like Cologne. The fans and the press have been reminding the club of its glory days on a daily basis. Any accomplishment or lack there of would automatically be compared to the ghosts of the past. However, somehow the outspoken man from Düsseldorf and his confidant from Austria were able to work well in tandem, whilst producing results that pleased the crowds. The first season back in the Bundesliga saw EffZeh defend well, churning out draw after draw with an occasional win. Only 40 goals conceded and a goal difference of minus 4 showed how much Peter Stöger chose to emphasise the defensive side of his tactics during that time.
The 2015/16 season was even more solid and saw the Billy Goats flirting with a finish in the top 7 at times. Despite the fact that the club seemingly was on its way back to a European competition both Schmadtke and Stöger kept their calm and managed expectations once again. Playing defensive football and ending up in a mid-table position whilst staying away from drama is an accomplishment in itself in the cathedral city. Doing it twice in a row is a trick that not too many coaches and sporting directors have managed to pull off over the years.
Add to that the fact that the first two years back in the Bundesliga are considered to be the most difficult times a club is facing upon arriving in Germany’s top tier and one does get a sense of how special Stöger’s and Schmadtke’s work at the club had been up to that point. However, due to the solid groundwork laid by Schmadtke and his abilities to create a squad that fits a coach’s framework EffZeh managed to stay out of trouble. During those first two seasons back in the Bundesliga the sporting director signed the likes of Kevin Vogt, Pawel Olkowski, Yuya Osako, Leonardo Bittencourt, Anthony Modeste, Dominque Heintz and Fredrik Sörensen. At the time none of these transfers were considered to be high end or pricy, but as time progressed all of these players all played a vital role in Stöger’s set up.
The fourth season of Schmadtke’s and Stöger’s tenure and the third season back in the Bundesliga saw the culmination of the great work that had been done over the years. Ahead of the season the sporting director work his magic by adding some final touches to the framework which had been installed in the two seasons prior. Players like Konstantin Rausch, Marco Höger and Neven Subotic made great additions and all came at a low cost. With these final touches in place and Anthony Modeste on fire for most of the season the dream of playing in a European competition once again became a reality for the first time in 24 years.
And whilst most EffZeh fans and the public hope for the club to establish itself once again in the upper echelons of German football, all these dreams were shattered during the start to the new season. 2 draws and 7 losses from 9 Bundesliga matches and 3 losses in as many Europa League matches have crushed these dreams and hopes for some time now. Even though the season is still young, the only thing on the minds of the officials right now is the survival of the club in the Bundesliga. After four years of success and calm, questions are now being asked of how things could go from brilliant to dreadful in that short amount of time.
In the past Schmadtke and Stöger were able to compensate for losses by including inexpensive signings on the roster. Anthony Ujah and Kevin Wimmer were both main stays that left the team ahead of the 2015/16 season, but at the end of the season nobody was shedding a tear over the loss of such great talent. However, this time around the losses of Anthony Modeste and Neven Subotic weren’t compensated by the new signings arriving in the summer. Especially striker Jhon Cordoba has seemingly been a foreign element in Peter Stöger’s set up. Add to that the defense is without any stability at the moment and suddenly there are more people to blame than just the coach.
Given EffZeh’s rise between 2013 and the end of last season there’s little doubt that Jörg Schmadtke deserved to be crowned the best sporting director of last season by German football magazine 11 Freunde. However, whilst Schmadtke in the past has managed to lift both Hannover 96 and now 1. FC Köln from mediocrity to the Europa League on the cheap, he now seems to have lost his magic touch according to the officials in Cologne. Questions need to be asked in the aftermath of his exit. Was it in fact Schmadtke who failed to create a competitive squad? Or was Peter Stöger given what he asked for? Was it a mistake to balance the transfer budget once again instead of using a bit of extra cash to make sure that the club could stay competitive in all three competitions? Add to that the board’s press release which stated that “differences in the sporting set up for the future” were among the reasons for Monday night’s earthquake like decision and one starts to wonder if the club could be facing some tumultuous weeks in the not too distant future.
Up to this point the board around president Werner Spinner had allowed Schmadtke the freedom to do what he does best without interfering. If the board now takes a more a proactive stance and wants to be involved in the process of hiring and selling players there’s little doubt that Schmadtke himself wouldn’t want to be part of such a set up. Furthermore, despite the fact that almost none of the signings made during the summer have worked out, it still leaves Peter Stöger and the club with a great framework and squad that had been carefully created over the last four years. The fact that these players stopped performing well can’t be entirely Schmadtke’s fault. In the end one wonders if the board would have done well to give Schmadkte one last transfer window to remedy the situation before chasing away the architect of the club’s success over the last four years.