BY MARK GODFREY
The German city of Paderborn is well known to plenty of British people. Our armed forces have retained a significant presence in the area since the end of the Second World War when the Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen was formed. One thing it is not renowned for is its football club. That was until the last decade when SC Paderborn 07 climbed out of the regional league system and into the top two tiers of the Bundesliga.
The club is a product of a 1985 merger between FC Paderborn and TuS Schloß Neuhaus and took 20 years to make it as far as the second division, where – barring a solitary season – they survived and thrived until the 2013-14 campaign when new manager Andre Breitenreiter guided the club to a second place finish (behind champions 1. FC Köln) and a shot at the 1. Bundesliga for the first time in SC Paderborn’s relatively short history.
It was a promotion that was always going to be tough given the profile and resources available to Paderborn compared to the rest of the clubs in the division – for example, their Benteler Arena has a capacity of just 15,000; nine thousand less than the next smallest stadium (SC Freiburg) and significantly less than everywhere else.
They indicated their readiness for top flight football with a comfortable pre-season friendly victory over Everton, who had just finished fifth in the English Premier League, and that positivity was carried into the opening games of the 2014/15 Bundesliga season. After round four, Breitenreiter’s side incredibly topped the table taking over from early leaders Bayer Leverkusen. However, that supremacy would not last long; inevitably the mighty Bayern Munich resumed normal service in week five while Paderborn gradually fell away, although at the time of the traditional winter break they were still sitting comfortably in mid-table.
As so often happens, a combination of the promoted team’s buoyancy and the surprise factor for their opponents helped to garner points in the first half of the season where normally few would be expected. But after the break the realisation of how difficult their task would be hit home with a vengeance; what were previously wins became draws; draws became losses and the downward trend suddenly became terminal. The 1. Bundesliga adventure lasted one meagre year, and while it included a memorable 3-0 away win at Hamburger SV, there were plenty of harsh reverses along the way including a 6-0 drubbing by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern at the Benteler Arena.
Far from ruining his job prospects, relegation failed to put a dent in Breitenreiter’s stock; he left the club in the summer of 2015 to take the poisoned chalice that is the manager’s position at Schalke 04 (he is their 14th head coach in the last decade).
The Paderborn job has subsequently become equally as precarious with the club in the 2. Bundesliga; Markus Gellhaus took over in June and lasted just four months. Controversial former Germany international midfielder Stefan Effenberg was in situ barely a few weeks longer before he given his marching orders in early March. René Müller, a striker with Paderborn between 2004 and 2008, has been left to pick up the pieces of another disastrous season.
This Sunday sees the culmination of the scheduled fixture list with the league table grim reading for fans of Paderborn. They are rock bottom, staring a second successive relegation to the 3. Liga squarely in the face. Only a favourable outcome against promotion chasing 1. FC Nürnberg and worse results for MSV Duisburg and FSV Frankfurt will see them avoid the automatic drop; the best they can hope for as a consequence is a relegation play-off place.
So where did it all go wrong?
According to Manuel Veth (@homosovieticus), Editor in Chief at Futbolgrad.com, simple but harsh footballing reality appears to have kicked in; “In many ways Paderborn’s performance this season was much closer to where the club really belongs. The second Bundesliga in Germany is an extremely balanced competition, and clubs that have no business being relegated can be caught in the relegation maelstrom. At the same time other teams can also manage a run of good results and find themselves promoted. Two years ago Paderborn fell into that category, as they were promoted to the Bundesliga without actually having the infrastructure or the money to go there. Yet at one point it appeared that they could actually stay in the top flight—similar to Darmstadt this year. But in the end the lack of a proper training complex, and the fact that they didn’t have the talent to compete, caught up with them.
“Then after being demoted they lost coach Breitenreiter to Schalke, and with him the organisational talent needed to perform above expectations. A poor string of results led to the firing of coach Markus Gellhaus, who was replaced by Stefan Effenberg. Effenberg was the most glamorous option the club could choose. At the same time Paderborn was not prepared to deal with Effenberg’s star factor. Initially the club had a few good results, but a 7-1 trashing in the German Cup against Borussia Dortmund meant the writing was on the wall. What followed was a soap opera between Effenberg and the club’s controversial president Wilfried Finke, who often is guided by emotions rather than rationale.
“It seems to me the club never fully recovered from the Effenberg affair, as they stumbled towards third division relegation, and it now seems that this will be indeed the club’s destination. But had it not been for last season’s stint in the first division, Paderborn’s relegation would be considered normal, as the club’s and the city’s size are far more typical for a third division club than a first division club”.
Paderborn may not quite be facing mission impossible on Sunday, but it’s most certainly a case of grasping at straws.