Ali gets his season previews up and running with a look at SC Freiburg, a new-comer with plenty of back story
The return of SC Freiburg to the top flight of German football is a welcome relief to football purists, given the rise of "plastic clubs" with no tradition in the last few years. The promotion of clubs like FC Ingolstadt, 1899 Hoffenheim and, most recently, RB Leipzig (definitely not sponsored by Red Bull....) has led to the fear that the strong tradition of German football might be dying out. The promotion of Freiburg after just one season in the second division was a welcome relief and the fact that they beat Leipzig to the title made it extra sweet for traditionalists. Their promotion caps a remarkable recent history for the south German side, one which deserves to be told.
Founded in 1904, SC Freiburg have been a key part of Baden-Württemburg's football scene for over 100 years. Despite only modest success until the 1970's and a number of identity changes (as with almost all German clubs founded before World War I they have had to deal with the reparations, financial struggles and de-nazification after the Second World War), but took their final name of SC Freiburg in the 1950's. They reached the second division for the first time in the 1970's and consolidated their position until the 1990's, when they made the leap into the Bundesliga. After years of yo-yoing between the first and second divisions they finally made the unlikely jump into the UEFA Cup in 1995 and 2001. Promotions and relegations followed, but the club seemed to have found some solidity in recent years, completing six years in the Bundesliga at the end of the the 2014-2015 season. An unfortunate relegation at the end of that season forced the side back into the second division, but under the leadership of trainer Christian Streich they returned with aplomb at the end of last season, getting promoted as champions.
Trainers (managers to our beloved English readers) are a key part of the Freiburg tradition: Streich is the latest in a long line of prominent leaders on the bench in the beautiful southern-German town. Volker Finke is the longest serving trainer in Bundesliga history and oversaw the jump from regional giants to 2. Bundesliga regulars over 16 years, including their progress to the UEFA Cup qualification places. The following two trainers, Robin Dutt and Streich, continued that legacy and the club continued their policy of not firing trainers simply because of relegation. Dutt left to join Bayer Leverkusen after reasonable success in the second division, whilst Steich is becoming a cult hero in Freiburg. Taking the side into the Europa League three seasons ago was the clubs most recent success, alongside a Pokal semi-final in the same season. The final piece in the Freiburg master-trainer catalogue is none other than Joachim Löw, national team trainer, who played as their striker and is the club's record goalscorer. Maybe once he is done with the national team he will return to continue the club's run of loyal bosses.
Streich is one of the quirkiest men in German football (and there are a number of candidates...), riding his bike to training and all over town in order to be greener and generally being keen on environmental issues. His strong accent but friendly and welcoming personality has earned him a lot of admirers and he is a very popular trainer, perhaps giving further reason to keep him in charge despite relegation. Leading them to the Europa League, and a final match-day defeat to Schalke away from the Champions League, was a huge success for such a small club and the European adventure helped endear him to the crowd. The tight margin by which they were relegated two years ago also helped him stay in the job and he rewarded the loyalty handsomely with a convincing first-time return to the top division of German competition.
Five points and 14 goals separated Freiburg from second placed Leipzig at the end of the season, after a hard fought three-way battle for promotion saw FC Nürnberg miss out after slumping towards the end of the season. A comfortable margin of victory for a popular club tucked away near the southern border. Flying to Freiburg involves going to either Stuttgart or Basel, but it is not just the small size and inaccessibility that gives Freiburg underdog status. After years of jumping around between the second and first divisions, a couple of forays into European competition and a number of world class players and trainers passing through it is time to welcome SC Freiburg back to the top table. Where will 2016-17 take them? No one knows, but we are all hoping it includes survival and another year of Bundesliga football.
Key Player: Nils Petersen
The striker was crucial in their promotion push and was the league's second top scorer with 21. He will need to be firing again if Freiburg are to stay up this time around. His Olympic adventure could add to the excitement surrounding him before the season kicks off.
Surprise Player: Christian Günter
The 23 year old defender looked promising the last time Freiburg were Ersklassig and became a regular last season. He will be looking to continue that progress and provide an attacking threat from the flanks.
Ali's Prediction: 16th
Falk's Prediction: 14th
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