Transfer windows are times full of ridiculous speculation and excitement for fans, debating who they want, and sometimes don’t want, their club to sign. For teams near the bottom of the Bundesliga, they are vital periods which can decide whether or not you will remain in the league or end up the 2nd division.
Last season, Fortuna Düsseldorf were excellent in their acquisitions during both windows. Arrivals Dodi Lukebakio, Kenan Karaman, Kevin Stöger, Dawid Kownaki and Alfredo Morales all helped the side to a midtable finish. Alongside making the move of Benito Raman permanent, the club indicated that they knew how to find bargains amongst younger and more experienced players.
With the current season unfolding in a completely different manner, it is worth looking back at both of this year’s windows to evaluate the signings. Charismatic Director of Sports Lutz Pfannenstiel left the club at the end of May and was largely believed to be responsible for acquiring players during his time at the club, having joined in December 2018.
This season Fortuna focused on loaning talent in, due to the lack of financial flexibility the club has when it comes to signing players. We will analyse the signings as to whether they were a success, who should be given more time or even signed as part of the option attached to their loan deal.
Young Polish striker Kownacki joined the side on loan last January and was an instant success, scoring a couple of goals in the 10 matches he played. Clearly impressed by the young player on loan from Sampdoria, Fortuna made him their record signing when they splashed out over €6 million on the forward. Injuries and a lack of confidence have blighted Kownacki this season and he is yet to find the net. Due to his time on the sidelines it is unfair to judge him much on this season, however he will certainly be expected to be a major part of the team going into next season.
With both Lukebakio and Raman moving to Hertha Berlin and Schalke 04 respectively, Fortuna desperately needed wide players to fill the void. Raman had joined the club from Belgian side Standard Liege, and once again the club turned to the Pro League in order to find his replacement. Fortuna parted with over €3 million for young Ghanaian winger Nana Ampomah. Unfortunately, with only four games left of the season, the signing has yet to bear any fruit. Ampomah has shown flashes of the talent he clearly has, yet in the 12 league games in which he has featured, he is yet to provide a goal or an assist. His end product is still a work in progress, but his two goals in the cup indicated that Ampomah certainly does have something to offer.
If Fortuna do get relegated, Ampomah should get plenty of game time in the second division. If they survive and feel he is still not ready, they should loan him out to aid his development
Arguably the best signing Fortuna made, even if it is only on loan, was Erik Thommy from VFB Stuttgart. Rumour has it there is an option to buy, and Fortuna would be wise to exercise that option in the summer. Thommy has helped fill the void left in terms of goals and assists by the departures of Raman and Lukebakio. With 6 goals and 5 assists in 30 matches, he has become a key player for the side. His direct running and willingness to shoot has contributed to winning crucial games for the side. Scoring twice against the old enemy FC Köln was enough in itself to cement his place as a fans favourite this season. Without Thommy, Fortuna would probably be rock bottom of the league so it is hard to argue against him being their best signing this season.
Not much was expected of 18-year-old Kelvin Ofori this season. The young Ghanian attacker was signed from the Right to Dream academy in Ghana and was clearly seen as a future prospect. However, the youngster has managed two appearances in the Bundesliga and played three times in the Pokal, scoring a goal. Though inexperienced, his appearances have excited the fans as Ofori is clearly a very talented player who could be a real star for Fortuna in the future. While his impact on this season may have been small, the future prospects for young Ofori would suggest that he is going to prove a very good signing in the future.
Many Fortuna fans may well have forgotten that Thomas Pledl was signed over the summer. The signing caught a few by surprise, including many Ingolstadt fans who weren’t exactly singing his praises in their ultimately disappointing season as they went down to the 3 Liga. The 26-year-old managed only three goals and two assists for Ingolstadt last season, and has only featured five times for Fortuna. It would not be surprising if both Fortuna and Pledl decide to part ways next season regardless of which league the side are in.
Like Ofori, 22-year-old goalkeeper Florian Kastenmeier was not expected to feature much this season after joining from Stuttgart. Yet injuries to Zack Steffen, alongside Raphael Wolf and Michael Rensing, meant that young Kastenmeier has been given a chance between the sticks. The keeper has put in some strong performances, and while mistakes are expected from such an inexperienced keeper, he has shown he is an able keeper at this level. Saving a penalty against Köln will certainly be a highlight for him this season. With Steffen only on loan and unlikely to return, Kastenmeier has proven that he should be Fortuna’s number one going into next season.
American Zack Steffen has received plenty of plaudits for his performances this season, and rightly so. The on-loan Manchester City player has single-handedly kept Fortuna in many matches, before an injury cut short his fantastic season. At only 24-years-old, Steffen is clearly destined for bigger clubs than Fortuna. He should be targeting a career similar to that of fellow countrymen Tim Howard and Brad Friedel in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola is reportedly a big fan of Steffen and it is not hard to see why. He has certainly been a very good signing for Fortuna, but it is unlikely that they will be able to get him back next season.
Like Pledl, many may have forgotten that Baker was a Fortuna player this season. The on-loan Chelsea player impressed in keeping Reading FC in the Championship last season and joined Fortuna with expectations that he was about to take another step in his development. However, while he showed glimpses in his 8 appearances, he clearly was not favoured by Friedhelm Funkel and eventually both he and the club agreed to terminate his loan. It is a shame that he wasn’t able to stay until Rösler became manager, as a new manager may well have found a way to use him more. Ultimately this was a failed transfer for the club, as neither Baker nor Fortuna benefited from the move.
Another loan player and another man from Ghana, Kasim Adams joined from Pfannenstiels former employees TSG Hoffenheim. The centre-back has only managed 13 appearances this season and doesn’t appear to be someone that Rösler wants to use in his system. Adams has three years left on his Hoffenheim contract, and at 24 is still a young player who can get better. Given his lack of appearances, having only appeared twice since matchday 16, it is unlikely that Fortuna will look to sign him in the summer. As an overall signing, Adams has proven cover for Kaan Ayhan, yet never really took his chance to cement himself as a regular centre-back partner for Ayhan over Andre Hoffman.
The final Ghanaian on our list arrived from Schalke as part of the Raman transfer. Another loan player, Bernard Tekpetey was influential for SC Paderborn in their surprise promotion in the 2018/19 season. Like Ampomah, Tekpetey has not provided the goals and assists that the team was hoping he would when he was loaned in. In 9 games he has one assist, and again like Ampomah has shown glimpses of his talent. Since matchday 17 he has only made one appearance, and it appears he is not part of Röslers tactical plans. At only 21-years-old, a side like Fortuna may not have been best for his development. As games have become more important, Fortuna are becoming less willing to experiment with line-ups and give players like Tekpetey a chance. Much like Baker, this loan move has not really helped Tekpetey or Fortuna.
Fortuna went back to Schalke in January in order to find some attacking reinforcements. Since moving to Schalke from Union Berlin, Steven Skrzybski has struggled to break into the first team. At the age of 27, the winger needs to be playing regular first team football. Joining Fortuna was a chance for him to do just that. It was clear that Skrzybski was lacking in match sharpness when he first joined, and since then his performances have improved. Yet while he has two assists, he hasn’t exactly made a huge improvement to the team. Rösler doesn’t appear to be a big fan of using the loanee in his system, while Skrzybski hasn’t exactly made himself undroppable when he has featured. If he can somehow have a big impact on the side over the last few games he may well play himself into a summer transfer to Fortuna. However, as of now the loan has not gone to plan and it is unlikely Fortuna will look to sign him on a permanent basis, especially if they stay up.
The Lazio and Kosovo midfielder was a surprise loan signing in January and appeared to be just the sort of player Fortuna needed. He was expected to add a bit of quality that the side had clearly been lacking. Rösler appears to be a big fan of the Kosovan, and there are rumours that he is willing to sign for the team next season. While he hasn’t scored or assisted in 10 matches, it isn’t for the want of trying. He hit the woodwork against Paderborn and forced a brilliant save out of the Hoffenheim keeper on matchday 30. He has worked well with Stöger and the rest of the midfield, while he has put himself about in all the matches he has featured in. While he has been known to feature on the wing for Lazio, Fortuna have used him in between the deeper central midfielders and the strikers, in an attempt to ensure he gets on the ball often. If Fortuna can get him for a cut price deal he would certainly be an asset in either the Bundesliga or the second Bundesliga.
Mathias Jorgensen, more commonly known as Zanka, was another player loaned in during the January window. Fortuna had one of the worst defences in the league and desperately needed reinforcements. The former Huddersfield and Fenerbahçe player has been a solid signing, despite an own goal against Bayern München. Rösler’s preferred centre-backs are Ayhan and Hoffman, so Zanka has had to settle for filling in when either has been injured or suspended. For 88 minutes against Köln he was excellent and it was by far his best game for Fortuna. Like Berisha, if Fortuna can get him for a cut price deal it would certainly be worth exploring as a squad player.
As this list has shown, Fortuna made plenty of signings over this season, however only a few have really come off. Thommy, Steffen and Kastenmeier have been the best signings by quite a distance, while Ofori looks a very exciting prospect for the future. Unfortunately, a lot of the new signings have failed to live up to expectations and have spent more time on the bench than on the pitch this season.
Most of the loan players haven’t panned out, and the fact that the majority of the starting 11, bar Thommy, Kastenmeier and Berisha, were all here last season suggests that Fortuna’s recruitment has not paid off this year. If the club manage to avoid the drop, they will certainly need to improve in this area if they are to ensure they do not have to battle relegation for a second successive season.