At first there was optimism, then came despair, before a coaching change saw 1.FC Köln escape the drop zone and achieve respectability. The man behind the redemption? Markus Gisdol.
Newly promoted Köln went into last season with less fanfare that Union Berlin, but with an equal amount of pressure as one of the new clubs looking to avoid an instant return to the 2. Bundesliga. New trainer Achim Beierlorzer had succeeded promotion-winning coach Markus Anfang and ‘Mission Survival’ was on.
However, after the first 11 matches of the season, the Geißböcke had just seven points and were very much in trouble. Eight defeats, one draw and only two victories (Paderborn and Freiburg) saw the club 17th in the table, and elimination from the DFB Pokal second round at the hands of Saabrücken just added insult to injury.
Beierlorzer paid the price with his job, and also following him out of the club was sporting director Armin Veh. The club brought in former Hoffenheim and Hamburger SV trainer Markus Gisdol with the clear task of putting out the fires and rescuing Köln from relegation and an instant return to the second tier.
His first three games didn’t show a whole lot of promise with two defeats and a solitary point against Augsburg. Then came the ‘Wendepunkt’- the turning point. Matchday 15 saw the arrival of fierce local rivals Bayer Leverkusen to the Rhein-Energie Stadion. Two second half goals from Jhon Cordoba and Sebastian Bornauw combined with two red cards for Aleksandar Dragovic and Leon Bailey saw the home side to a morale-boosting 2-0 victory. They remained in the bottom two, but the fuse had been lit.
Eintracht Frankfurt and Werder Bremen were beaten in the next two games meaning Köln spent the Winterpause out of the bottom three occupying 15th position.
January saw a continuation of the upturn in fortunes. Of the eight games up until the corona virus lockdown, they won five including a 5-0 away win at Hertha Berlin. Markus Gisdol had led the club from 17th up to 10th.
The period of the ‘Geisterspiele’ brought an end to their excellent form with the corona interruption doing the team no favours and although they failed to win any of their nine matches following the restart (four draws, five losses), relegation was never really on the cards and Gisdol ultimately saw his side finish 14th.
With survival achieved (along with fellow promoted side Union Berlin), the task now is to consolidate next season. The club have rewarded Markus Gisdol for the sterling work he did in rescuing the team from a precarious situation with an early contract extension to 2023.
“Our goal is to establish FC in the Bundesliga” managing director Horst Heldt explained. “One of the decisive factors of that, is a team which work competently and trustingly together and behind our way. This applies to Markus, and he is an important part of that. He took charge of the team in an incredibly difficult situation last year.
“With all the challenges on the way to securing safety, he showed courage and leadership qualities – over and above, he managed to continue to develop our team, youngsters and regulars.”
Gisdol will now be tasked with building for the future, rather than putting out fires and rescuing a seemingly hopeless situation. “As we started, I said that 1. FC Köln are a one-of-a-kind club” Gisdol said after signing his new deal.
“And exactly that is what I have experienced at FC so far. These fans, this city, all of the people working here – that is a strong base. We have a clear path together, with the goal of becoming a fixed part of the Bundesliga. It is important that we continue to develop our experienced players and top talents with passionate work and to a clear concept. Along with the complete coaching staff, I can identify with this 100%. It is a huge motivation, for which we want to work hard at Geißbockheim.”