During a summer full of uncertainty with transfers slow to materialise, Fortuna Düsseldorf has been relatively active in bringing in new players into the squad, strengthening areas that need strengthened. Fighting for promotion has to be the goal for the current squad, given the incoming players and those that have remained. This article will have a look over how the side is shaping up going into the new season, with the first game being in the DFB Pokal against FC Ingolstadt.
Gone to Pastures New
Kaan Ayhan finally left Düsseldorf, following years of speculation that he would. Despite what has felt like an unlimited number of reports saying that he was going to one of the big teams in Turkey, he has instead swapped the red of Fortuna for the green and black of Sassuolo in the Italian Serie A. Keeping Ayhan was never really an option following relegation. Transfermarkt reported the fee to be $2.75 million, probably less than he is worth.
Fortuna suffered several losses in defense. Markus Suttner returned to his native Austria with Austria Vienna, Robin Bormuth joined fellow 2. Bundesliga side Karslruher SC, and Niko Gieβelmann stayed in the top tier with 1. FC Union Berlin.
In midfield, club captain Oliver Fink has moved to the second team, while Kevin Stöger surprisingly remains a free agent, having not yet found a club. Experienced goalkeeper Michael Rensing has also left the club, having fallen down the pecking order over the last handful of seasons.
Replacing Kaan Ayhan and bolstering the defence had to be priorities for Fortuna. With both Gieβelmann and Suttner departing, finding a replacement left-back was another key area for the side.
Florian Hartherz, who was a member of the Armenia Bielefeld side who won the second tier last season, joined on a free transfer. At 27 years-of-age, Hartherz is a good age with a good level of experience in the second division, while he will also hopefully bring a winning mentality from his time with Armenia. He made 31 appearances for the champions, providing two assists. He has started the last two friendlies against SC Paderborn and Vitesse, so expect to see him starting most games this season.
Kevin Danso made the move from FC Augsburg to Fortuna on loan for the season. The centre back provides another option to rebuild depth with Ayhan and Bormuth both leaving, as well as the departures of loanees Zanka and Kasim Adams. The young defender spent last season on loan with Southampton in England, where he made only six appearances. He has been capped six times by the Austrian national team and spent time at both Reading and Milton Keynes Dons prior to joining Augsburg. Despite being only 21 years old, he has been an exciting prospect for a few years now. Hopefully joining Fortuna in the second tier will get the best out of the 6’3″ defender following a relatively disappointing lack of football in the 2019-20 season.
With Fink moving on, Bodzek getting into his latter years, and injury concerns around Marcel Sobotka, bringing in some central midfielders was also important this summer. The first addition was Jakub Piotrowski for around €500,000 from Genk of the Belgian top league. The Polish midfielder spent the second half of last season on loan at Waasland-Beveren, who finished bottom of the league. He only managed five appearances, so it would be harsh to judge him based on their performances. The 22-year-old is 6’2″, bringing some height into the midfield, and at that age also brings some youthfulness to the midfield that has been lacking in recent years. Piotrowski has been given a four-year deal, so he is clearly well-rated by the Fortuna decision makers.
While Piotrowski provides the youthful impetus to the central areas, Edgar Prib has been brought in for the experienced central player that Fortuna like to use. The 30-year-old Prib joins from Hannover 96, who had a disappointing season in the second tier last year. Prib made his name at SpVgg Gruether Fürth before moving to Hannover, where he made 128 appearances and grabbed nine goals. The Russian brings experience from both the second and first tiers of German football, which could be vital this season. Hopefully he gets to experience a more successful season than in the previous. As a free transfer, this was a reasonably safe piece of business from the club, as they know what they will get from a player like Prib.
Losing both Benito Raman and Dodi Lukebakio in the summer of 2019 really harmed Fortuna in the 2019-20 season. They lacked wingers who could stretch the play and cause havoc on the counter-attack. In order to address that, the club has brought in Australian winger Brandon Borrello on loan from SC Freiburg. Fortuna have had success with Australian players in the past, such as Robbie Kruse and Ben Halloran. Borello struggled to get into the Freiburg side after moving from FC Kaiserslautern in 2018. He has three caps for the Socceroos and will be hoping to get his career back on track with Fortuna. Borrello featured in the friendly against Paderborn, so clearly Rösler sees him as an active member of the squad this year.
Blooding the Youth
Whlie new players are exciting, fans also love to see academy players given the chance to set-up. During the off-season, the club extended the contract of young winger Shinta Applekamp, unsurprising given his performances in the Regionalliga last year. The 19-year-old Japanese player grabbed 8 goals in 19 matches for the second team and has featured in both friendlies against Vitesse and Paderborn.
Last time they won promotion to the Bundesliga, Fortuna got vital contributions from Japanese players Takashi Usami and Genki Haraguichi. Hopefully Applekamp gets opportunities to prove himself in the second tier this year, as he has shown he is good enough to be in the first-team squad following his performances for the second team.
Those who Remained
There are two ways you can approach a relegation: either the core of the side isn’t good enough and wholesale changes need to be made, or the side was just a few pieces away from surviving. Fortuna appear to be reasonably happy with what they have. Top scorer Rouwen Hennings is still at the club, which is a major boost.
Despite rumours of potential interest from other clubs, going into the first week of the season right-back Mattias Zimmerman and strikers Kenan Karaman and Dawid Kownacki are all still with the team. Keeping those three strikers could be a major boost for Fortuna, as Hennings and Karaman were the main goal threats last year, while Kownacki showed promise in the season prior to his injury.
However, Karaman recently discussed his desire to leave the club, though his €1 million release clause has expired, so any club interested would need to meet the clubs valuation. Fortuna have no need to keep players who don’t want to remain, especially in a squad that’s main goal is to get back into the Bundesliga at the first attempt. Additionally, with his contract expiring next season, it makes sense for Fortuna to at least make some money out of him rather than just letting him walk for nothing.
Whether or not this side is strong enough to win an immediate return to the Bundesliga is up in the air. Hamburg will once again be favourites to get promoted, especially with the signing of perennial promotion-winning striker Simon Terrode, while sides like Hannover and Nürnberg will be expected to have much better seasons this year. As always with the second tier, anyone can beat anyone on their day, making it one of the most-unpredictable leagues in the world. Sides like Holstein Kiel, Gruether Fürth, Bochum, and Heidenheim are all capable of challenging the big boys for promotion.
Adding Danso as another defensive option was good, but the club needs to bring in at least one more central defender. Currently, Andre Hoffman is the only other central defender with any experience of top-level football. Adam Bodzek can do a job at the back, but it is by no means his natural position. Fortuna are very light in this area and should look to sell Karaman to fund another defender. As of now, the only other option appears to be Nikell Touglo, recently promoted from the under-19’s. It would be great to see what the 18-year-old defender is capable of, but it may be too soon to expect him to perform in the first team. If this area isn’t addressed, any injury to Hoffman could be the end of their promotion challenge and would also make the decision to allow Bormuth to leave highly questionable.
While the squad is in pretty good shape outside of the defence, the effects of a relegation can linger for a while, especially one which was only confirmed on the final day. Rösler and his staff will have had to prepare the side mentally, as well as tactically, for a gruelling campaign in the 2. Bundesliga, in which there are no easy games. Fortuna certainly have a shot at promotion, but it will by no means be an easy ride.