Last week in the Bundesliga, Freiburg made history with their first ever away win at in-form Hannover.
Inflicting only Hannover’s second defeat in their last 25 home games left Freiburg just a point behind Hannover in sixth position with just one point separating seven clubs.
It was another sign of Freiburg’s continuing improvement under individual and inspirational coach Christian Streich.
They’re now a respectable 10th on 16 points, a far cry from last year when they were bottom at the winter break after their worst first half of a season. Not such a Merry Christmas.
The traditional family club sacked Marcus Sorg after just four months in the job, the first coach they had axed in 20 years.
His replacement was the relatively unknown Christian Streich who had enjoyed an impressive record in his 16 years as the club’s youth team coach before stepping up as assistant coach when Sorg replaced Robin Dutt.
Streich’s first move was to blood some of the reserve and youth team such as Matthias Ginter, Jonathan Schmid and Oliver Sorg.
It worked like a charm as he became the first Freiburg coach to win on his Bundesliga debut. And another record was set as Ginter headed the winner to become the youngest player to score for the club.
Streich had hit the floor running and hasn’t looked back since. Freiburg defied the odds to finish a creditable 12th on 40 points and would have qualified for the Europa League had they peformed as well before Christmas as they did in the New Year.
And the good form has continued this season. Based on 2012 results alone, Freiburg are the 6th best team in the Bundesliga with 42 points from 29 games.
So what is the secret of Streich’s success ?
Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel claims that “Streich is the best football educator in Germany and the colleague he loves to talk about football with the most.”
High praise indeed. There are similarities between Freiburg and Mainz who have both punched above their weight since they were promoted back into the top flight in 2009. A point not lost on the coach of this season’s surprise package Eintract Frankfurt, Armin Veh.
“We can’t always go on about the things we can’t do. It’s better to look at the example set by Freiburg and Mainz, who have done so much with little money.
Freiburg are a small town club who combine traditional values with forward thinking. Volker Finke their former coach was in charge for 16 years until 2007 which makes him the longest serving coach in the history of German professional football. In the 1990s he began an initiative to transform the existing stadium into Germany’s first solar powered stadium.
Freiburg are a low budget team which is why they give youth a chance. Their squad is one of the youngest in the Bundesliga and as Streich has worked with most of them he has their respect and trust. One of his graduates, former Germany Under 21 goalkeeper Oliver Baumann appreciates his coach.
“He’s a total football expert who prepares us for every opponent and leaves nothing to chance”
The 47 year old has a reputation for being honest, open and brutally direct. He’ s a football obsessive, who’s passionate about his club, his job and his sport. If in doubt just watch him during a game when he’s a non-stop bundle of nervous energy. And that energy has rubbed off on his team whose success is based on team work and a very high pressing game. They’re fifth in the standings when it comes to kilometres covered.
The youth is complemented by the experience of older players such as defensive midfielders Julian Schuster, the captain and Cedric Makiadi, the Congolese international.
There are no stars and no Germany internationals in the squad although Joachim Low, the coach of Germany’s national side is Freiburg’s record goalscorer.
Freiburg sold their only star Papiss Demba Cisse to Newcastle United for a club record of 11 million euros as part of the overhaul when Streich took over. The Senegalese striker had scored over half of the club’s goals, 22 of 41 in the 2010/11 season and Freiburg have struggled to score since. 16 goals is their total so far this season but one of their strengths is that they don’ t concede many. Just 14 goals against this season which is the third best behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Credit for that goes to a tight defence and Oliver Baumann who’s kept four clean sheets in 12 games.
Next up on Sunday, they play Stuttgart in a Baden-Wurttemberg Derby as Freiburg look for back to back wins for the second time this season. The two clubs have an identical and symmetrical record. They’ve both won, drawn and lost four games.
Stuttgart will do well not to underestimate the unassuming club from the Black Forest who’re playing red hot football in their green stadium.
Freiburg is known as the sunniest and warmest city in Germany and the club’s future is also sunny now the eccentric Streich has put a smile back on the faces of their fans.
In the week when the Chelsea sacked the coach who’d guided them to the Champions League only six months before, it’s refreshing that clubs and coaches like Freiburg and Streich exist. Long may they continue.
Tony Jeffers, Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Hamburg kick off the Bundesliga action on Eurosport 2 this Friday at Fortuna Dusseldorf.
On Saturday, leaders Bayern Munich look to get back to winning ways against Hannover.
It’s second against third as Schalke host Eintracht Frankfurt.
Mainz host Champions Dortmund who are looking for 3 straight wins.
Klaus Allofs sees his new club Wolfsburg host his former club Werder Bremen.