It certainly wasn’t a quiet summer for the ‘Billy Goats’ following their successful return to the Bundesliga and a 12th place finish. Trainer Christophe Daum caused quite an upset with his decision to ‘follow his heart’ and return to Turkey having fulfilled his mission with Koeln. The Rheinlanders need a new Messiah and in the form of returning hero Lukas Podolski they may just have one.
Strengths And Weaknesses
Koeln manager Michael Meier believes that the club already have two Champions League quality defenders in the form of Pedro Geromel and Youssef Mohamad, and he’s probably not far off the mark in his belief. Kevin McKenna and Marvin Matip provide alternatives as does all-rounder Miso Brecko.
The centre of midfield looks strong with veteran Petit and winter signing Derek Boateng shielding the back four. The addition of Maniche could be an inspired move. If Koeln’s Oliver Kahn - Faryd Mondragon - can show the form he did last season then the club have a solid base on which to build.
While the central axis looks solid, the wide positions are lacking somewhat. Full-backs Brecko and Pierre Wome were inconsistent last season, while left midfielder Fabrice Ehret also needs to step up his game. The right flank didn’t have a permanent occupant last season, but summer signing Sebastian Freis could now fill it.
Trainer Zvonomir Soldo is looking for a classic playmaker and is reportedly chasing Bayern Munich’s Jose Ernesto Sosa. The return of Lukas Podolski meanwhile will take some of the goalscoring burden off of Milivoje Novakovic.
Ins And Outs
All the transfer talk in the winter break last season concerned the return of Lukas Podolski to Koeln and for €10 million the Rheinland club have bought back their favourite son. Milivoje Novakovic will remain captain, but all eyes will be on ‘Prinz Poldi’ to see if he can recapture the form that made him one of the hottest properties in world football back in 2006.
Podolski, however, isn’t the only new arrival at the Rhein-Energie Stadion, with 20-year old defender Christopher Schorch coming in to strengthen the full-back position from Real Madrid. Portuguese midfielder Maniche has arrived after being released by Atletico Madrid, but there is a certain gamble over his signing.
Sebastian Freis has left relegated Karlsruhe and will join the Koeln attack, or play on the right. It remains to be seen whether Serb Nemanja Vucicevic remains at the club though.
IN: Lukas Podolski (Bayern Munich), Sebastian Freis (Karlsruhe), Maniche (free agent), Christopher Schorch (Real Madrid)
OUT: Sergiu Radu (Wolfsburg loan return), Miro Varvodic (Hajduk Split loan return), Matthias Scherz (Retired), Thomas Broich (1. FC Nurnberg)
The Star Man
Without doubt it is Lukas Podolski. The striker is not only a German international, but he is one of the best forwards of his age in the world. The fact that he is also a returning idol and possesses a special place in the hearts of the fans means that he will be the cathedral city’s star man this season. He will be keen to prove all the doubters wrong after what turned out to be a rather disappointing spell at Bayern Munich.
Pedro Geromel was one of the best defenders in the entire Bundesliga last season. Portugal’s reigning defender of the year arrived at the Rhein-Energie Stadion and instantly formed a solid partnership with Youssef Mohamad. Geromel was reportedly being hunted by some big European clubs, but he has just extended his contract with Koeln until 2014.
Another key-player last time out was striker Milivoje Novakovic, whose goals proved vital in the club staying in the top flight. It will be interesting to see how he plays with Podolski.
The loss of Christophe Daum was a blow to Koeln, but in new trainer Zvonomir Soldo they have a man who can lead them onwards and upwards. The former Stuttgart midfielder spent a successful season in charge of Dinamo Zagreb, and although inexperienced, he could spring a surprise or two. Just look at Markus Babbel’s achievements at Stuttgart last season.
The loss of trainer Christophe Daum has not dampened the enthusiasm at the club and the arrival of Lukas Podolski has the fans eagerly anticipating the new season. If they can make a good start under Croatian trainer Soldo, then everything is possible with this talented squad.
Players like Podolski, Novakovic, Petit and Geromel are capable of pushing the Billy Goats into the top half of the table. The club leadership however would be more than happy with a final placing between 8th and 12th.
Mathew Burt, Goal.com