Promoted, relegated, relegated, survived, promoted, promoted. Paderborn’s recent history is reminiscent of a rhyme British school children are taught to remember the fates of King Henry VIII’s six wives; ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’. Although thankfully without the blood and gore of Tudor England, the twists in Paderborn’s story have been similarly dramatic. Having been on the precipice of amateur regional football just over two years ago, finding a way to maintain Bundesliga status after just one point from the opening six games is merely manager Steffan Baumgart’s latest seemingly impossible challenge.
‘Rollercoaster’ is a word used too frequently in footballing parlance, but here, for once, it is more than apt, so steep have been Paderborn’s ups and downs. Remarkably, on average, Paderborn have been either promoted or relegated every other year in the last twenty. After an uncharacteristically stable five seasons in the 2. Bundesliga, a second placed finish propelled the North Rhine Westphalia club into the German top tier for the first time ever ahead of the 2014/15 season. A dramatic rise in itself given the club began the millennium with relegation to the then fourth (now fifth) tier Oberliga Westfalen and turned fully professional as recently as 2005, having only existed since the mid 80s.
Four rounds into their inaugural Bundesliga adventure, eight points and a superior goal difference to Bayern Munich amongst others incredibly placed Paderborn at the very peak of the German footballing mountain. Mortiz Stoppelkamp’s chest and volley from the edge of his own penalty area to seal a 2-0 win over Hannover only added to the sense of the absurd. However, the next thirty games included just five more wins and Andre Breitenreiter’s side were swiftly sent back down, finishing bottom.
While Paderborn’s 31 points and largely competitive run may have been a respectable enough showing for such a small club in their first top flight excursion, the following year proved disastrous. Markus Gellhaus, Stefan Effenberg and Rene Muller conspired to produce less wins and less points in the second tier after relegation, equaling a second consecutive 18th place, and bottom of the table, finish. Paderborn then completed the hattrick in 2017 with a third 18th place, this time in Germany’s third division. However, sandwiched between Werder Bremen and Mainz’s second teams – Paderborn had managed 2-2s draws with both club’s senior sides just two seasons previously – third bottom would usually have again meant relegation but 1860 Munich’s collapse and ensuing drop down the pyramid helped avoid another calamitous demotion into the sprawling regional divisions.
Enter Staffan Baumgart. Arriving in April 2017, Baumgart had an immediate effect; squeezing out what became nine crucial points from the last five (undefeated) games in 3. Liga to eventually, thanks to 1860, keep his new team up. Miraculously, runners-up quickly became Paderborn’s new favourite spot under Baumgart. Jumping from 18th to 2nd in the 17/18 3. Liga campaign equaled a return to the 2. Bundesliga where only Köln would better the newcomers as both clubs won automatic promotion back to the top flight.
Baungart has clung unfailingly to his ideas of expansive, attacking play and it has served him and his team well, and the coach explained after this weekend’s 3-2 loss to Bayern that they’ll “stick with it and look to get points in our own way.” Paderborn were the second division’s great entertainers last term. Praised for their attacking intent, second top scorers and conceding just three fewer than relegated Magdeburg, Baumgart’s gung-ho style has continued unabated into the top tier. “We are not changing our style of play just because we’re playing a league higher,” Sporting Director Martin Przondziono told kicker. “It’s our DNA, we’re staying true to it.”
Averaging nearly five, games involving Paderborn have produced the most goals (equal with Bayern) so far this term. However, only eight of those 25 were scored by Baumgart’s side, admittedly still more than the six teams above them, and plucky though they may be the 19/20 incarnation of Paderborn have often emerged on the wrong side of closely fought but ultimately fruitless encounters.
Pluckiest of the lot was the loss to leaders Munich, which Kicker referred to as a ‘party without points’, and an opening day defeat in Leverkusen by the same scoreline. On both occasions Paderborn’s attacking intent kept their more illustrious opponents within reach but a lack of top tier quality, particularly defensively – a weakness barely addressed in the Summer market, eventually bore out.
September’s 5-1 home mauling by Schalke, despite taking an early lead, underlines just how quickly things can unravel for Baumgart’s bold but ultimately porous outfit. The ease with which Javairo Dilrosun breezed through the entire Paderborn defense to open the scoring for fellow strugglers Hertha Berlin two weeks ago being a case in point. Although a more overtly resolute set up and accompanying performance in drawing with Wolfsburg, equaling their sole point to date, underlines that potential for a more stoic Baumgart side exists.
Although a strong trend in this direction still seems unlikely. Even before the Bayern game, and after a 6-0 cup loss to Niko Kovac’s side last term, Baugart explained in Kicker: “Now, maybe someone says we have to sit deeper, then maybe we’ll only lose by four. No, we’ll play to the front and see if we can create chances… if it does not work, then we have to get up again.”
Pivotally, hamstrung by what is effectively a third tier budget, Summer reinforcements were painfully thin throughout the squad. Standout midfielder and top scorer Phillipp Clement left for relegated Stuttgart and wasn’t adequately replaced, eight of the 11 that started the Bayern defeat were with the club last term and all of the club’s major signings were also playing second or even third division football last season. Again bottom as the only team without a win thus far, upcoming games with three of the other four sides in the bottom in Mainz, Köln and Fortuna Düsseldorf will provide genuine chances for points. Although anything less than 3 or 4 from that run could already start to edge Baumgart’s entertainers back towards that familiar trap door.
“It is important that we always act independent of results, we define ourselves on our performances,” Baumget told Kicker this weekend. While that may be a noble pursuit, it’s points rather than performances that will keep Paderborn in the Bundesliga and a source of points has not been forthcoming. Although their situation is already looking bleak, such a feeling is nothing new for Paderborn fans in recent years. They will simply be hoping that their season ends much as Catherine Parr does in King Henry VIII’s rhyme: ‘Survived’.
1 | “Each individual is really disappointed. We have to keep our heads up,” Marco Reus told Bundesliga.com after Borussia Dortmund’s 2-2 draw against Werder Bremen. The BVB captain once again urging his teammates to do better after dropping to eighth in the Bundesliga with just two wins in five. In an expletive rant, Reus didn’t take well to a question by Sky Germany the prior week after conceding late on against Eintracht Frankfurt, suggesting they have mentality issues to challenge Bayern Munich. “Today? Are you serious now? The 2-2 was scored due to mentality? Are you serious? We played dumb, sure, but don’t come to me with your s**t about mentality. Every week it’s the same c**p,” said Reus. Another two goals conceded may back up the murmurs, but many still, and rightly so, believe that Dortmund will be up their challenging this season.
2 | Perhaps under the radar because of the recruitment from RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer, Schalke have gone perhaps somewhat under the radar. Their 3-1 win at RB Leipzig on Saturday was rightly game of the weekend and their performance matches that reminiscent of a Schalke side that belongs in the Champions League. The appointment of David Wagner seems to be paying off in these early fixtures and the former Huddersfield Town manager is getting the best out of Amine Harit after a troublesome year. The Morocco international has seven games, four goals and four assists this season under Wagner in all competitions, while his relationship with Guido Burgstaller & Co. on the pitch is a sight to behold.
3 | Just like the prior matchday, all the promoted clubs – Köln, Paderborn and Union Berlin suffered defeats. Köln conceded four at home against a clinical Hertha BSC, Paderborn succumbed to the Bundesliga champions and despite boasting one of the most exciting fan bases and showcasing what a club should stand for, unfortunately Union Berlin haven’t been able to kick on since their win against Borussia Dortmund. Of the three promoted sides, Köln still have the best chance of staying up, but the Billy Goats themselves are struggling to adapt to life back in the Bundesliga.