FEATURE | VfL Bochum – a Ruhr club on the brink of promotion to the Bundesliga

The 2. Bundesliga is incredibly unpredictable. A league we have all grown to love for that very reason. Promotion pushes heading down to the wire, relegations dogfights, likewise. It always provides thrilling entertainment. Come the end of the season, one team usually tops the tree and leads the pack of 6-8 fighting hopefuls below. This year VfL Bochum have stepped up and are on the cusp of their Bundesliga return.

A once Bundesliga regular, now yearning for their long awaited return to the German top flight. Bochum’s win over fellow promotion challengers Heidenheim awarded the side from the Ruhrgebiet an 11 point gap on fourth place Fortuna Düsseldorf. A Bundesliga Relegation play-off place is increasingly becoming their worst possible finish. Thomas Reis has built himself a strong side in two and half seasons with one main goal clear, a return to the top flight.

The resurgence did not only happen this season. Before the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Bochum were languishing in a relegation fight. 15th position and questions being asked. Only in 2. Bundesliga fashion though, they would scrape an 11 game unbeaten run to eventually find themselves in eighth place. Something was there to build on for the coming season.

Bochum conducted little business in the transfer period coming into the 2020/21 season. Gerrit Holtmann (Mainz 05) and Herbert Bochhorn (Huddersfield Town), their main acquisitions. Nevertheless a strong 2. Liga squad with many tipping them with the illustrious dark horses tag Arminia Bielefeld had the year before.

Where has it all gone right for the Die Unabsteigbaren (The irreversible ones) though? Goals, mainly. Ten occasions we have seen Bochum score three or more goals in a match. Former 1. FC Köln forward Simon Zoller (16) and attacking midfielder Robert Žulj (13) almost racking up 30 goals between them this season. Both placing themselves single handedly in contention for the 2. Bundesliga player of the season.

A team that likes to score goals but also a team that is built young gems around experienced pros. A formula that is proven successful at this level, again referring to Arminia’s title winning season the year before. German centre-back pairing Maxim Leitsch (22) and the highly-rated Armel Bella Kotchap (19) have exceeded their expectations one step further being pivotal cogs in the mission to see promotion out. Bochum also becoming one of the best defensive teams in the league this Campaign. With veteran Danilo Santos and Christian Gamboa on either side and Anthony Losilla and Robert Tesche sitting in front. Add arguably the best goalkeeper in the league consistency wise in Manuel Riemann and Reis has created a successful formula to allow his forwards that free goalscoring reign and control the possession. Danny Blum’s contribution is also worth mentioning.

As mentioned earlier this is an exciting league with many ups and downs, twists and turns and as we head into the final few games. Just ask Hamburger SV what it is like to finish a 2. Liga campaign when it appears that you are on top. Four favourable games stand between Bochum and their long awaited return to the Bundesliga. Darmstadt, Jahn Regensburg, Nürnberg and Sandhausen. Four teams in the lower half of the table although plenty to still play for.

Schalke 04’s confirmed relegation is leaving an open spot for Borussia Dortmund to have neighbourly rivalry next year. Just 20km separates the industrial Ruhr towns. The 2003/04 season was the last time that Bochum were the kings of the Ruhrgebiet after their fifth place Bundesliga finish. With Schalke gone, Bochum are back to being the big dogs in the region, should they fulfil their promotion targets.

It has been 11 years for the Bochum faithful. Promotion is in sight and VfL Bochum surely have one foot further forward in the promotion race.

Roy Campbell

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