Rewind 12 months ago and FC Köln had just finished 16th and faced a relegation play-off against Holstein Kiel. Having survived the play-off, the Billy Goats brought in Steffen Baumgart to help steady the ship. Little did anyone know that this charismatic and distinctive coach would take Köln from possible relegation candidates to European football.
The 2021/22 campaign is certainly one to remember for Köln fans and it begins with the mentality that Baumgart has installed at the club. On the face of it, the 50-year-old looks like an old-school manager, perhaps someone whose approach is outdated in the modern game. When you think of Baumgart, you probably envision his trademark Peaky Blinder cap and a salt and pepper beard. However, he is so much more than just a character on the sidelines. It’s obvious from the spirit of the club that he has galvanised his squad and made them believe in themselves. So much so that they will compete in the UEFA Europa Conference League next season.
Lauded in the city, speaking to iNews, Baumgart said: “Fans always want success; that’s always the most important thing. But having an affinity with the coach is clearly important.
Speaking about his motivational swagger, Baumgart added: “But it’s not for the fans. It’s just how I am as a person. I couldn’t coach in any other way, shape or form. I am the way I am. I am a fan too and it means so much.”
To study the effect Baumgart has had on his players, you just have to look at Köln’s top striker, Anthony Modeste. The Frenchman scored 20 goals this season and was a pivotal part of Baumgart’s success. The effect that Baumgart has had on Modeste is clear for all to see. The Köln forward finished fifth in the overall Bundesliga top goalscorer charts. He was also the highest goalscorer outside the top four. Baumgart and Modeste’s admiration for one another was perhaps summed up this season when the Frenchmen scored a late equaliser against Union Berlin and proceeded to run over to his coach, steal his hat, and celebrate with it.
What’s more impressive is that Baumgart has improved the players that were already at the club last year. Many of those that played in their relegation play-off are still at the club. These include Jonas Hector, Ondrej Duda, Florian Kainz, and Ellyes Skhiri to name a few. All of these have played a vital role in the club’s success and look rejuvenated under their relatively new head coach. Whilst adding players such as Timo Hübers and Luca Kilian at centre-back and of course Modeste up top, Baumgart has built a solid backbone at Köln. It’s also worth mentioning that Baumgart hasn’t splashed the cash to achieve success at Köln. Hübers came on a free transfer from Hannover whilst Kilian is on loan from Mainz, a move that has since been made permanent.
It’s no surprise why Baumgart is a favourite amongst Köln fans. He has given them something to believe in and to be proud of. He has woven the players and fans and as a result has created a culture which is hard to beat. Away from the club, it’s fair to say that other football fans alike admire Baumgart from afar. The video of him in isolation and screaming at the television during Köln’s 1-0 victory over Freiburg is possibly up there with one of the moments of the season. Quite simply, Baumgart is Köln and Köln is Baumgart.