Munich - A 3-1 home victory over VfL Bochum in Matchday 31's closing fixture sealed the deal: after a two-year absence, the Bundesliga will welcome back an old familiar next season in the form of 1. FC Köln.

For good measure, the result also confirmed the Billy Goats as Bundesliga 2 champions and, given their ten-point lead over Greuther Fürth, who head the chasing pack with three games to go, few would dispute that they have been the second tier's standout performers of 2013/14.

New beginning


It will be a radically different Köln side who run out for that already eagerly anticipated campaign opener to the one which bowed out of the same division with a final matchday whimper on 5 May 2012, losing 4-1 to FC Bayern München. Head coach Peter Stöger, for one, will be getting his first taste of Bundesliga life after a successful career as player, coach and sporting director in his native Austria.

Up-and-coming prospects such as goalkeeper Timo Horn, left back Jonas Hector and midfielder Yannick Gerhardt will also have the chance to test their mettle at the top end of the German game, ably assisted by the more familiar likes of Miso Brecko and Dominic Maroh at the back, Matthias Lehmann in the middle of the park and Anthony Ujah and former Germany international Patrick Helmes up front. One player, unknown even to dedicated insiders a few months ago, might however just make the biggest splash of all next season.

Hit the ground running


Kazuki Nagasawa's arrival on a two-and-a-half year contract at the start of January was not exactly heralded with a fanfare of trumpets. At most, perhaps, there was the curiosity factor of the recently-turned-22-year-old midfielder being the first Japanese player to move straight from university-level football to a professional club in Europe. At the time Jörg Jakobs, Köln's squad planning manager, noted that Nagasawa would have “every opportunity to acclimatise and adapt at a steady pace to the German game over the next six months.”

At the end of March, on the back of successive goalless draws, the steady pace was swapped for an all-out sprint as the new signing was thrown on for his starting debut at home to Karlsruher SC. Köln won 2-0, Nagasawa played through to the finish and, said Stöger afterwards, put in “a refreshing performance. He justified his selection and it's going to be hard to leave him out for our next game in Munich”. The attacking midfielder duly kept his place out wide on the left as Köln beat 1860 1-0 and he has started every game since. The promotion-clinching victory over Bochum was his, and the Billy Goats', fifth win on the trot.

Not easily fazed


Deployed latterly down the right as well by Stöger, Nagasawa has impressed from the off with the manoeuvrability, sharp passing, high-tempo dribbling and match intelligence common to so many of the recent wave of Japanese arrivals in the German game. Those attributes are topped off by a seeming imperviousness to pressure, all the more remarkable for his previous lack of professional experience. A three-time regional and one-time national universities title winner with Senshu, he had a loan spell at Yokohama F Marinos last year, but never turned out for them in the J-League. Köln invited him for a week of training in December and he headed west, he later admitted, with no particular expectations: “I just wanted to see what I'm capable of, and what I'm not.”

The club were impressed enough to offer him a contract straight away and, in his typically level-headed manner, Nagasawa soon had a realistic handle on the situation. A metre 73 tall and weighing in at 68 kilos, he knew he’d “have difficulty competing physically. But I realised as well that in terms of technique and understanding of the game, I could hold my own”. So it has transpired and if the rapid path of development of a good few other of his compatriots is any kind of waymarker, Nagasawa could before very long be pulling the strings for Köln right at the heart of the action, against Germany's finest.

Angus Davison