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Ulm will play Bundesliga 2 football in 2024/25. - © DFL
Ulm will play Bundesliga 2 football in 2024/25. - © DFL
2. Bundesliga

SSV Ulm 1846: Who are the 3. Liga winners preparing for a first Bundesliga 2 campaign in over 20 years?

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SSV Ulm 1946 have secured their return to Bundesliga 2 after 23 years in the lower divisions, winning the 3. Liga in the process. bundesliga.com profiles the club who have been on a turbulent journey in their search for redemption…

History

Ulm as we know them now are a relatively young club, having been formed in 1970 following the merger of TSG Ulm 1846 and 1. SSV Ulm 1928. The first of those two now-defunct outfits, though, can trace their roots back to 1893, although they did not officially join the South German Football Association until 11 years later.

It took Ulm nine seasons following the fusion to reach Bundesliga 2, and they spent the majority of the first three decades of their existence bouncing around the second, third and even fourth tiers. Under Ralf Rangnick’s tutelage, however, they secured promotion to the second division in 1998 and won a first-ever place in the Bundesliga 12 months later, even after their coach had departed for VfB Stuttgart midway through the campaign.

However, despite looking relatively comfortable amongst the elite for the majority of the 1999/2000 term, Ulm won just one of their last 10 games – a run which included a damning 9-1 defeat against Bayer Leverkusen – that saw them relegated back to the second tier at the first time of asking.

That setback set off a series of events that left the club in dire financial trouble, and they have been at risk of insolvency three times since, the most recent of which came in 2014. They survived on each occasion, though, and, after stabilising themselves in the Regionalliga in recent years, they have now clinched back-to-back promotions.

Find out more about Ulm's history in our Bundesliga60 club series

Ralf Rangnick (r.) during his days at Ulm. - Imago

Key players

Léo Scienza

Every side needs exotic flair, and for Ulm, it comes in the form of Brazilian-born Scienza, who has played a key role in their successful campaign.

The 25-year-old started out at local lower-league outfit Lajeadense in 2018 and, via a short stint in Sweden, he joined Schalke’s second team. He was a solid contributor for the Royal Blues, scoring 15 goals in 59 Regionalliga outings, but after two seasons he was on his way to Magdeburg.

That stint lasted just one campaign before the switch to Ulm materialised in the summer of 2023, and he now seems settled in Baden-Württemberg. He netted his first goal for the club in a 3-0 victory over Lübeck last September and hasn’t looked back. As Die Spatzen beat Viktoria Cologne 2-0 to confirm their spot in the second tier, Scienza scored and provided an assist as part of a match-winning display.

Johannes Reichert

The majority of Ulm’s squad joined the club in the past three years, with only a handful having been on the books before 2020. Reichert, though, is the resident stalwart, making his professional debut in 2010 in a 4-0 defeat to Nuremberg II.

After 115 appearances, Reichert departed for Kaiserslautern as Ulm’s financial issues hit hard. However, the local boy couldn’t be kept away from his hometown club for long, and he returned in 2016 after just two campaigns with the Red Devils.

Now club captain, he has been an ever-present since, providing leadership at the heart of the back four while also contributing at the other end – he managed as many as 10 strikes in the Regionalliga in 2020/21. In the four games for which he has been absent this term, Ulm have managed just one victory, losing two and drawing the other, which underlines the 32-year-old’s importance.

Captain Johannes Reichert has been a key component of Ulm's success. - IMAGO/H. Langer

Christian Ortag

Most title-winning campaigns are built on a strong backline, and Ulm’s is no different; they are one of only two teams in the division to have conceded fewer than 40 goals at the time of promotion being secured. Goalkeeper Ortag’s contribution, in particular, has been vital.

The shot-stopper has not missed a minute of league action throughout, keeping an impressive 16 clean sheets (albeit four fewer than the 2022/23 season as Ulm moved up to the third step of the German football pyramid). He also stepped into the breach and took the armband on two of the occasions when Reichert was unavailable.

His journey has not been an easy one, with this only his second season as an undisputed number one after plenty of competition for the role at Karlsruhe, Ingolstadt and Stuttgarter Kickers, but he has finally found a home where he is appreciated. The promotion also coincided with the birth of his second son, with his wife’s contractions starting during the first half of the win against Viktoria. Still, Ortag finished the match – with the blessing of his wife, of course – showing his dedication to his team on what was a momentous afternoon in more ways than one!

Dennis Chessa

Wide man Chessa was born-and-bred in Ulm, yet appeared destined for the very top when he left SSV in 2008 to join the mighty Bayern Munich, where he would spend the next six years.

While he graduated from the youth academy and featured regularly for the Bavarians' second team, it didn’t quite work out as he would have hoped. Leaving Munich behind in 2014, he became something of a journeyman, turning out for Aalen, SV Ried in Austria, Uerdingen, Pirmasens and Steinbach Haiger before returning to his own back yard.

He has settled in rather well, too, causing opposition defences all kinds of problems on the opposite flank to Scienza. Braces against Lübeck and Rot-Weiss Essen helped clinch important victories, and he also created one of the strikes in the win that confirmed promotion. Chessa is one of the few players who has previous Bundesliga 2 experience, so his presence as Ulm embark on a new chapter will be crucial.

Dennis Chessa's goals have helped Ulm reach the second tier. - IMAGO/H. Langer

Coach: Thomas Wörle

Wörle carved out a career as a player, but never came close to Bundesliga 2. Instead, it is as a coach that he has earned a strong reputation in the game, although initially in the women’s game rather than the men’s equivalent.

He was given the reigns of Bayern's women in 2010, replacing his father Günther, and kept ahold of them for the next nine years. During that time, he led the side – which at one point included sister Tanja – to two Women’s Bundesliga titles, one DFB Cup and a UEFA Champions League semi-final.

He took a two-year break after his Bayern exit before arriving in the Ulm dugout, and he has proven to be a fantastic appointment. His side have never finished below second under his tutelage, while he has won an impressive 62 percent of his matches across all competitions.

Asked to describe his coaching style shortly after his appointment in 2021, Wörle said, “I think I have a more collegial nature, but in certain moments you also have to be an authority. It is important to me that I have a relationship with the players and vice versa that we have a relationship and that I receive feedback - just as they receive feedback from me.”

Thomas Wörle is the mastermind behind his side's success. - IMAGO/nordphoto GmbH / Hafner

“I am 100% a team player and try to live it. I also try to pass on the high expectations I have of myself to the team.”

His 3-4-3 formation, as well as a policy of signing younger players who can be developed, have been a breath of fresh air, and he and his squad are well-placed to take Bundesliga 2 by storm.

How the season has panned out

Ulm were amongst the pre-season favourites for relegation – Wörle proclaimed in August that his side’s main objective was to stay in the division. Four points from their first four games was a solid start and suggested they could do a little more than just battle against the drop. Five victories from their subsequent six outings (L1) increased expectations further, especially the 1-0 win at home to 1860 Munich in front of a first sold-out Donaustadion since 2000.

Defeats against Dynamo Dresden, Hallescher, Preußen Münster and Jahn Regensburg dampened spirits somewhat, while the club were forced to play their home matches at nearby Aalen’s Centus Arena during the winter months due to their lack of undersoil heating. However, instead of wilting, Ulm flourished and have been on the wrong end of a scoreline just once since 12 November.

Ulm's 1-0 victory over TSV Munich 1860 was an important result on their road to glory. - IMAGO/Eduard Martin

Their defensive solidity has been remarkable in recent months, conceding just seven times in their last 16 matches. They have spent the whole of 2024 in the top three, and it was ultimately a matter of time before they guaranteed promotion and the title. In the end, they did both against Viktoria to cap off a stupendous 10 months.

Stadium: Donaustadion

While Ulm were founded 54 years ago, their home ground is closing in on its 100th birthday. The ‘Danube Stadium’ was opened in 1925 and hosted a number of different sports, including gymnastics and athletics. Now, it holds a capacity of 17,000, last being renovated in 1999. Ulm have been told that they must install undersoil heating from the 2025/26 season – clubs who move up to the second division are given one season to make the upgrade.

Did you know?

Thomas Tuchel may have made his name as the head coach of Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern, but before he was winning the UEFA Champions League, he played for Ulm between 1994 and 1998. Injuries ultimately cut his career short, but it was his time as part of Rangnick’s squad that, as per Tuchel himself, influenced the way he sees the game and how he wants his teams to play.