Set to become the 56th side to feature in Germany’s top flight since it’s inception in 1963, Union Berlin are aiming to make their debut Bundesliga season more than a one-hit wonder.
Following their defeat of VfB Stuttgart on away goals and an unforgettable promotion party, Union are gearing up for the biggest challenge the club has ever faced. Not everyone can finish their debut Bundesliga season in second place like RB Leipzig back in 2016/17, but the pieces are being put in place for a strong survival bid in Berlin.
bundesliga.com outlines five reasons Union can avoid an immediate return to the second tier...
Watch: Union Berlin's promotion party
1) World-class supporters
The Bundesliga is home to some of the best fans in world football and Union’s can make a strong case for being the most dedicated. "I bleed red and white" and "It’s in my blood" are phrases heard when the club's supporters are asked how deep their convictions run.
And they are quite literally prepared to bleed for the cause, with countless Köpenick faithful donating money raised from giving blood to save their club from bankruptcy in 2004. Four years later, when Union were at risk of losing their league license, the fans poured their blood, sweat and tears into renovating a terrace in the Stadion an der Alten Försterei, clocking up over 140,000 hours of voluntary manual labour.
Through the highlights and hardships, the club have managed to foster a unique sense of community, which has filtered onto the pitch and is intrinsically linked to the success they’ve been building towards for over a decade.
A club that puts football first, the matchday experience at the Stadion an der Alten Försterei is enough to send any football romantic's heart a flutter. RB Leipzig can expect quite a reception on Matchday 1 on 18 August and the rest of the league better brace themselves for Union’s 34-match tour of Germany’s top flight.
2) Smart signings
A question asked of every newly-promoted side is whether their squad is ready to make the step up in the Bundesliga. Union were short on top-flight experience, but they've seized on opportunities and wasted little time in addressing the issue.
Manuel Schmiedebach and Marvin Friedrich’s loan moves from Hannover and Augsburg respectively have been turned into permanent deals. Meanwhile, Keven Schlotterbeck’s one-year loan from Freiburg gives the 22-year-old the chance to build on the momentum generated by his nine appearances in the second half of last season.
The signings of Neven Subotic, Christian Gentner and Anthony Ujah bring with them the combined experience of 695 Bundesliga appearances, four Bundesliga titles and two DFB Cup wins.
More importantly, all three are familiar with battling the drop in Germany’s top flight and their influence both on and off the pitch could prove invaluable as the club look to strike the balance between ambition and acceptance in their role as underdogs.
"We’ve got a good mix of experienced players and young bucks who have quality and have proven that they can work their way up to the top tier," said Subotic.
3) 'Punk Rock' football
Union Berlin encapsulate some of the best qualities that German football has to offer. They are a club that take pride in their tradition, living off of raw emotions and exuding unbridled passion.
The post-match celebrations in Berlin back in May showed just what promotion meant to a vibrant and eclectic set of fans. They and the non-mainstream club culture they’ve created are integral to their identity, but so too is the style of play. If Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund were all about "heavy metal" football, Union are the less mainstream punk rock alternative.
A team who embrace the grind and make their presence felt throughout the 90 minutes, Die Eisernen started the 2018/19 Bundesliga 2 campaign with a 17-game unbeaten streak and suffered just five losses en route to securing promotion.
"The expectation of us is to give absolutely everything from the first matchday to secure survival," said summer signing Gentner, who experienced first-hand what Union’s one-for-all and all-for-one mentality can achieve as captain of the Stuttgart side relegated at their hands.
"There are seven or eight sides who will be fighting to stay up and targeting survival. For Union, there can be no other target."
Watch: Union striker Sebastian Andersson on the "dream" of earning promotion
4) Solid defence - just ask Dortmund!
Union were notoriously difficult to beat last season. While they’ll have to step it up another level to earn a similar reputation in the Bundesliga, their defensive record in 2018/19 is a solid foundation which they can build upon this season.
Head coach Urs Fischer’s side conceded just 33 times - less than a goal a game on average - and kept no less than 14 clean sheets in the process. Translating a facet of their game they were so reliant on last season to the top flight will arguably be the 53-year-old’s toughest test. That said, Union did show signs of being ready to make the step up even before they beat Stuttgart on away goals with back-to-back draws.
More impressive is the fact that in the last three seasons they have twice caused Dortmund serious trouble in the DFB Cup. A penalty shootout was their downfall in the 2016/17 campaign, while it took a 121st minute Marco Reus spot-kick to knock them out last season after they had twice come from behind in 90 minutes.
In both performances Union left it all out on the pitch and they'd have come away with two points against BVB had they been league matches. The key now is maintaining that over the course of 34 Bundesliga matchdays.
5) History on their side
Considering 18 of the 25 newly promoted teams have survived their first season since the reintroduction of the relegation/promotion play-off in the 2008/09 campaign, there’s precedent for Union beating the drop.
Union aren’t just newly promoted though; they’re debutants, the eighth such side since Klopp guided Mainz to the club’s first ever promotion in 2004. Greuther Fürth and Paderborn dropped straight back down to the second tier in 2013 and 2015 respectively, while Ingolstadt suffered from second-season syndrome at the end of the 2016/17 campaign.
The remaining four, Mainz, Hoffenheim, Augsburg and Leipzig have all gone on to establish themselves as permanent fixtures in the Bundesliga, racking up a combined 23 seasons. Not only that, all four have featured in European competition since making their bows.
That is likely a step too far for Union in their first top-flight campaign, perhaps, but longevity is the ultimate goal. It’s the examples of Augsburg and Mainz that Die Eiserner should follow.
"It’s clear: we can only cause a surprise. Relegation would be the norm," CEO Oliver Ruhnert admitted to BILD. "We need freedom, tempo and at the same time, stability. We’re convinced that we can finish in at least 15th with that mix."