VfL Bochum are returning to the top flight after an 11-year absence! - © DFL
VfL Bochum are returning to the top flight after an 11-year absence! - © DFL
bundesliga

VfL Bochum: Welcome back to the Bundesliga!

Borussia Dortmund lost one local rival following Schalke's relegation, but there will still be a Ruhr derby on the Bundesliga fixture list since VfL Bochum are returning to the top flight after an 11-year absence.

bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the Bundesliga 2 champions who will be mixing it with German football's big boys once again in 2021/22.

History

Bochum - or VfL Bochum 1848 to give them their full name - are not quite as old a football club as you might think. The clue lies in the VfL part of their title, something they share with the likes of Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach. It stands for Verein für Leibesübungen - Association for Physical Exercise - and harks back to the 19th century development of sports clubs to improve the health of the population, namely through gymnastics.

The separate football entity of the association kept the highly impressive founding date when it was formed in 1949. Their on-pitch performances were somewhat less eye-catching, however, as they only popped out of the backwaters of amateur regional football to reach the DFB Cup final in 1968.

Robert Tesche celebrates with a somersault in April 2021 after scoring a late winner in a 4-3 win over Hannover, the last team Bochum played in the Bundesliga back in 2010. - Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Three years later Bochum were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time, and they stayed there for 22 years. They yo-yoed between the top flight and Bundesliga 2 for the next 17 years after that, with the high point being a fifth-placed finish - and UEFA Cup qualification - in 1997. It was a feat they emulated in 2003/04.

Bochum were relegated and promoted one more time before the 2009/10 season, when they slipped into German football's second tier again. They remained there for more than decade before being promoted once again in 2020/21.

Key players

Simon Zoller

The well-travelled front man has enjoyed the most prolific season of his career. The 29-year-old has top-flight experience with 76 Bundesliga appearances during a three-year spell at Cologne. He netted 11 top-flight goals for the Billy Goats, and he's got 15 second division strikes this season for Bochum. And the secret? He's recently gone vegan.

With 15 goals apiece, Simon Zoller (l.) and Robert Zulj (r.) were vital to Bochum earning promotion from Bundesliga 2 in 2020/21. - Heiko Becker via www.imago-images.de/imago images/HMB-Media

Robert Zulj

Zulj - who is also 29 - is another player flourishing late in his career, and finished as the top assist provider in Bundesliga 2 with 15. The Austrian played for Ried and Salzburg in his native country before moving to Germany to join Greuther Fürth in 2014. The attacking midfielder then signed for Hoffenheim in 2017, but made only five Bundesliga appearances. Zulj later switched to Union Berlin on loan and helped them to their first-ever promotion to the Bundesliga in 2018/19. He has now done the same with Bochum.

Danilo Soares

The Brazilian left-back has been in Germany since he moved from Austrian football to join Ingolstadt in 2013. A toe injury limited him to just one top-flight appearance there during the club's 2015/16 Bundesliga season. Like Zulj, he then had a brief and unsuccessful spell at Hoffenheim, from where he swiftly moved on to Bochum in 2017. The 29-year-old is now nearing 200 Bundesliga 2 appearances for the club, and this season he has shown his trademark commitment to the cause. He placed in the top five league-wide for duels won.

The coach: Thomas Reis

Reis made nearly 200 appearances for Bochum between 1995 and 2003, returning to the club following the end of his playing career to take charge of the women's team in 2011. He worked as assistant first-team coach twice, assistant reserve-team coach and U19 boss, before moving to Wolfsburg for a three-year spell in charge of their U19s. Reis returned to his spiritual home in September 2019 to replace the departed Robin Dutt, steering the side out of trouble in his first senior role before taking the team to new heights in 2020/21.

Watch: Reis' beer shower after steering Bochum to promotion

"Above us all stands a coach who, by his own admission, wasn't very easy to deal with as a player," said Zulj to explain how Reis has kept a tight leash on a dressing room full of strong-willed characters. "He understands how to make a team out of a collection of self-confident players. He allows everyone to be themselves."

Reis even convinced the squad to go into a late-season training camp, and a contract extension - signed in February and running through to 2023 - suggests the club are happy for the 47-year-old to let his squad express themselves.

How promotion was won

Unbeaten but sluggish out of the blocks with just one win from their opening three games, Bochum won nine more and lost only three en route to the midway point of the season. They were second at that stage, three points behind leaders Hamburg.

It was all-or-nothing in the Rückrunde, though fortunately for Reis it was more 'all'. Ten wins - and not a single draw - in the first 15 matches of the campaign's second half pushed them to the brink of the big time. A 1-1 draw at Nuremberg on Matchday 33 guaranteed them at least a place in the promotion play-offs, before a 3-1 triumph over Sandhausen on the final day of the season sent them up as champions.

Watch: Midfielder Anthony Losilla "lost for words" after helping secure promotion

"The euphoria is big, also among the fans," explained Reis, whose side can count on the unflinching support of this Ruhr city of over 360,000 inhabitants. "Of course we feel that, even if direct contact isn't possible. We know the fans are behind us."

Stadium: Vonovia Ruhrstadion

Football has been played on the site of the club's stadium since 1911, but - as you might imagine - the venue has undergone a number of facelifts and total reconstructions in the last century.

With a capacity of 27,599, the ground has staged a number of international matches since Germany faced Hungary there in 1922. The most notable were in women's football, with a European championship quarter-final and semi-final in 1990 and 1995 respectively being played in Bochum.

Bochum will welcome the likes of local rivals Borussia Dortmund to the Vonovia Ruhrstadion on their return to the German top flight in the 2021/22 sesaon. - VfL Bochum 1848 via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Fotografie73

Did you know?

Three Bochum players have finished as the Bundesliga's leading scorer: Stefan Kuntz with 22 goals in 1986, Thomas Christiansen with 21 in 2003, and Theofanis Gekas with 20 in 2007.