bundesliga, 2. Bundesliga

Holstein Kiel: Who are the Bundesliga newcomers?


Holstein Kiel have been promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in the club's history. bundesliga.com profiles the top flight's newest team...


The club's badge features the words 'von 1900' - from 1900 - as it traces its foundation back to the turn of the 20th century when Kieler-Fussball-Verein was founded. That was one of two clubs - along with FC Holstein von 1902 - that merged in 1917 to form the current organisation.

Decked out in the blue, white and red of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, of which Kiel is the capital, the club was one of the dominant forces of the pre-World War II years, winning the pre-Bundesliga German title in 1912 and finishing runners-up twice (1910, 1930).

Watch: Who are Holstein Kiel?

Since then, success has been much harder to come by. Placed in the second-tier Regionalliga Nord at the advent of the Bundesliga in 1963, Kiel won the regional title in 1965, but lost out in the race for a top-flight place to two clubs they will now face next season, Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

The Storks moved between the fourth tier of German football and the third before climbing to Bundesliga 2 in 2017. They came close to back-to-back promotions but lost the 2017/18 play-off to one-time Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, and - 109 years after winning the German championship - earned another shot at the big time after finishing third in 2020/21. Though they won the first leg 1-0 in Cologne, the Billy Goats romped to a 5-1 victory in the return to keep Kiel waiting.

Key players

Timon Weiner

The Schalke youth academy has a habit of turning out good players. Some of them - Manuel Neuer, Leroy Sané, Mesut Özil - followed up their youthful hype by quickly becoming global superstars; Weiner has had to wait until his mid-20s to make a name for himself in Germany.

He only made his Bundesliga 2 debut on the final day of last season, and was still back-up to Thomas Dähne when the season started before mistakes from his teammate saw the roles reversed. "It was my lifelong dream to play here," said Weiner after the Matchday 4 win at former club Schalke, which marked the start of Weiner backstopping Kiel's promotion push. Now in his sixth year at the club, he is likely to have more having signed a contract extension through to 2027 just before last Christmas.

Timon Weiner has had to wait for his chance to establish himself at Kiel. - IMAGO/Otto Kasch/IMAGO/Lobeca

Timo Becker

The 'former Schalke player does well at Kiel' is a bit of a theme of the club's promotion push, as you will see.

Unlike Weiner, Becker did play for Schalke's first team, even racking up 30 Bundesliga appearances between 2019 and their relegation in 2021. He then fell out of favour with new boss Dimitrios Grammozis, and after a loan spell at Hansa Rostock, moved along the Baltic Sea coast to Kiel in summer 2022. Standing nearly 6'3" (1.90m), Becker is nominally a centre-back, but has shown versatility playing in midfield and even full-back. He has also chipped in with crucial goals, including impressively holding his nerve to secure a point at Hertha Berlin on Matchday 24 with a penalty eight minutes into added time.

Lewis Holtby

The artful midfielder is the best-known former Schalke player to have made a significant contribution to Kiel this season.

Capped three times by Germany, when Holtby came to Kiel early in the 2021/22 season after a spell at Blackburn Rovers, he was surely nursing hopes the club would return to the Bundesliga soon. He had spent five years at Hamburg before going back to England where he had struggled to establish himself at Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham, but the experience he gained there - as well as the quality he showed breaking through in an exciting Mainz side - has been invaluable. He has provided four goals and seven assists to the promotion cause and had already put pen to paper on a one-year contract extension through to 2025 earlier this season.

Timo Becker (l.) and Lewis Holtby have been central to Kiel's promotion push. - IMAGO/Eibner-Pressefoto/Marcel von Fehrn

"It's really a lot of fun to be with this young and hungry team right now," said Holtby, now 33. "We have a great spirit and still a lot of potential for improvement. I have a very very good relationship with everyone at the club, because people here are simply honest, northern and direct."

Steven Skrzybski

Skrzybski struggled to establish himself at Schalke, making just 32 appearances and scoring only four goals in three tortuous years in Gelsenkirchen. Like Holtby, he has been in Kiel for the last three seasons, and also like Holtby, he has flourished.

He scored 15 times last season, and a contract extension through to 2026 signed last summer gave him the perfect platform to carry that form into the new campaign. With three games left this season, he is the only Kiel player in double figures for goals (10), including some spectacular long-range efforts and the only goal of the game in the Matchday 21 home win over - yes, you've guessed it - his boyhood club, Schalke.

Watch: Skrzybski the long-range specialist

Coach: Marcel Rapp

A former centre-back and midfielder who played in Bundesliga 2 for Karlsruhe and made 13 appearances for Germany's U21 side, Rapp spent most of his playing career in the lower reaches of Germany football. Fortunately for Kiel, he has turned out to be a much better coach than he was a player.

"Keep calm, put pressure on the ball, and be courageous," was how Rapp summed up how he wanted his players to approach the crucial Matchday 30 victory over Hamburg, and they have heeded those instructions all season long to successful effect.

Marcel Rapp has found the right blend of youth and experience to put Kiel on the road to Bundesliga promotion. - Boris Streubel/Bundesliga

Like Julian Nagelsmann, Rapp took his first steps in the coaching world at Hoffenheim, working with the club's youth teams, including replacing Domenico Tedesco as U19 boss during the 2016/17 season. An interim spell in charge of the first team in 2019/20 saw him - as part of a group of coaches in a caretaker role who replaced Alfred Schreuder - edge the club into the top six over the course of the last four matches that season to earn UEFA Europa League qualification.

At the start of October 2021, Kiel gave him the chance to be the long-term successor to Ole Werner - the man who had taken Kiel so close to the Bundesliga the previous season. Now, the man who replaced Werner is set to help the club make that long-awaited final step.

How the season has panned out

Having finished eighth in 2022/23, Kiel fans probably expected their side's fine start of four wins and a loss from their first five matches of the new campaign to fizzle out. Those fears seemed confirmed when back-to-back losses - 5-1 at St Pauli and 3-2 at home to Hertha - dropped the club to seventh place in the table

Though Pauli went through the first half of the season unbeaten, Kiel actually picked up two more points than their northern neighbours thanks to 11 wins in their opening 17 games. That gave them an advantage that they have reinforced thanks to maintaining their own form while Pauli's has slipped.

Watch: The best of Kiel in 2023/24

Since losing to Hertha on 24 September 2023, there have been just five more defeats this season. Rapp has managed to find that elusive blend of having a team that scores goals but also does not concede many. With one game remaining this season, only Fortuna Düsseldorf (69), Hertha (68) and Karlsruhe (65) have found the net more times than Kiel (63), while they have tightened up impressively since their 4-3 home loss to Pauli. In the following seven games, they conceded just twice, keeping six successive clean sheets in six straight wins before a shock defeat to Kaiserslautern. That rich vein of form saw them pull clear of their rivals in the promotion spots.

Stadium: Holstein-Stadion

Set in the north of this city of some 250,000 inhabitants, the 15,034-capacity venue originally opened in 1911 and is one of the 20 oldest football grounds in Germany.

A number of renovation projects have been undertaken since - the most recent was completed in 2019 - and another is planned to start next year to increase capacity to 22,000 by 2026.

Kiel's home was first opened in 1911, and is one of the oldest stadiums in Germany. - Boris Streubel/Bundesliga/DFL via Getty Images

Did you know?

Kiel's all-time leading scorer, Gerd Koll, found the net 138 times for the club in 266 appearances between 1959 and 1968. He was in the side that came within a goal of beating Gladbach to a place in the Bundesliga in 1965, and later coached the club. He was, however, best known by his nickname, 'Oma', which means 'grandma' in German. Don't ask us - we don't know why, either!