Holstein Kiel will have to wait to become the 57th club to feature in the Bundesliga following their play-off defeat to Cologne. bundesliga.com profiles the top-flight nearly men...
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 captial, 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).
Since then, success has been much harder to come by. Placed in the second-tier Northern Regional League at the advent of the Bundesliga in 1963, Kiel won the local 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 until a four-year spell in the 3. Liga led to promotion to Bundesliga 2 in 2017. They lost the 2017/18 promotion play-off to one-time Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, but - 109 years after winning the German championship - have earned another shot at the big time after finishing third in the 2020/21 Bundesliga 2.
When first-choice goalkeeper Ioannis Gelios was laid low by illness in April, the team had just suffered a wobble in form, winning just once and losing three of five league outings. Back-up Dähne - signed from Polish side Wisla Plock last summer - had played only 180 minutes of the season prior to stepping in, but conceded just five goals and kept three clean sheets in an unbeaten six-game streak that included five wins, before season-ending losses to Karslruhe and Darmstadt.
The former Werder Bremen man has 170 Bundesliga appearances to his name; when he rejoined his hometown club last summer (having last featured for them in 2007), he surely could not have - now aged 34 - been expecting to add to that tally. "It's something romantic for me to play in Kiel again," said Bartels after completing his return, and he has turned it into a full-blown love affair.
The veteran has been Kiel's most influential performer with 13 goals and seven assists this season in all competitions, 11 of those strikes coming in the league. He also netted the goal that knocked holders Bayern Munich out of the DFB Cup in January en route to guiding Kiel to the semi-finals, their best-ever run in the competition.
"Fin, when he is fit, is an exceptional Bundesliga player due to his qualities," Bartels's former coach at Bremen, Florian Kohfeldt, said, while Toni Kroos recently revealed he named his second son Fin in honour of Bartels.
If Bartels is enjoying an Indian summer, Mühling is having a breakthrough season at the age of 28. On the books of both Gladbach and Bayer Leverkusen in the early stages of his career, Mühling only made his professional debut while at Sandhausen in Bundesliga 2 in 2014.
He left to join Kiel - then in 3. Liga - in 2016, but has found the richest vein of form of his life in 2020/21. His team-high 12 goals, including the late winner in the rescheduled Matchday 28 encounter with Jahn Regensburg on 13 May, represent nearly a third of all the strikes he has mustered in his time at the club.
Coach: Ole Werner
Local born, Werner played for Hertha Berlin and Kiel's youth academies before going to Australia and working as a gardener for a year. He returned to his roots to become part of Kiel's youth academy staff in 2013. Having worked as the reserve team assistant coach, he took on the top job after Andre Schubert was sacked in September 2019.
Having watched his team throw away leads on a number of occasions last season in finishing 11th, the 33-year-old spent last summer analysing how top-grade coaches such as Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone set up their teams to be so defensively sound. The result? Kiel boasted the best defence in Bundesliga 2 in 2020/21, with 35 goals against.
"We always have the feeling that we're really well prepared and feel very comfortable with that," explained Kiel captain Hauke Wahl. "We always have a solution against every opponent. Naturally, that gives us security."
How the regular season panned out
The team's defensive solidity is a major part of the story. They have conceded on average a goal a game at home, and even fewer than that on the road. They have lost just four times at their Holstein-Stadion home, the same number as they have suffered on their travels, which is a clear indication of a side that is fiendishly difficult to break down.
"I must take my hat off to my team, who once again surpassed themselves and ran through the pain barrier," said Werner. That pain comes from the hectic end to the campaign cause by two illness-enforced breaks in their season that left them with a mammoth fixture pile-up.
The come-from-behind win at home to Regensburg was their fourth successive victory, but back-to-back defeats to Karlsruhe and Darmstadt - their ninth and tenth competitive matches in a month - resulted in them dropping out of the automatic promotion places on the final day. They won the play-off first leg 1-0 in Cologne, but went down 5-1 in front of their own fans.
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.
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!