Munich - "At Christmas, we were staring down the barrel. We were really depressed and in a terrible predicament,” recalled FC Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl. His side had taken just nine points from a miserable first half of the season and seemed to be everyone’s first tip for the drop.
Yet in 2013 their fortunes changed dramatically and at the end of Matchday 34, the Bavarian outfit were celebrating jubilantly after a 3-1 victory over Greuther Fürth that guaranteed their Bundesliga status for another year.
Augsburg made good use of the transfer window last summer as they geared up for the season ahead. The likes of Aristide Bance, Milan Petrzela, Giovani Sio, Knowledge Musona and Andreas Ottl were all recruited to add depth to the squad, but, tellingly, none of them made the list of 18 players for that crunch game against Fürth.
On the contrary, it was the personnel signed in January that made the difference. Andre Hahn, brought in from third tier side Kickers Offenbach, played 16 times in the second half of the season, while South Korean international Dong-Won Ji, loaned from Sunderland FC, hit the ground running, scoring five crucial goals. Veteran goalkeeper Alex Manninger also added a much-needed dose of experience and calmness to a youthful ensemble.
The addition of Ji and the changing of the team’s formation to a 4-2-3-1 formation yielded instant results for die Fuggerstädter. Lone striker Sascha Mölders now had able support from both Ji and his compatriot Ja-Cheol Koo, while the experienced Daniel Baier pulled the strings of a well-balance midfield from his position just in front of the back four.
The tone of the Rückrunde was set with a 3-2 win in Düsseldorf, in which Mölders scored twice. Impressive victories against 1899 Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen, Hamburger SV and Eintracht Frankfurt were to follow. So important was their run of form that Augsburg were the division's seventh best side in 2013 had their destiny in their own hands going into the final day, an extraordinary accomplishment in itself given their situation at the half-way stage.
So what caused the turnaround? Bolstering the quality of the squad certainly played its part, but crucially Weinzierl was given time to implement his philosophy, while instilling an unshakeable team-spirit and will to win.
A remarkable record of seven wins and three draws from their last 17 games was just reward for their efforts, which, as Weinzierl himself put it, was "a sensational achievement for a team fighting against relegation”.