So how might they fare in the upcoming season? bundesliga.com puts the Billy Goats under the microscope in the next of our handy-sized preview series...
Signed last summer from TSV 1860 München, was a fixture from the off in the Köln midfield, missing just one league game all season. “When Daniel's fit, he's one of our vital creative players. If he's in halfway decent form, I'd see him in the team. He's actually pretty indispensable,” head coach Peter Stöger said of the former Germany U-21 international, who contributed two goals, seven assists and a consistently assured passing game to the promotion-winning campaign.
1860 München also provided Köln with for the upcoming campaign. In his first half-season in Germany, the 24-year-old forward played 15 times for the Munich club, bagging six goals. Already a star in his native Japan, Osako is confident that he can still “play better and score more often.” He is working flat-out on his German as well to help accelerate the process and while he enjoys the central striking role, “if the coach wants me out wide that's fine, I can play there too."
The man in the hot seat, Peter Stöger, had little apparent difficulty adapting to the German game after leaving FK Austria Wien as freshly-crowned champions of the Alpine Republic in 2013. Having led Köln to promotion with three games to spare and as Bundesliga 2 champions for good measure, the 48-year-old former Austrian international midfielder is now preparing to test himself and his charges against the best in the land – and “we're looking forward to taking the next major steps along the road together.”
Two years after dropping out of the Bundesliga and for the fifth time since the turn of the millennium, Köln reclaimed their place at the top table in fine style, finishing six points clear of second-place Paderborn. They did so with the second-youngest team in the division and in a campaign defined above all by a rock-solid defence. Just 20 goals conceded was a new second-flight record, further underscoring the significance of a tremendous team spirit to their promotion drive.
"Our unequivocal aim is to stay in the Bundesliga. That starts with 15th place," sporting director Jörg Schmadtke insists, echoing Stöger's own take on the situation. The promotion celebrations meanwhile were accompanied by fan songs anticipating a swift return to the international stage on which Köln were once regular performers. Their last appearance in Europe was 22 years ago however, and the club executives are less optimistic about the chances of that fallow streak ending quite yet.
Their rock-solid defence notwithstanding, Stöger is well aware that “just parking the bus won't do the job. We need to win every third game to stay up, which means trying to create chances in every single one of them.” In Anthony Ujah and, fitness permitting, - not to mention the likes of Osako and shooting star Lucas Cueto - Köln are certainly not short of attacking potential. Dusan Svento, one of eight new signings to date, offers fresh creative options in the middle of the park as well.
With a raft of fresh faces to integrate and a Bundesliga-sized tactical upgrade to be fine-tuned, Köln's preparations for the season opener against Hamburg are set to go down to the wire. Stöger put more precedence on training camps than pre-season friendlies, an appraoch which appeared to pay off as the Billy Goats romped to a 4-0 win over FT Braunschweig in the DFB Cup first round.