Darmstadt - It was at 17:20 CEST on 24 May 2015 that the dams all broke in Darmstadt’s Stadion am Böllenfalltor after SV Darmstadt 98 guaranteed themselves a return to top tier of German football following a 33-year absence.
It capped off a sensational rise from the third division that came courtesy of back-to-back promotions in consecutive seasons and which not even the wildest optimists would have reckoned with. bundesliga.com outlines why we can all look forward to seeing the newly-promoted side in action…
Head coach Dirk Schuster’s charges got off to a dream start and went unbeaten in their opening five games of the 2014/15 Bundesliga 2 campaign putting them level on points with promotion contenders 1. FC Kaiserslautern, RB Leipzig and FC Ingolstadt 04 at the summit. The Lilies provided a constant presence near the top of the table throughout the first half of the season and sat in third during the winter break, leading fans to believe that there was much more on offer than “just” staying up.
Though their brand of football may have been considered unattractive to an objective fan at times, their discipline, iron will and an incredible work ethic were ultimately the foundations of Darmstadt’s success.
Those who believed that an unlikely promotion was still possible were not disappointed in the second half of the season with the biggest step towards a top-two finish coming on Matchday 32 with a gritty 1-0 win over direct competitors Karlsruher SC. In the US they claim “offense wins games, defense wins championships”, and though it didn’t lead to actual silverware, the statement rang true of Darmstadt and their jaw-dropping march to the Bundesliga.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Darmstadt’s successful pursuit of a return to the big time came about because of the players putting on a impenetrable unified front throughout the season, but there were three key squad members, all of whom featured for the club in the third tier two years back, that deserve recognition for the roles they played.
The club captain lives for Darmstadt 98 like no one else and made a name for himself early on the season when, despite suffering four fractures to his face, proceeded to play on in a mask shirking no challenge in sight. Alongside his centre-back partner Roman Bregerie, the 29-year-old was responsible for marshalling the league’s meanest backline and even grabbed four goals himself.
Darmstadt’s holding midfielder provided balance and stability in midfield, whilst providing an ever-present fulcrum for the attacking players to make use of as they looked to shift the ball forward at pace. Covering almost 12 kilometres on average per outing, Gondorf’s perpetual motion embodied the work ethic that lifted the Lilies to long-forgotten heights.
The 29-year-old was the personification of a goal threat during the first half of the season and scored eight of the club’s 25 goals before the winter break, but the striker’s true importance to the side was highlighted post-Christmas. While Stroh-Engel only scored once in 2015, his ability to hold up the ball and battle for position as part of Darmstadt’s long-ball policy, proved irreplaceable qualities.
Dirk Schuster has been in charge since 2012 and the foundations of his footballing philosophy are togetherness, team spirit, hard work and a willingness to fight.
The 47-year-old’s meticulous nature helped him finish top of the class while doing his coaching badges in Cologne in 2007. Schuster has succeeded in perfecting his side’s defensively oriented playing style without neglecting their ability to attack.
As was the case with SC Paderborn last season, Darmstadt go into 2015/16 as underdogs. That needn’t necessarily be a disadvantage, however, as Paderborn showed prior to the winter break. Schuster’s charges will now need to work on bringing their current playing style up to Bundesliga standards - a league played at a much quicker tempo.
Their secret weapon could be at set-pieces, as they scored 17 times from dead-ball situations last season, including 12 from corners. If the club manage to stay calm and stick together in difficult periods then a third surprise in consecutive seasons is not beyond the realms of possibility.