- Cologne enjoying Carnival with one eye on the top six.
- European football beckons for the Carnival club.
- On-fire Modeste fuelling fans' hopes.
When Cologne sharpshooter Anthony Modeste comes knocking as the big bad wolf and head coach Peter Stöger has to give interviews in the guise of a muscle-bound labourer, it can only mean one thing: In Cologne, as elsewhere across the Rhine region, it's carnival time again.
"We try to get into the spirit of the occasion," said Stöger, himself a native of Vienna. As to his own choice of costume this year, the 50-year-old tactician explained, "I always wanted to have a great torso with a minimum of effort."
Cologne the club and Cologne the city are inextricably intertwined and never more so than during what is known locally as "the fifth season." Taking part in the festivities gives players and officials alike the opportunity to "recover from the stress that we're otherwise bombarded by all the time. Today we're just a carnival club and it's about having a bit of fun," said colourfully-attired sporting director Jörg Schmadtke.
This year, the Billy Goats have unusually extensive professional grounds for good cheer as well. It's been quarter of a century since Cologne were so well placed in the Bundesliga at this juncture of the campaign – seventh in the table, on 33 points. Last time out, a hard-earned 1-1 draw against FC Schalke 04 kept one of their potential rivals in the Europa League race at arm's length.
The result also left Cologne still unbeaten at home this season and indeed only three points shy of the Champions League qualifying berth currently occupied by 1899 Hoffenheim. One way or another, the Cathedral city club's bid for a first appearance on the international stage since 1992 looks eminently attainable. "We're planning for both contingencies – making it into Europe and not making it,” Schmadtke clarified: "It wouldn't be too smart if we found ourselves there on May 20th suddenly surprised we'd qualified and having to go back to the drawing board."
Watch: Highlights of Cologne's 1-1 draw with Schalke on Matchday 21:
That's the kind of optimistic projection the Cologne fans have long been waiting to hear. Their aforementioned 'big bad wolf' will have a key role in making it happen. Modeste's Matchday 21 equaliser against Schalke was his 17th goal of the season, leaving him joint-top of the individual scoring chart alongside Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
If the French frontman can continue in the same prolific vein, Cologne's long overdue return to the international arena could be right around the corner – and that would truly be something to celebrate.