Jonas Hector (c.) and Timo Horn (r.) keep a close watch on Werder Bremen's Max Kruse (l.). - © © imago / Eibner
Jonas Hector (c.) and Timo Horn (r.) keep a close watch on Werder Bremen's Max Kruse (l.). - © © imago / Eibner

Cologne duo Jonas Hector and Timo Horn happy to buck the trend with troubled Billy Goats


Relegation usually leaves the doomed club resigned to losing its best players, and has envious rivals licking their lips, ready to cherry-pick up the bargains only too happy to jump from the sinking ship.

The vultures are already circling Cologne, who could be relegated on Matchday 32 and — even if they live to fight another Matchday — appear destined for the drop this season. Yet two of the very finest cuts on the Billy Goats' carcass will not be gobbled up by top-flight suitors.

Jonas Hector and Timo Horn have both decided to spurn the amorous advances of not only some of Germany's but also Europe's biggest clubs to remain in the city where they have forged the very reputations that have made them such sought-after men.

Watch: Find out why Jonas Hector is staying at Cologne next season!

Fans often grumble — as Nick Hornby, the author, pointed out — that while their choice of club is "was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with", players all too often kiss the badge and pledge allegiance only to then quickly do the same in another shirt where they feel the grass is greener or the money bigger.

Staying put! Hector has declared himself more than happy to stick with the Billy Goats. - © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA

There are exceptions: Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester United, Carles Puyol at Barcelona, Francesco Totti at Roma, Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, Paolo Maldini at AC Milan. They, however, were in successful sides.

Yes, Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro del Piero stayed at Juventus when they were relegated to Serie B, but it was in controversial and unusual circumstances; Matt Le Tissier remained faithful to Southampton who remained in the English Premier League thanks in large part to their sensationally gifted loyal servant.

The fact these players are remembered as much for their loyalty as their talent shows they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Hector and Horn are too, but they are even going one step further. In a team sport where — ironically — the ego reigns, the pair have put aside personal ambition to be like those who will pack into the RheinEnergieStadion whether the team is riding the crest of a wave or — like now — sailing through stormy waters.

Hector has racked up 187 appearances across all competitions to date for Cologne. - © gettyimages / Hangst / Bongarts

"Why would I go there, when I have everything I need at Cologne?" replied Hector when asked to explain his reasons behind not moving to any number of suitors, which reportedly included Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus.

"In this situation, it's also about me personally, about what makes me happy, and that's being here. I feel at home here in this city and this club, that's why I made the decision I did."

The left-back, who turns 28 in May, removed a clause in his previous contract that would have allowed him to move on for a bargain fee in case of relegation, and even added two more years to his deal, tying himself to Cologne until 2023.

Hector has made 36 international appearances for Germany, debuting under Joachim Löw in 2014. - © gettyimages / Matthias Hangst

"It would have been no problem for me to switch to another club after this season," he said. "But it wouldn't have felt right."

In modern-day football, dominated by talk of astronomical salaries, that doesn't sound quite right either, but as Cologne's sporting director, Armin Veh, pointed out, "Jonas is an exceptional player and an extraordinary person, which is something you no longer see too much of in professional football these days."

Hector owes his rise to the status of the world champions' number one left-back to his talent and Cologne's faith in it after they plucked him from amateur football. But Hector's decision is not just one of repaying a debt of gratitude — he has done this before.

By the time he signed for Cologne's reserve team in 2010, he was already 20 — relatively late for the move into professional football — but the timing was dictated by Hector himself.

"I simply didn't want to leave at the time," he explained when asked why — having impressed as the playmaker of his Saarland village team and helped them to promotion to the fourth tier of German football — he had not responded positively to approaches from professional clubs. "I was playing in the youth team in Auersmacher and wanted to play at least one season in the Oberliga."

The decision to spend another season playing alongside his friends was a risk, a measured one — if he was really good enough, the clubs would be back — but a risk nonetheless. So is his decision to stay at Cologne, but again, he has clearly thought it through.

"It's cool," said another Cologne icon, Lukas Podolski, who found the pull of his hometown club too much when he was at Bayern, and admitted he still dreams of a third spell there. "I do not think he'll have big problems with Joachim Löw. I know the national team coach, he appreciates things like that."

Hector's standing with Löw means he will be in Russia this summer, and even if he plays in the second tier next term, Germany do not have a major tournament in 2019. Hector's loyalty may be tested, however, if Cologne do not make an immediate return to the top flight.

Hector (l.) and Horn will be hoping for happier times in front of the Cologne fans in the near future. - © imago / Revierfoto

With him in the side they have a far better chance of doing so — if indeed they are relegated, miracles do happen! — and the same can be said of Horn. Unlike Hector, who was born near the French border, Horn first saw light in the shadow of Cologne's majestic cathedral, and is a lifelong fan of his hometown club.

If he were not between the posts, Horn would be in the stands — his family are still season-ticket holders — and only occasionally on the pitch: he was among the fans that engulfed the players after they had secured promotion to the Bundesliga in 2007/08.

Horn will be hoping for identical scenes in 12 months' time after emulating Hector with a contract extension of his own and the removal of a release clause that could have seen the homegrown talent depart for less than €6 million.

Watch: Timo Horn reveals why he is staying at Cologne!

"FC is my club and Cologne is my home. This is why I have always said that I can envision myself going on this path together if the perspective is right. And it is," Horn, who joined the club aged nine, explained.

"Despite a difficult season, FC has managed to create an excellent situation for the upcoming season and has ambitious goals. That is very important for me. I will do my best to put us back on the path to success."

Like Hector, Horn has previous. As a highly rated teenager, Liverpool — who, along with English Premier League rivals Arsenal, had recently been linked to the Cologne 'keeper — had offered him the chance to move to England.

"I didn't go there because I felt the goalkeeping schooling in Germany was much better and I had enough examples, for instance Ron-Robert Zieler who came back after a couple of years [at Manchester United], and that's why I stayed in Koln," he explained. "It definitely wasn't the wrong decision!"

He and Hector clearly feel they are making the right choice now too. Former Arsenal defender Tony Adams said, "Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and they'll remember the name on the back." There is little doubt Cologne's faithful duo have cemented their place in effzeh fans' memories for many years to come.

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