Cologne - In FC Ingolstadt 04 and SV Darmstadt 98, the Bundesliga has gained – for the coming season, at the very least – two intriguing fresh additions. As is so often the case, both clubs find themselves almost by default topping the list of those tipped to be battling tooth and nail against what, in their case, would be an immediate return to Bundesliga 2.
As far as that goes, the duo are taking rather divergent approaches to the upcoming campaign. Long-established Darmstadt are determined, first and foremost, to simply enjoy their unanticipated Bundesliga adventure. Ingolstadt, the new team on the block in every sense, are meanwhile planning diligently for a long-haul stay at German football's top table.
"I've no fear of this team becoming the league's whipping boys. I know we've got a certain amount of quality," Ingolstadt coach Ralph Hasenhüttl said. "Obviously we'll go into virtually every game as the underdogs, but that's actually a good position to be in." The club, formed only in 2004 by the fusion of two other sides in the central Bavarian city, earned their Bundesliga debut in style, winning the Second Division title with something to spare.
Ready for action
Promotion sparked a wave of local euphoria which is still ongoing. Some 2,500 fans lent the first pre-season training session a positively festive atmosphere. They, like the players and staff, are convinced Ingolstadt have a realistic chance of staying up. Hasenhüttl is leading by example, citing his team's settled line-up and well-grooved playing style in addition to the initial surprise factor in their favour. The inevitable odd hefty defeat has also been calculated into the equation.
Indeed, the 47-year-old Austrian tactician is already confident enough to risk casting an eye further down the line, noting that, "If we managed to stay in the Bundesliga – and I'm working on that assumption – then we'll have to start thinking about enlarging the stadium as well." All-in-all, Operation Ingolstadt, for Hasenhüttl, is a project "where's there's still an awful lot of room for improvement. I don't know where the upper limit is." The months ahead will help him draw some initial conclusions.
The one club generally given even less of a chance than Ingolstadt of staying up are their fellow promotees. In the wake of their fairytale march straight through from the Third Division, Darmstadt are preparing themselves for a war of attrition at the wrong end of the standings from day one. "We're very small fish in a big pool, but we were the club with the smallest budget in the Second Division as well and that didn't hold us back," Dirk Schuster pointed out. The Lilies' head coach plans to stick to what has proved a winning formula, vowing, "We won't alter the character of the team, or our style of football."
One feature of that, Schuster freely acknowledges, is the "establishment of combat zones." Promotion to the Bundesliga is, after all, "a gift" for the club – and one "we want to hang on to, for all we're worth." Dominik Stroh-Engel has already confirmed as much. "Last season, every one of us ran himself into the ground for the others," said 29-year-old striker, "and that's exactly what we have to do again: get nasty, and get stuck in."