- Freiburg made an instant return to the Bundesliga in 2016.
- Nils Petersen ended the season as the second-highest scorer in Bundesliga 2.
- Christian Streich retained a core of young players to help the club back into the top flight.
SC Freiburg are back. Following relegation from the Bundesliga in 2014/15, the south-western club bounced straight back up to Germany's top flight. Head coach Christian Streich did so by relying on a method tried and trusted at the Black Forest outfit: giving youth players a chance.
When Freiburg were relegated from the Bundesliga in summer 2015, few believed they would return there any time soon. 'Upheaval', 'reconstruction', and 'starting over' were all buzzwords used in any analysis of their situation – except by the decision-makers at the club. Instead, they continued to work in the same calm manner, and were ultimately rewarded for their coolness under difficult circumstances. Despite the large number of big teams floating around Bundesliga 2, Freiburg performed consistently well over the entire 2015/16 campaign and ended up winning the second division title by a five-point margin.
They did so largely thanks to a cluster of players who graduated from the youth ranks and have been at the club for a number of years. Of the championship-winning side, Maximilian Philipp, Nicolas Höfler, Immanuel Höhn, Christian Günter and goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow are all academy products-turned-first-team regulars, while an additional four youngsters made their debuts with the senior team.
One of the most famous alumni of Freiburg's renowned youth system is defender Matthias Ginter, who became a full Germany international at the club before joining Borussia Dortmund, and was part of the triumphant 2014 FIFA World Cup squad. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann is another established Bundesliga player who started out at Freiburg, as is his team-mate Jonathan Schmid, and FC Schalke 04 duo Sascha Riether and Dennis Aogo.
Several other players aided the homegrown contingent in Freiburg's side last season. Vincenzo Grifo stood out in particular, scoring 14 goals - including a clutch of spectacular free-kicks - and providing 11 assists to become one of the most dangerous attackers in the league. He was supported in midfield by Amir Abrashi, who participated at UEFA EURO 2016 with Albania, and Mike Frantz, who chipped in with six goals and seven assists. Furthermore, Florian Niederlechner, signed on an 18-month loan from 1. FSV Mainz 05 in January 2016, hit the ground running and found the target eight times in just 14 outings, while striker Nils Petersen finished as the second-highest scorer in Bundesliga 2 with 21 goals.
In the Bundesliga, Streich, who was head of Freiburg's youth academy for many years, will again depend on the same core of players that won promotion, and will blend in the steady stream of youth players coming through. They will seek to ensure their survival with a bold, attacking style of play and will without doubt be a valuable addition to the league.