“The fans are the only trump card.”

By Peter Weis   @PeterVicey

Speaking at a charity event on Monday, former Köln academy man Lukas Podolski spoke on the state of his beloved Geißböcke. 

RheinEnergieStadion. Photo: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Having once been relegated with the club through which he became a German international and eventually a World Champion, German footballing legend Lukas Podolski can always be relied upon to remain candid when it comes to discussing 1. FC Köln. When his beloved Effzeh last faced a tough relegation fight three years ago, the 130-times-capped German international complained that the club at which he remained a proud member had definitely lost its way.

For a time it seemed that Germany’s cathedral city side – back in the top flight since the 2019/20 season – had firmly entrenched itself back in Germany’s top flight footballing division. The team even finished high enough in the table during Steffen Baumgart’s rookie season in the 2021/22 campaign to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League last season.

Now, under the spendthrift policies of chief sporting personnel executive Christian Keller (whose caution did not extend to an irresponsible recruitment effort that left Köln strangled by an iron-clad transfer ban for the next two years), many in German footballing circles are already thinking about a stay in the 3. Liga for one of the Bundesrepublik’s great footballing cities.

Speaking at a Monday charity event, Podolski was more circumspect in his words than he was nearly three years ago. The now 38-year-old – still active as a professional in Poland – deflected questions about the team’s play in Saturday’s much-needed 2-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt. Podolski even shied away from praising the youth after admitting he maintained some respect for young makeshift left-back Max Finkgräfe.

“I saw quality in him [Finkgräfe] before all of that [the weekend hype],” Podolski noted, “[Schulz] has to give youth a chance, but I think it’s the right approach. We’ve already done some things right.”

Talk of youth gave Podolski pause. He went on to suggest that – like many football fans – he doesn’t like to see young players with potential thrown in too early before they have a chance to properly develop. The 2014 World Champion remarked that he hated it when German U18 and U19 success stories “disappear”.

Podolski quickly pivoted to the fans that gave him a stirring send-off when he left to seek greater fortune with Bayern in the summer of 2006, welcomed him back when his Bayern career fizzled out and left him playing with the FCB reserves, gave him another proper send-off when he departed for Arsenal after a year in the 2. Bundesliga, and continued to patronize his local businesses and local philanthropic work.

“The Südkurve is the only thing that keeps the whole thing alive,” Podolski said, referencing the RheinEnergieStadion’s famous fan-block, “It’s not about points and play at this point. The fans are the one trump card. They’re the only constant from my years at the Geißbockheim.”

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