And we ARE moving on to next season already, as if that weren’t somewhat obvious from Saturday’s starting eleven.
If you recall, the primary stated goal for this season was “fifteenth.” That precise table placement is completly out the window now. The EffZeh will finish no lower than twelfth, regardless of what happens in the home finale against Volkswagenburg. Ninth is the highest-possible rung for the final standing at this point, but everything below seventh and above sixteenth is essentially the same spot. We’re going to neither the 2. Bundesliga, nor to the Europa League.
I think it’s likely unanimous among us that we’re happy with to leave the former behind, for at least one year more. Many seem to want to be angry about not pursuing the latter with more vigor in Mainz. I’m going to maintain a level of contentedness about the season on the whole. If we want to pick at places where points were needlessly dropped, putting that sixth place or the seventh (which looms as a back door into Europe, pending the DFB Pokal final outcome), Mainz isn’t in the top five places I’d start. In fact, the home draw to Mainz in December bothered me more than did anything from this past weekend.
But, you know, if people want to argue that the club, which was a promoted side, should have gone full-throttle the last two weekends of the season in pursuit of a European spot . . . even with major players like Ujah and Wimmer known to be not available to play in any such matches for us at summer’s end . . . that’s fine. It’s the stuff of sports talk. Why not? It’s not as if any of us would have failed to enjoy even that two-legged play-in battle, even if it resulted in a loss, nor any added revenue that would come with it.
Despite wandering around that for three paragraphs, I honestly wanted to focus on what Peter Stöger has said about the team goals for next season. Again, with the final placement rendered irrelevant other than for bragging purposes, it’s beyond reasonable to look past the final match day.
“Our goal will be to stay in the league, take a step forward, and get 40 points relatively early,” delineated the coach. “But we will not, after just one year in the first division, declare a fight for the Europa-League places.”
So, that’s three goals then? It’s certainly more than “fifteenth,” though not necessarily much more . . . not necessarily “more,” to be honest, than what was said for this season.
“Stay in the league” is the obvious minimum. Barring some off-pitch disaster, “stay in the league” will probably go without saying. Maybe if the ultras groups like the Boyz find a way to make sure the club receives a point-deduction punishment heading into a season, such a goal will seem like something of an stretch. Let’s hope, though, that it will always be assumed as the bare minimum.
The 40-point mark is the magical point total assumed to provide safety from relegation. You don’t need to know much mathematics to calculate ways in which a 40-point side could be relegated from an 18-club league, but the trend has been that you can get to safety with less. There’s currently a chance that a club will survive on 34 points this season. Last year, VfB Stuttgart stayed clear with just 32 points, while Hamburger SV used just 27 points (what the hell?!) and the away-goals rule in a relegation playoff with SpVgg Greuther Fürth to avoid the drop.
Besides, the club is currently sitting on 39 points with a chance to end with as many as 42. The total is not completely relevant here.
Hence, 40 points “relatatively early” would seem to indicate less a sole concern of league status and more that Stöger is thinking that, should his guys get that psychological safety secured early enough, they can then maybe set some new goals.
Maybe . . . if . . . but we won’t talk about it until then, you can assume.
All this goes with the other obvious goal, which is to “take the next step.” No coach or team can survive without a general, ever-present goal of “progress.” That’s pretty much your job as a coach, to improve as time passes. That goal is most-easily measured by season-to-season results. While you can sometimes state a case for improvement that cannot be measured in the league standings year-over-year, it’s no more easy to sell than it is to readily identify.
The tempering of expectations is something Stöger has certainly learned comes as part of the job as coach in Köln. While it’s not unique to our club, the stereotype of an EffZeh fan immediately talking about Champions League at the slightest hint of success exists for a reason. While some will be joking about their disappointment in missing out on a “Europapokal” bid, others will be genuinely angry Stöger didn’t trot his full-strength squad out to face Mainz (disregard that our guys were the better side for most of that match, of course). It’s just how things go around here, and Stöger knows it.
“If people in Köln didn’t constantly dream of the possibilities, the city wouldn’t be as cool as it is,” said the coach in casually dismissing criticism of Saturday’s effort.
The one goal that I’d personally like to see added to the list is the successful defense of the only international hardware earned by a Bundesliga side this season: the Florida Cup.
Of course, this would require that there will be a 2016 edition of the Florida Cup and that tournament organizers invite their reigning champion back to the Sunshine State to defend their title.
We’re not going to wander into the area of deeming a title won on the back of victories in two test matches an utter non-concern.
Just remember, dear EffZeh, as you set goals and plan for next season, that the club is undefeated in matches I’ve attended in person.
And I can make myself available . . . at least for enough dates to reach that 40 “relatively early.” Just holler!