By now, most of you will know that the 1. FC Köln and Jörg Schmadtke parted ways Monday. According to reports, Schmadtke wanted to leave his role as sporting director and requested he be released from his contract. The club (simply) obliged his wishes.
To say the move comes as either “sudden” or “unexpected” is an incredible understatement, despite whatever personnel problems have left the club winless for the first two months of the Bundesliga season and without a point halfway through (barring an unprecedented turnaround) the club’s first European venture in a quarter-century. Whatever the current situation, Schmadtke’s fate was not thought to be under threat.
The reaction of the club and the actions that have since followed support the idea that the idea to separate was Schmadtke’s and Schmadtke’s alone. Early speculation pointed to Schmadtke’s continued support/defense of coach Peter Stöger and figured that any move on the head coach meant also sacrificing his main ally in the front office.
But today, it was announced that Jörg Jakobs would re-assume some of his former sporting director duties to work with Stöger in preparation for the winter transfer window, giving the appearance that the club is looking to stabilize the work environment to support the team, rather than continuing a shakeup to untrack the winless squad.
Jakobs was instrumental in bringing Stöger to Köln in the first place, by the way.
Whatever moves are yet to come and whatever turns out to have been the motivation behind Schmadtke’s departure, the FC is now officially in the post-Schmadtke era and arranging to transition into a new era of leadership. While we certainly can (and doubtlessly will) speculate on the future, let’s take a moment to reflect on the recent past.
Schmadtke arrived in the summer of 2013, the same offseason that brought Stöger from Vienna. Older Köln fans would have been fairly familiar with their new sporting director maybe more as a player than as a member of management. As the curly-haired keeper of Fortuna Düsseldorf from the mid 80’s through the early 90’s, Schmadtke leveraged his padded gloves against the FC 16 times. Before coming to Köln, he was the architect behind Hannover 96’s first-ever trip to Europa League (2011-12).
Schmadtke’s first season got off to a great start, prompting the production of a video that would become a crucial part of his legacy at the club.
Schmadtke’s zen-like call for everyone to “stay calm” in September, rather than beginning to celebrate the presumed promotion in May, was a big hit among the fan base.
The club released a sequel to the “Euphoria Brakes” in April, after promotion was secured with the clinching of the second-division title.
(Good gravy, that was a fun time!)
In any case, that single 2. Bundesliga season for Schmadtke revealed a pattern for his time at the club. He would continually plead for reasonably modest expectations and work to deliver beyond them. Every season saw the team outperform whatever goals were set the summer preceding it. The series of outperforming expectations met its peak with the fifth-place finish last season, which started with only the first hints that maybe the team had the makings of thinking about Europe, but only after we knew the class would be retained.
2016-17 ended, of course, with a final-day leap from just outside the European spots to the top rung among Europa League finishers, assuring the 1. FC Köln direct entry to Europa League and triggering incredible celebrations in and around the stadium and city. In June, football magazine 11 Freunde voted Schmadtke the manager of the season by a good margin over Leipzig’s Ralf Rangnik.
Four months later, here we are.
By “Happy Trails,” I hope you realize I didn’t write this to get into a critique of Schmadtke’s time at the FC. If you came here for that, I apologize and hope I can get to it (insert vague promise that I want to do more writing/covering of the club and will try to make time blah blah blah) soon.
When I went with Bundesliga Fanatic to Orlando to cover the Florida Cup, I had the opportunity to meet Schmadtke a few times. First, we met after a team training session, where he was happy (or entirely willing to fake it) to take a picture with a chubby middle-aged FC fan, even as the team was dealing with financial director Alexander Wehrle deciding between staying at FC or moving back home for a new job.
There were only a (very) few there who were a bit bristly toward the few non-Germans following the club around, but Jörg Schmadtke was definitely not among them. And I will always appreciate that.
Sidebar: Good place to shout-out to Stöger, Tobias, Maurice, and EVERY SINGLE PLAYER when I fumbled between my role of “working journalist” and “fan boy.”
Representing the club at the first press conference of the mid-winter tournament of friendly matches, Schmadtke addressed the gathered media in German after the two Brazilian club reps and Michael Schade of Bayer Leverkusen did so in English. I remember thinking that I wish it had been otherwise, but also was a little proud that our “little” German club was not yet fully engaged in putting on the dress of giant international concern with an English-slick frontman pitching his wares to the outside world. Here was a German football man talking German football. In what language should one expect that to happen?
What I learned right away was that German media tended to not ask questions in the press conferences, which is completely foreign to my own American media experience. I mean, that is sort of the reason for the pressers in the first place. Anyhow, I did my best to float questions about the club using the tournament to prepare for the second half of the season and defend its Bundesliga status going forward.
Or at least that’s what I thought I asked. My German is not really very good, but Herr Schmadtke answered like I had at least managed to form a question.
Sidebar: At a post-match press conference later, I wanted to ask then-Leverkusen-trainer Roger Schmidt a question, maybe if only because when the moderator asked if anyone had questions, the room was completely mute. I remember shrugging and mumbling, “well, if nobody else is going to do it . . .” I asked the moderator whether I should ask in English or German. Because they were promoting an event in the USA, the moderator started to day, “please ask in English,” but was cut-off by Schmidt, who I saw glaring at my laptop (did I leave it open with the giant FC crest pointing straight at him?), saying, “Lieber, auf Deutch! (preferably, in German).
I had one final run-in with Herr Schmadtke before leaving Florida, and it was beneath the seats at Jacksonville’s EverBank Stadium after the FC had secured the championship trophy as winners of the inaugural Florida Cup with a 3:2 win over Brazilian club Fluminense (they had beat Corinthians 1:0 earlier in the week).
Even though it was just a pair of test matches, the mood after the win reminded me of a quote I heard from a player going into the competition, which went around the fact that athletes want to win every game they play, whether it’s a test match or not. The celebration was far from wild, but it also wasn’t brushed off as a “nothing,” either.
After Stöger’s formal presser, I found myself among all the working Köln press gathered around Schmadtke. Not wanting to interrupt the “professional” media, who are completely happy to ask questions outside a press conference, it turns out, I sort of hung back until media/communications director Tobias Kaufmann (who had arranged my interview with Anthony Ujah) sort of shoved me into the mass, essentially encouraging me to stop acting like a fan-blogger and act more like a working journalist (again, I am thankful to Tobias). I was not confident enough in my German to thrown him a question myself, but at some point, Schmadtke noticed me there, locked eyes, and addressed me directly with “Hey Junge! Wie war das denn?!” (at least that what I remember it being, as my phone later ate all the video and audio I had taken that day). Having the club sporting director check-in on my satisfaction with the team’s performance and accomplishment was insane at the time. I’m certain the guys on the job thought it ridiculous at the time. I guess I find it a little ridiculous, too, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Football is meant to be fun, isn’t it? I know that’s how I got to Florida for that in the first place.
And that’s why this is here. Even as I am continually saddled with real-life responsibilities that keep me away from writing as much as I’d like about my club and German football in general, I was moved to publish something of a send-off to Jörg Schmadtke outside of any analysis or critiques of his work on the roster, for better or worse. I am a fan of the guy for both what he brought to the club and for the way he treated me, personally.
All the best, Jörg. May you enjoy much success and happiness in whatever you decide to pursue from here on out (except for when you come to face the FC because . . . well, you know the deal).