Since Timo Horn ascended to the job four seasons ago, the role of the back-up keeper was largely figurehead in nature. When Thomas Kessler played, it was always simply a matter of Peter Stöger deciding to give his second-string backstop some live-game action, rather than being forced by injury to go with ‘Plan B’.
It’s only now that Horn is off to Rio de Janeiro in pursuit of Olympic glory that the injury bug rears its ugly head between the posts.
A torn knee ligament has sidelined Kessler for “several weeks,” taking from him the opportunity to start the DFB Pokal opening-round match against BFC Preußen as well as the season opener against SV Darmstadt 98. The injury will not require an operation, but the club will likely take a low-risk approach with the veteran back-up, making sure he returns only once he’s at full strength.
The circumstances surrounding the first two choices at keeper necessarily mean that Sven Müller, the number one for the 1. FC Köln U21 squad, will make his competitive debut for the professional side on August 20 at 1. FC UnionBerlin’s Stadion An der Alten Försterei in the German cup tournament.
Whether Müller makes his Bundesliga debut seven days later depends largely on how well the Olympic team fares. The Germans currently are third in Group C following draws with Mexico and South Korea, but a win over Fiji on Wednesday would assure, at worst, a second-place finish and a spot in the quarterfinal round. Fiji has been outscored 13-1 in its first two matches of group play. Should South Korea and Mexico draw, Germany could win the group with an eight-goal victory over the small island nation.
Though a quarterfinal loss would provide plenty of time for Horn to return home and be ready to play in the cup match, the effzeh appear ready to go with their 20-year-old. The club signalled that it would not pursue another keeper during the transfer window and are content with their current options. “(Müller” is a talented guy who enjoys our confidence,” says Jörg Schmadtke of the new starter.
Any such posturing could also be taken as intended to boost confidence of the youngster in advance of what could be the biggest week of his career to date, but the last time the club decided to roll with a young, unproven keeper, it worked out quite well, with Horn comfortably among the top keepers in Germany.
A berth for Germany in the semifinal round, however, would necessarily mean participation in the medal round on August 20th. Depending on travel plans from Brazil, a week would certainly be sufficient time for Horn to be ready for the Bundesliga opener. With Kessler available against Darmstadt, it seems a good bet the club would have given Horn a little extra time to settle following the Olympic adventure. Will that be as appealing an idea with Müller the option at that point? That likely depends on his first performance not being a disaster, something Alexander Bade does not anticipate.
“Sven is a big talent, which is why he received a professional contract,” says the FC goalkeeper coach. “Of course, he still has things to learn. Even so, he is capable of delivering the appropriate performance. Hence, it is absolutely no issue.”
“Naturally, more eyes are looking at him and more people know his name. Otherwise, nothing will change for him.”