Judging by the continued social-media discussions among Liverpool and Chelsea fans, there are many who missed the news that Jonas Hector extended his contract with 1. FC Köln into 2021 over the weekend. There is a possibility that some are simply disregarding Hector’s recent decision as a minor complication easily resolved with money, but the transfer chatter around our Fussball God continues largely unabated.
There are some, however, who have heard news of the deal and are now perplexed as to why such a high-profile and in-demand player would decide to stay at a club that is not among the half-dozen or so most famous in the world if the opportunity to join one presented itself.
For those of us who are dedicated to one of the many football clubs of the world which are not permanent residents of the Champions League, it’s a fairly simple matter to comprehend. We understand that there is appeal beyond the Bayerns and Barcelonas of the world. In fact, many of us struggle to see the appeal of those clubs, knowing how acutely our own fandom has been honed on the whetstone of adversity.
But for those who cannot fathom following a club that loses more than a few matches per calendar year, the idea that a player would choose a mid-table club over a consistent winner is unfathomable. Such incredulity has long been supported by the fact that such a move is incredibly unique. Fans assume a player will move to a big-name club when given the chance because they almost always do.
Because I have the benefit of having seen nearly every match Jonas Hector has played the last four years, as well as having had read or seen most of his interviews and public comments, I will do a service to those who are largely familiar with him only as a relatively new transfer interest and explain how JHFG (Jonas Hector Fussball God) is precisely the sort of unique personality that would be the exception to those transfer standards, and I will do it in a way most everyone can understand.
Simply put, Jonas Hector is a Jedi.
I know. I know. That’s absurd, but if we look at Hector through the filter of Yoda’s words and wisdom, you’ll better comprehend why the front offices and fans at Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, etc. are all better off focusing their efforts elsewhere.
We can begin by addressing the assertion that 1. FC Köln is not a “big club.”
Of course, by the current connotation of “big club,” the FC does not qualify. When people are discussing “big” football clubs, they mean that small handful of clubs whose residence in the Champions League group stages are semi-permanent and are bolstered by wealth beyond imagination. They are the clubs who are unfamiliar with the concept of having to sell a player for the profit out of necessity. Rather, they are the ones often buying players at a premium and thus improving the budgets of their lesser-known competitors.
In many ways, though, 1. FC Köln is very much a “big club.” The FC announced this summer that it had eclipsed the 80,000 mark in membership, which is fourth in the Bundesliga behind only Bayern, Dortmund, and Schalke.
Then you also have clubs who lack recent success, but have “big club” status bestowed upon them for the power of their name and history. Nobody will vouch for Manchester United or Liverpool based on their recent European runs, but nor will anybody be quick to dismiss their place in the football world.
Of course, 1. FC Köln too has its share of history, though German football does not have the same legacy of the English brand. Even so, Köln won the first-ever Bundesliga title and also achieve a “double” in 1977-78, winning both the league and cup competitions.
Small? Depends on how you look at it, but underestimate the FC at your own peril, you should.
The story of Jonas Hector’s footballing career is necessarily a story of continual development. He is the rare case of a player who was never a part of Germany’s vaunted academy system, instead having played his teenage years at his hometown club, simply because that was what he preferred to do. It eventually became clear that Hector’s talent had outgrown SV Auersmacher, but instead of finding the first bus out of town, Hector lingered. “I had played at SV Auersmacher since F-youth and wanted to play at least one Oberliga season,” explains Hector of having stayed home for so long.
Just because Hector has arrived to national-team prominence to where he is ogled by the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea does not necessarily mean he is done developing as a player. After playing most of his Köln career at left back, Hector started seeing time in defensive midfield after the winter break of last season. Coach Peter Stöger has said Hector can influence more play from the middle of the pitch than he can from the wing and appears prepared to exploit that as much as possible. Some assumed the acquisition of Filip Mladenovic last winter was intended to have a replacement for Hector in case of a transfer, but what if it were a tactical signing with an eye toward moving Hector to the six?
Additionally, the future of the FC captaincy seems to also belong to Hector. With current captain Matthias Lehmann in the twilight of his career, Hector would be a natural fit as a replacement. In addition to the continued development of the football piece of his game, his on-pitch leadership is something that has also been visibly increasing.
Without necessarily labelling all the big-name clubs as “evil,” it’s unlikely any of them would provide the same environment for continuing education that he currently has. It might not be an “end” to his training, but it was definitely alter it severely.
It’s unlikely that Hector has the same attachment to 1. FC Köln as he did to SV Auersmacher, but it’s also unlikely that he feels none. After all, it’s been with Köln and under Stöger that Hector has enjoyed his meteoric rise to stardom.
Hector could certainly agree to a big-money sale which would give his current club a fiscal windfall the likes of which they’ve not seen, not even with either sale of Lukas Podolski, but one of the biggest hurdles for a club looking to go from surviving in the middle of the table to competing for European spots is being able to keep some of its top talent. Being a frequent seller is necessarily a hindrance to long-term high levels of success. Eventually, you have to at least keep some of your best players, if not also be able to purchase top talent. A move of Hector might help solidify 1. FC Köln’s long-term future in the Bundesliga, which is what the club says is its current goal.
But Hector could well be a cornerstone to something much bigger.
“In the beginning, becoming a football professional was not at all my goal,” said Hector in an interview after receiving his initial call to the German national team. “If someone had told me five years ago that I would end up as a regular player in professional football, I’d have said they were crazy.”
When he moved to 1. FC Köln in the summer of 2010, the 20-year-old knew he was likely headed to Köln’s youth outfit in the Regionalliga (fourth division). There was no presumptuousness about a move from farm country directly into a starring role at the famously tradition-rich club on the Rhine.
“I will try to make it into professional football. I now am ready for a transfer,” said Hector a few months before officially transferring to the FC.
I realize that Yoda is the only one to judge whether a pupil is ready (Ready are you? What know you of ready?), but considering how well Hector’s career has progressed since making the move, I think we can agree that he may have been right about his state of preparedness.
Before you fire off your, “Neither adventure nor excitement?! Sure sounds like Köln to me!” comments and tweets, keep in mind that Yoda speaks here of the motivation, not the circumstance. It’s not difficult to imagine that a player with Hector’s career path would find plenty of challenge wherever he goes, rather than continually seeking higher levels of competition to do so. In fact, isn’t it somehow more challenging to play among the underdogs than to simply join the giants?
After news of his contract extension was made public, Hector spoke of the work the club had done in recent years to build a winner. He didn’t speak of the club’s successes as his own, but seemed happy to be part of something larger. There is always the instant gratification of joining a famous club and getting some weeknight playing time on global television, and many have enjoyed the allure of that.
Growing with a club from the second division to an established Bundesliga side with an eye toward what might come next if everyone continues to work together? It may not be the most-travelled path, but it may well be “adventure” enough for some.
It would be impossible to count how many times Hector has said something about how he is “happy” or “content” or “feels good” at 1. FC Köln, but he repeated it often before signing his new deal and again afterwards.
After Germany was bounced from the European Championships this summer, Hector did not fly off to meet with dignitaries of clubs in pursuit or his services, nor did he take a vacation to a scenic getaway from which he would have not shared beach-side photos on the social-media accounts he does not have. Instead, Hector sought the company of those who make him feel most at peace and calm: his friends and family back home.
It’s all part of a theme with Hector. Even when he originally signed with 1. FC Köln, he noted that the proximity to his hometown played a role. Perhaps Hector has the self-awareness to know the importance of being near home to his ability to perform.
We all know that for the next two weeks, nothing Hector does or says will make any bit of difference to those who insist that he’s a legitimate transfer target for one of the big-name clubs shopping around for defensive help. In their eyes, the dark side always gets its way.
But as we’ve just proven, Jonas is a Jedi. He’s with the rebel alliance. The typical story lines don’t apply to him because he is atypical in so many ways.
And if, for some reason, he gives in and goes to the dark side . . . you hate to think about it, but we have to remember that he’s not our last hope.
As Yoda says, “There is another.”