Fin Bartels knows the Holstein Stadium well. The 33-year-old was born in Kiel, between 2002 and 2007 Bartels laid the foundation stone for a professional career with 170 Bundesliga games. After 13 years, the winger returned to his old place of work in the summer, but beyond the location there is little reminiscent of the past. “A lot has happened here. Everything has become more professional, «Bartels told SPIEGEL. You can notice the development everywhere, “when walking through the cabin wing, across the training ground, into the stadium.”
For a long time, Schleswig-Holstein was considered a waste land for football, and not a single team from the far north has played in the Bundesliga since it was founded in 1963. Holstein Kiel, still a regional league until 2013, could soon change that. In the 2017/2018 season, the »storks« failed as a climber only narrowly on the march through to the upper house, the relegation was over against VfL Wolfsburg. “The club has developed insanely, of course also in terms of the outside world,” says Bartels.
In the second round of the DFB Cup, the Kielers will have their biggest game since the relegation games at the time. FC Bayern will be a guest in the evening (8.45 p.m., live ticker: SPIEGEL.de, TV: ARD / SKY). Bartels will probably be in the starting XI. With five assists, he’s the club’s best preparer. After an Achilles tendon tear at the end of 2017 and numerous secondary injuries, he is finally back in top form: “I currently feel in top shape,” says Bartels. His youth club could be a bigger success story.
In the 2nd Bundesliga, the Kiel are currently in third place and are fully involved in the promotion race. The defense is even top of the league with only 14 goals conceded. Kiel does not stand for successful hedging, but above all for game culture and control: No other team in the league is so passable, none so rarely fouls.
“Basically, we want to have the ball and playfully develop opportunities based on a good structure,” said head coach Ole Werner, describing his team’s claim to SPIEGEL. Against the ball, “high and aggressive pressing” is the goal. Werner is 32 years old, a year younger than Bartels, and is currently the youngest coach in German professional football. Werner has been working in Kiel since 2013, first as a youth coach, then as head coach of the U23. In September 2019, he took over from André Schubert at the professionals.
Kiel stands for a clear style
Werner draws his influences not least from the work of his own predecessors. “As a U23 coach, I benefited from the close cooperation with the coaches of the first team for years,” says Werner. The game of the »Storks« has some peculiarities that have already been observed with previous successful trainers from Kiel like Markus Anfang or Tim Walter: central defenders who sometimes come into midfield when building up. Full-backs who don’t stubbornly hold their wings, but sometimes also look for the more difficult route to the center with the ball on And a positional game in which everyone knows what to do.
“One of the keys is that we didn’t lose many top performers in the summer as we did in previous years,” says Werner. Most recently, top performers had repeatedly used the club as a springboard: Dominick Drexler, Marvin Ducksch and Rafael Czichos left the club in 2018, Kingsley Schindler, David Kinsombi and Atakan Karazor left in 2019.
In summer 2020, however, the Kiel team managed to keep the core of their team together. In the defense center, captain Hauke Wahl is still responsible for opening the game and defensive organization, while Janni Serra is still the fixed point in the attack. Even Lee Jae-sung could be held. In 2018, the commitment of the Korean national player, who usually plays as the more offensive eighth in the Kiel 4-1-4-1 basic order, was considered a coup. Since then, Lee has been one of the best second division players.
“He can make the difference,” says Werner, “he recognizes things on the pitch before all the other players.” Other clubs have gradually recognized Lee’s qualities, too. Hamburger SV is said to have been interested in a commitment in the summer. At the end of the season, Lee and Serra’s contracts will expire – it is likely that Kiel will then face the next change in personnel.
New to the underdog role
Until then, Holstein Kiel is one of the favorites in the second division in the fight for promotion. The team hardly knows the role of the underdog from everyday life, which cannot be avoided in the cup against FC Bayern. You want to playfully prepare for it, but still hold on to your own trademark: “We won’t throw our match plan overboard in this game either,” says Werner.
Bartels speaks of a “highlight”, an “additional game” that you could not win without luck. The winger trusts his team to make the rest of the contribution to a possible cup coup. The timing seems good: since the 2-1 away win at 1. FC Köln at the end of October, Bayern have not played a league game without falling behind at some point.