In the year 50 BC, the ancient Gauls had been conquered by the Romans. All of Gaul is occupied. All? No, one indomitable village still holds out stubbornly against the invaders…
Those are the opening lines of the famous Adventures of Asterix comic book series, in which Asterix and his friends stand their ground against the mighty Roman Empire with the help of a magic potion.
What does that have to do with football? Well, current events in the Bundesliga bear a certain resemblance to the fictional stories in Gaul: since earning promotion in the summer, SC Paderborn have been causing a stir in the home of the FIFA World Cup™ winners by keeping the more established clubs at bay. Before the season even got underway, coach Andre Breitenreiter described his side as the “biggest underdogs in the Bundesliga”, yet with a third of the campaign now gone it is clear that Paderborn, like the Gauls, simply refuse to give in.
Despite having played in the third division just five years ago, as well as having the smallest budget, stadium and transfer outlay in the league, the club are determined to seize their chance in Germany’s top tier. So far, they have far exceeded both their own expectations and those of many a seasoned pundit.
Four wins, three draw and four defeats from the first 11 rounds of matches have left Paderborn ninth in the standings, ahead of UEFA Champions League participants Schalke and Borussia Dortmund, as well as traditional Bundesliga powerhouses like Hamburg and Werder Bremen. Paderborn even topped the table after Matchday 4.
“Nobody could have predicted things would turn out the way they have so far this season, especially as our circumstances are by far the worst of any club in the Bundesliga,” Breitenreiter told FIFA.com when asked to summarise his side’s sensational start to the campaign. “But we knew we had a side that could play, that can operate using several different systems and that has a special team spirit.”
Breitenreiter only began coaching four years ago when he took charge of his son’s U-8 side. Together with sporting director Michael Born, who had outgrown his role at a regional league club around the same time, the duo have penned a footballing fairytale with countless twists and turns since 2013. Unlike the brave Gauls, however, Paderborn have no magic potion. Instead they rely on hard work to succeed, with Breitenreiter and Born intuitively putting together a strong team piece by piece.
“We’ve managed to take the euphoria from the biggest achievement in the club’s history with us into the Bundesliga season,” Breitenreiter continued. “The lads implement our game plan superbly out on the pitch, which makes us able to compete. We don’t just want to play with a compact defence, but want to take the initiative ourselves and play a refreshing attacking game.”
From prison to the Bundesliga, from 82.3 metres to immortal
Players such as Lukas Kruse, Mario Vrancic and Elias Kachunga struggled to make an impact at their previous clubs but are now blossoming in the blue and black shirts. Suleyman Koc was even in jail for a time before going on to make his dream of playing in the Bundesliga come true on the banks of the river Pader.
While Asterix and Obelix’s hometown is usually described as a “village of crazy people” by the Romans, the same moniker cannot be applied to Paderborn, even if they have a flair for the unconventional. For instance, in mid-September Moritz Stoppelkamp scored the longest-range goal in Bundesliga history and swiftly had a street named after him close to the club stadium.
‘Stoppelkamp Alley’ measures exactly 82.3 metres - the distance from which the midfielder netted his record-breaking strike. “Things are going really well for us at the moment,” the 27-year-old told FIFA.com, insisting that “our current situation is a nice snapshot in time”, but that “we need to stay focused and continue working hard to ensure we stay up”.
Further underlying the convivial atmosphere was an incident just a few weeks ago, when the club helped one of Breitenreiter’s coaching staff find a new apartment via a Facebook post: “Our assistant coach Volkan Bulut is looking for a bigger flat in Paderborn and the surrounding area because he recently became a father for the first time. He would like a three-bedroom apartment with a fitted kitchen and a balcony.” An email address was listed at which Bulut could be contacted directly, and he received plenty of offers.
Paderborn are aiming to write the next chapter of their success story this weekend when they host last season’s Bundesliga runners-up Dortmund. “It’s the icing on the cake for us,” said Breitenreiter. “It’s times like this that the fact we got promoted and are playing in the Bundesliga will really sink in.”
It is worth noting that seven Paderborn players - Uwe Hunemeier, Marvin Duksch, Marvin Bakalorz, Mahir Saglik, Martin Amedick, Kruse and Vrancic - were all on Dortmund’s books at one time or another. Yet while that would make for an intriguing subplot anywhere else, in Paderborn it is merely a side note - after all, there are already plenty of fascinating stories surrounding the club.
In order to cement their presence in the Bundesliga, Paderborn have invested in a new, state-of-the-art training and development centre to offer their players optimal conditions in their everyday work. Breitenreiter was the driving force behind the construction of the facility, which is due to open in the middle of next year, so that “Paderborn can have a long-term chance in the professional game”. The project could be the key to the club’s tale continuing at the end of this season and beyond. The opening lines of the next instalment might even sound something like this:
In the year 2015 AD, one indomitable town of footballers still holds out stubbornly against the might of clubs from Dortmund, Munich and Hamburg…