Daniel Moore


For some teams the winter break in German football represents an opportunity to, at least temporarily, forget about the doom and gloom surrounding their performance in the league during the first half of the season; For others it epitomises a nuisance, putting the brakes on a recent upturn in form. With half a season now played in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, both tables are shaping up nicely, meaning that, although the weather might be battering the country with blizzards, the action on the pitch is sure to stoke the fires of fans up and down the land.

Schalke, having conceded just one goal in their five league games before the winter break, spent a week at a Spanish training camp, with Felix Magath’s men finishing their stay with a convincing 14-0 victory over local fifth-tier outfit Conil CF. Down at the wrong end of the table, relegation-doomed Hertha Berlin also spent a week in Spain, hoping to regain fitness and clear their minds, ahead of what is sure to be their toughest second half of a season since they were promoted back to the top division in 1997.

Also relevant to the year 1997, a fairytale could be in the making for Fortuna Düsseldorf, the beaten 1979 Cup Winners Cup finalists from North-Rhine Westphalia currently playing in the 2. Bundesliga. 1997 was when the Rhineland club slipped out of  the top-tier of German football, and der F95 have since played the last few seasons in the Northern Regional League: They achieved promotion from the newly-created 3. Liga by finishing in second place last year. Düsseldorf went into the winter break level on points with third placed Arminia Bielefeld, and just three points behind St Pauli who occupy the second automatic promotion spot. If they can keep up the good form they showed back in December, a return to the promised land might not be too far off.

One team for who the promised land seems to be drawing ever closer is Kaiserslautern. It seems that nothing will get in the way of 1998 champions’ relentless charge back to the Bundesliga, with just two defeats in 17 games affording the Red Devils a six point gap at the top of the second division. In the top division, though, huge question marks are still hanging over the heads of 1.FC Nuremberg and Hertha Berlin, the two clubs currently occupying the relegation places. Hertha president, Werner Gegenbauer, recently told the German media that: “the financial prospects [of relegation] would mean that we would have to put together a team capable of getting us promoted again” – words hardly likely to inspire their fans in what has been a torrid season so far.

The club did manage to bring in three new signings since the transfer window re-opened, though, a sign that they haven’t given up the fight just yet. Greek international Theofanis Gekas arrived from league leaders Bayer Leverkusen, as well as towering Czech centre-back Roman Hubnik of FC Moscow. Their signings were accompanied by the free transfer of Georgian midfielder Levan Kobiashvili from Schalke, whose contract was set to expire in the summer.

Fellow relegation candidates Nuremberg have also been busy this transfer window, with Bayern Munich’s highly-rated prospect Andreas Ottl and Brazilian misfit Breno having been brought to the Easy Credit Stadion to help stave off demotion to the second division. For Nuremberg relegation would mean an instant return to the 2.Bundesliga they only escaped through the playoffs last season.

With enough quality players as his disposal to allow such talent as Ottl to go out on loan, as well as being the form team in the league with 13 points from 15 in the run up to Christmas, it’s no surprise that Bayern chief Louis van Gaal appears unperturbed about his team’s quest for the title, recently stating: “if we can perform better than before [the break] then we will have a great chance to secure the title.”

Unlike their counterparts Schalke and Hertha Berlin, who spent part of their winter breaks in non-sunny Spain, the Bayern squad jetted off to take part in a series of ten intensive training sessions in the 30-degree heat of Dubai. Fans’ hearts were in mouths when they learned of star duo Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben picking up injuries whilst at the camp, but fears were soon allayed when both wingers participated in their first training session back at their Säbener Strasse training complex in the Munich suburb of Untergiesing upon the squad’s return.

As has become expected in recent years in Germany, there is still much to play for in the second half of the season in both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga. As well as Bayern have been performing, they may only stand of chance of taking the title if Leverkusen fall below the high standards they have set themselves so far this campaign, while any number of clubs in the second division stand a realistic chance of grabbing the second automatic promotion spot, including Union Berlin who would revel in the prospect of trading leagues with bitter local rivals Hertha.

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