Inside Freiburg’s success story: Bundesliga’s only unbeaten team is in a new stadium but old principles remain | Football news

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There is only one undefeated team in the Bundesliga, joining Liverpool, AC Milan and Napoli among the four teams that have not yet lost a match in one of the major European leagues. That team is not Bayern Munich, not even Borussia Dortmund. It is Freiburg.

The Black Forest club has a proud history, but it is not one of the heavyweights in German football. Still, there are. Third in the standings. Beat Bayern Munich on Sunday and will move on equal points with the leaders. These are intoxicating days.

The only thing that adds to the sense of excitement is the fact that Freiburg have finally moved to a new stadium, winning their first match in the new arena against Greuther Furth the last time around. This is a new beginning, a time when suddenly everything seems possible.

Freiburg chief executive Jochen Saier can only smile when asked about the prospect of qualifying for the Champions League. “Players can dream,” he says Sky Sports. “Fans can dream and they must dream. It is important that I keep my feet on the ground.”

Even so, Saturday took a moment to reflect on how far they have come, this being the culmination of a 10-year project. It was too difficult to do so during the first match at Europa-Park Stadion for the 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig.

“I was really stressed out,” he admits. “I just hoped it would all work out. We were all afraid. After such a good run, we could have lost to Leipzig. If we had lost 4-0 everyone would have said it’s the new stadium and we can’t win.”

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Jochen Saier will celebrate two decades in Freiburg in February 2022

Instead, the victories continue to arrive, six of which so far, four draws and no defeats. They have already beaten Dortmund and wiped out Stuttgart in half an hour. The victory at the Olympic Stadium over Hertha in Berlin was impressive, Wolfsburg’s even more so.

The Bundesliga is a competition full of bright young coaches and for a team that finished in the lower half of last season it is tempting to assume that there has been a dramatic change of staff on the pitch or on the bench.

The opposite is true in Freiburg.

Saier has been at the club for two decades and the man in charge of the team has been there for even longer. Christian Streich is the longest-serving manager of any Bundesliga club, ten years in the making and over a quarter of a century in his trip to Freiburg.

In the summer, the club made little inbound business. Maximilian Eggestein added some momentum from midfield, but it cannot be said that he is the catalyst. The key to success on this football club is a level of continuity simply not seen anywhere else.

“Our DNA means that we don’t get carried away in good times. On the other hand, we don’t even eliminate the manager in difficult times. We try to stay balanced. In football, you are the hero or the idiot. football Freiburg, let’s try to balance this crazy football stuff.

“In other clubs the coach stays 18 months and that’s it. In Friborg it is not like that. The club has a clear philosophy. If you take a different manager every 18 months, one goes left and one goes right, there is none. opportunity to develop the club step by step.

“We have an idea and good coaches that fit the club. We are not for the short term. You have to win a game every now and then, of course, but we prefer to look at the big picture, the culture of the club.. This is a big difference between the club. Freiburg and the other clubs “.

Freiburg sports managing director Jochen Saier
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Jochen Saier’s relationship with Christian Streich helps to give continuity

If anything has changed this summer, they haven’t sold them either. “Virtually every year we lose our best players and we have to find new ones to fit in,” adds Saier.

“This year the work on the pitch could start from a higher level because the team was more or less the same as before. We are working to keep the good players a little longer and we don’t have to sell the players as soon as we receive a good offer.

“But that’s a process too. It’s not like suddenly we’ve become a big club. What we are is a club whose identity is clear. There is stability, people here who have always been at the club. It’s more than just that. work Everyone feels very responsible for the whole thing.

“This is also the secret.”

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Freiburg coach Christian Streich in conversation with sports CEO Jochen Saier

When Freiburg were relegated in 2015, Streich stayed and won promotion to the Bundesliga on the first try. The strength of the relationship between him and the CEO is at the heart of the club’s history. “We know each other so well,” says Saier.

“It’s not all easy if you know each other so well. Football is emotion. It’s not just harmony all the time. But I think it’s important to be honest and express different opinions. The basis of our work is stable, so it’s not a problem. . It’s also nice to reflect on each other. “

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They have contrasting profiles. Saier made headlines in Germany because he was once the only person in his Bundesliga position without his own Wikipedia page. On the contrary, Streich is a kind of national treasure, holding court on any topic imaginable by the media.

“We are very different people, that’s a secret too. We need different characters. Christian is the face of the club. In his press conference he doesn’t just talk about football, he is politics and everything. He is Christian. He does it as he does it.

“We don’t put our heads together and tell him what he’s allowed to say. He developed that way. Everyone asks him questions and he has the answers.”

Streich was the U19 coach before taking on the top role, Saier was the head of the academy. Helps explain why the club stays committed to youth. Twelve of the 26 men on the team have passed the academy and Saier meets with the staff every two weeks.

“The philosophy is clear, the Academy is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We have brought six Academy players to the first team this season. That has always been Freiburg’s philosophy. We were practically the first club to focus on. the one in Germany ».

When shopping is needed, Streich’s team, Saier and sporting director Klemens Hartenbach understand what is needed because they know their club.

“The coach needs players who have an open mind. If you have a black hole in your head it won’t work, they have to be able to take in information. That’s how the coach works. If he doesn’t have this then he’s lost. This is it. our task: to find good players who fit.

Freiburg players celebrate after scoring against St Pauli in a friendly to mark the opening of their new stadium
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The Freiburg players quickly adapted to their new environment

“We know exactly those players who will fit into the work of the coaching staff. We don’t need players who come here to train for an hour and a half and come home. That’s not how it works here. Everyone here is in the system. ‘work out.

“Everyone here works hard because they know that individually they are not the best players in the Bundesliga. They have to work to stay in the Bundesliga. It’s a different spirit. I don’t think there are many players who don’t improve in Freiburg.”

The result is a growing club that changes but remains the same. In the new stadium, they even imported many of the same food and drink vendors rather than using a supplier, in hopes of recreating the family atmosphere of the old Dreisamstadion.

“These little things are important to the feeling,” says Saier.

Freiburg fans inside the new stadium during the 3-1 victory over Greuther Furth
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Freiburg fans inside the new stadium during the 3-1 victory over Greuther Furth

“We tried to involve everyone in the process, even the ultras. Everyone loved the old place, we had always been there and the new stadium won’t feel like home just like that.

“But everyone knew that the next step was necessary if we wanted to be there fighting for the Bundesliga. We took everyone by the hand and went there together. With every game, the feeling gets better. It will come, it will just take a while.

“And the players are adapting faster than us.”

The hope is that through results on the pitch and hard work, the club can continue to grow. “It’s not a guarantee or anything, but if you don’t take the step that every other club has already taken, you’ll get lost in the match,” adds Saier.

“Football has small margins and there will also be difficult moments ahead but we are trying to do it step by step. It has to be organic. It has to be small steps. We will not take five players and we will suddenly become a Champions League team. This is definitely not the way to go. for Freiburg.

“We have no investors here. We are a real club.”

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