SC Freiburg’s season could hardly have gone better so far. Before the start of matchday 7, Breisgauers were in 2nd place – ahead of record champions Bayern Munich. Sky reporter Dennis Bayer asked ex-president Fritz Keller to explain the success factors in more detail.
To a neutral football observer somewhere in Germany, SC Freiburg should actually be a boring club. The South Baden club does not produce scandals, it does not buy big stars, it does not set utopian goals for the season, but it does not tremble in the face of a relegation battle.
They don’t even change their coach or board every now and then, like almost every other football club does constantly. But it is these facts that make SC interesting and special. This refusal to submit to the “mechanisms of the football industry” guarantees exactly the continuity that is always demanded of all other Bundesliga clubs, but almost never achieved. But why does it work so much better in Breisgau than in the rest of Germany?
Obvious success factors
In my search for the secret of Freiburg’s continuity, two names come to the fore: Jochen Saier – Full-time at SC Freiburg for more than 20 years and sports director or sports director for almost 10 years – and Oliver Leki, since 2013 CEO of the sports club, respectively CFO. “These two are a stroke of luck for SC Freiburg. They are two people who have internalized the club and know exactly what a treasure this club is,” says former president Fritz Keller of the two board members.
For Keller, the priority is not only professional competence, but above all his way of thinking and acting: “Not like company CEOs, who often only think quarterly or until the next financial statement, but think about tomorrow, but above all the day after tomorrow.”
Bundesliga season 2022/23
- Start: 5-7 August 2022
- Opening match: Eintracht Frankfurt – FC Bayern Munich
- last game day 2022: 11.-13.11
- FIFA World Cup: 21.11.-18.12.2022
- first game day 2023: January 20 – 22
- Matchday 34: 27 May 2023
- Defending champion: FC Bayern Munich
- New arrivals: FC Schalke 04, SV Werder Bremen
The club must keep up with the times
For Keller, “thinking about tomorrow” also means constantly questioning oneself and changing processes. Even and especially when everything seems to be going well. “If you don’t do anything, you won’t make mistakes. But there’s nothing worse than keeping the old position and not changing. If you don’t change, you’ll eventually be out of the picture. And that’s why there is a need for professional reform. It’s important for every company – to adapt to the times, to adapt to the market . And SC Freiburg seems to be able to do that.”
In addition to prejudice and willingness to change, Fritz Keller mentions a third reason for SC Freiburg’s continuity and success: steadfastness in his own convictions. – The management level also needs to have courage if things don’t go well, the ex-president said sky Micro. “Standing straight and not kicking the coach every time he’s lost three times, knowing he’s done a really good job in the past. That’s not going to help. That’s only for weak levels of management, which of course is because of the media landscape then you get a bit of a headwind. It’s also a bit of Hollywood. But then you have to be able to take it and stand up straight.”
The real reason for success
I spoke with Fritz Keller in his office above the restaurant of the Schwarzer Adler Hotel for about half an hour with the camera running and then off-the-record for a while. I could list many other points in this article that explain the continued success of SC Freiburg: the quality of Christian Streich, the deep roots of the employees (almost all from Freiburg and the surrounding area), the purposeful leadership and, and, and. But the longer we talked, the clearer it became to me that Fritz Keller had not told me the real secret of his success.
Probably because he doesn’t even notice anymore: Freiburg doesn’t just talk about continuity and long-term development, they have these virtues deeply anchored. According to the club’s mindset, it’s not primarily about maximizing success, but about Freiburg’s fans “later as grandparents and their children still staying at the club”.
Modesty as a recipe for success?
It’s about the fact that for Christian Streich, the footballers are not in the foreground, but the people who wear the jerseys. It’s about the fact that a successful year in sports does not mean closer to the championship, but “that it was another year when you can put something back and build something”.
Fritz Keller did not pack all these phrases into succinct, media-effective quotes, but put them as a matter of course as subordinate clauses for more detailed explanations. For me, this is the real reason why no one at Freiburg says the words “Champions League” even though they are second in the table. Not because they don’t want to, but because the club’s DNA doesn’t allow for that way of thinking.
At the end of our conversation, Fritz Keller has a succinct quote that supports this thesis: “Underestimation is never ending. Never in life! Because even when you’re a little older, you know that you’re still learning, every day. And that something can always be new that wasn’t expected yesterday. That’s why modesty, restraint and understatement are the most important things to have in life.”
I’m sure: for everyone who expects spectacular stories and insultingly worded public statements, SC Freiburg will remain a boring Bundesliga club from South Baden. And that’s what makes it so exciting.
More about the author Dennis Bayer
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