Cologne hopes to escape relegation
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -While Borussia Dortmund celebrates the Bundesliga title and Bayern Munich savors reaching the Champions League final, another club long in tradition but short on recent success - Cologne - is battling to avoid relegation.
Cologne was the first Bundesliga champion in 1964 but now it would be happy just to stay in the top division.
The club has changed its coach, sporting director and president this season, reaffirming its reputation of being a "carnival club'' where chaos reigns. Cologne is a capital of Germany's pre-Lent festivities and the comparison to the silly season is not a compliment.
In the penultimate round of the season Saturday, Cologne travels to Freiburg, which is already assured of staying in the Bundesliga. Cologne sits 16th, in the slot which means a playoff against the third-place team in the second division. The winner of the two-leg playoff will play in the Bundesliga next season.
Cologne is four points behind Augsburg and mathematically it could still avoid that fate. But it is also only two points clear of Hertha Berlin, which is in the drop zone.
The club's only star is Germany forward Lukas Podolski, who has long been rumored to be heading to Arsenal once the season is over, although neither side has confirmed the move. Without his 17 goals, Cologne would be in even more trouble.
The long-lasting uncertainty surrounding Podolski is just one of the distractions that have plagued the club this season.
Coach Stale Solbakken, a Norwegian, was sacked with only four matches remaining. His job went to Frank Schaefer, who was fired one year ago at about the same stage in the season.
Before accepting the Cologne job, Solbakken had signed a three-year deal to take over as Norway coach this year. Cologne reportedly paid up to ?520,000 ($686,712) in compensation to the Norwegian football association.
Other incidents this season include Polish midfielder Slawomir Peszko spending a night in police custody last month after an alcohol-related dispute with a taxi driver. Earlier, Cologne fined defender Miso Brecko for crashing his car under the influence during the city's carnival celebrations, while another defender, Kevin Pezzoni, suffered a broken nose after being attacked by an unknown assailant.
In November, former star player and longtime president Wolfgang Overath stepped down unexpectedly, frustrated by the situation at the club. Next to go was sporting director Volker Finke, who quit in March in what many saw as a move strengthening the position of Solbakken, since the coach and Finke did not always get along. But Solbakken only lasted a month longer and no new sporting director has been found.
A new president, Werner Spinner, was only elected last weekend - and not before Podolski angered club officials by supporting another candidate.
One of Spinner's two vice presidents is Harald "Toni'' Schumacher, a fomer Germany and Cologne goalkeeper who was fired in 1987 after publishing an autobiography that alleged doping in German football.
Spinner, a former top manager in the chemical industry, said he did not want to rule "like a dictator of a banana republic'' and wanted Cologne to regain its "local core'' - hence the hiring of Schumacher.
The second vice president, Markus Ritterbach, incidentally gained fame for putting the Cologne Carnival back on sound financial feet.
"The club and the carnival do have something in common - both have to be managed very professionally, but with a lot of heart,'' he said.
All matches are on Saturday, with another key encounter at Schalke, against Hertha. Schalke is third, two points ahead of Moenchengladbach, and seeking to secure a direct slot in the Champions League. Moenchengladbach hosts Augsburg.
Dortmund, one week after sealing the title, travels to already relegated Kaiserslautern. Dortmund wants to extend its 25-game unbeaten run and is seeking to set a record by reaching 81 points for the campaign. Bayern, sure to finish second, hosts Stuttgart.
Wolfsburg hosts Werder Bremen, Hannover visits Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburger SV plays Mainz and Nuremberg travels to Hoffenheim.