History and tradition both play large parts in a supporter’s connection with their football club. Most clubs started as social institutions and centres of their community. They provided escape from the monotony of the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, a service for the people.
It is this notion of the community that many feel has been most lost within the modern game, and the reason why the Bundesliga is seen as so attractive across Europe. In Germany, the fans feel like they are counted and considered, certainly to a greater extent than elsewhere. History and tradition is not simply sold to the highest bidder. That’s the plan, anyway.
Yet midway up the Bundesliga table sits a club which has very few traditions, and even less history. FC Ingolstadt 04 were founded in 2004, playing their first match in late-July of that year. From the depths of the fourth division to the top flight in just over a decade.
The assumption with such an accelerated rise is that money has been the key factor, and it is clear that Ingolstadt have been assisted by a very familiar corporate arm. The headquarters of Audi are in the town, and they have played an increasingly prominent role in the club following the success gained. Yet Audi have not driven through these promotions, if you’ll pardon the pun.
There will be some who will feel Audi’s presence undoubtedly reduces the romance of Ingolstadt’s story, but this is not merely the plaything of a multibillion company. Until this summer, they had only spent more than £500,000 on a player on one occasion. After winning the 2. Bundesliga last season, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl brought in Elias Kachunga for £1.04m. It was the first time the club had broken the £1m barrier.
Under the stewardship of club owner Peter Jackwerth, Hasenhuttl has performed miracles in Ingolstadt. Having taken over with the club sitting near the football of 2. Bundesliga, he has turned Die Schanzer into a top-flight team in two years. Despite conceding more goals than four other teams in the division, Hasenhuttl’s team scored 53 goals (no team scored more) to win the title by five points.
This is not a team with any huge stars (Australian Matthew Leckie is the most recognisable face), but a squad with an enormous will to win and determination to achieve the goals set by their coach. Despite the links with Audi, this is no less a feat than Paderborn’s climb to the top. Hoffenheim’s similar emergence was based far more on money than Ingolstadt’s.
Widely tipped to struggle in the Bundesliga, Ingolstadt have started in impressive fashion. They won their opening fixture away at Mainz, whilst have also beaten Augsburg and Werder Bremen on the road. Hasenhuttl’s side did lose 4-0 at home to Dortmund and are yet to win at the Audi-Sportpark this season, but they did manage a draw with last season’s runners up Wolfsburg. It was the clash of Audi vs VW, or parent company vs subsidiary.
Ingoldstadt supporters will be wary of getting too carried away. Last season, Paderborn sat seventh in the table with almost a third of the season gone but eventually finished dead last. Promotion can provide a short-term boost that is soon eroded during the long, hard Bundesliga winters.
Yet, for now, there can be reasons only for optimism. The town’s car giant have played a role in the club’s success, but this is an improvement driven by far more than Quattro technology. Ralph Hasenhuttl and Peter Jackwerth deserve their heroes’ reception.