Okudera true heir – Effzeh Cologne wants to fly high with Osako
David Nienhaus & Francois Duchateau
International flair never lacked in the city of Cologne. The metropolis on the Rhine river loves its historic cathedral, the 2nd highest church of the whole continent, a pure magnet for tourists and the people who love to live there.
The Catheldral, called “Dom”, is in the logo of 1. FC Köln, a club that since decade is oscillating between reality and high hopes. The glory days when the club won silverware were gone long time ago. But still the club has international flair, not only because the players come from all over the globe.
The Cologne fans belong among the best in Europe. The stadium is modern and was chosen for the World Cup 2006. Even in the 2nd Bundesliga more than 40.000 people came to watch the “billy goats”. In the Bundesliga it’s sold out pretty every game – attracting 50.000 fans, who love to sing their traditional carnival song. There was a joke, saying during the last 15 years, that always the atmosphere is superb in Cologne – until the team started to play.
Since this summer Yuya Osako is part of 1. FC Köln. The new sigining, who came of 2nd Bundesliga club TSV 1860 München steps in the large footsteps of Yasuhiko Okudera. The midfielder was the first Japanese in German football and was active in Cologne in the 1970s, when the club won their last championship.
The legendary coach Hennes Weisweiler put Okudera on the wings and celebrated with him the Cup victory, a year later, Köln even played the semi-finals of the European Cup – today’s Champions League.
The “billy goats” (the nick name of the club because of the mascot “Hennes”, also in the club logo) would love to relive these times again, but the reality is different. In the last years the club switched between 1. and 2. Bundesliga.
After their last relegation the club worked on their structures and hired with sporting director Jörg Schmadtke and the Austrian coach Peter Stöger two people who brought Cologne back to Bundesliga and stabilized the club. After three match days Köln is still unbeaten and the only team in German professional football, that has not conceded a goal yet.
Osako had busy days recently. When the national team calls, the player has to travel around the world to proudly wear the shirt of the “blue samurai”. The FC striker had to play against Uruguay and Venezuela a few days ago.
No, Okudera did not had such problems back in time. He was the exotic in 1972-1987 in Germany and of course part of the national team of his country. But the midfielder played in 15 years only 47 games for the „Samurai Blue“. Osako probably reaches these numbers in only two or three years. Modern times.
Cologne are aware that they bought an international high class player, who has to travel a lot. They take care about the right balance, for example this weekend in Paderborn. Osako did do a good job during his first two Bundesliga matches. He replaced Patrick Helmes, a former German international and because of his roots popular at the fans – although he went to Leverkusen years ago. He got number 10 this summer, a number the club saved for Lukas Podolski the last years. But Helmes is not the youngest anymore and often injured. In the awareness of this, Cologne bought Osako who showed that he is more than just a potential replacer or a plan b to the other striker signing Simon Zoller (3 mio, from Kaiserslautern).
Although Osako had these travel issues, he still was able to play for 15 minutes in the end in Paderborn. But also he was not able to score against the also promoted club Paderborn. Nevermind, both clubs were happy with the result.
His coach Stöger is very pleased with Osako, journalist Michael Krämer knows, who writes for the “Kölner Stadt Anzeiger”, a local newspaper. „Osako is a quiet guy who is a star in Japan and acting ambitious, to develop this status here,“ Krämer concludes.
„Unlike team mate Nagasawa, Osako is more an introvert type,“ says Alexander Haubrichs, a journalist for the boulevard paper “Express”, that has a lot to say in the Rhine area. Kazuki Nagasawa is the second Japanese wearing the jersey of “Effzeh” currently. The midfielder came in winter directly from high school to the German tradition club and started to surprise everybody pretty quickly. That’s what the officials also hope from Osako.
„Thanks to his interpreter, Nagasawa’s help and his successful start we can be confident that he integrates quickly,“ Haubrichs says. That he does not speak English at all, did not make things easier. But Osako studies hard.
Even if there are lacks in terms of language, Osako performs nevertheless already on the pitch. The tall attacker has a precise finish, strong nerves, “but he also convinced as a playmaker”, says Krämer. Haubrichs adds: “Overall he seems fast, technically well equipped and dangerous in front of the goal.” Attributes coach Stöger knows how to use.
“We have chosen different player types in our squad”, so we have “more options” in attack and can “adjust them individually for each opponent”, Cologne squad manager Jörg Jakobs said. “All our attackers are different player types. Osako for example, he is rather the striker, who comes and catches the ball in midfield, but also works as a target player, but he is even able to serve the balls.” Simon Zoller, as comparison, is more the one who seeks for depth. Anthony Ujah is more the classic striker.
“If he continues to bring in his strength, he will continue playing”, Haubrichs shows his believe in Osako. “After all he won the race against top signing Simon Zoller, but he is also a better fit next to Anthony Ujah. Osako is the striker Stöger needs for his system.”
Flexibility is important for the Austrian coach, and that’s an advantage for the 1,82m tall Japanese. “Especially at Japanese players you have the strong ball control, great technical development in combination with speed”, squad manager Jakobs is happy with his players from Far East. “They have a mentality to give everything, and are willing to integrate in a group”.
“At the training he often shows crazy things”, Haubrichs noticed. “He finds solutions in situations where is not much space. That’s a quality only midfielder Daniel Halfar got in the team.” The journalist is sure, Osako will have his break through. But there is another pro. “It’s for sure a bonus that 1. FC Köln wants to visit Japan next year, also with an eye on the finances.”
Osako has to get used on how quick the actions go in the Bundesliga. That needs time. But the experts in and around the club are sure: The 24 year old has the potential to get into Okudera’s foot steps.
That Cologne can attack top of the league like in the glorious seventies, is unlikely. Therefor clubs like Bayern, Dortmund or Schalke have a too high financial advantage. But Colgne is a big city, although the silverware days were long time ago, it still fascinates a lot of people. The club is still growing and Osako can help Köln to never again relegate from the Bundesliga – and keep the dreams of the old glory days alive.