Lucky title for 1.FC Koln, but not undeserved. At home, it was great success, waited for since 1964, when Koln distinguished themselves as the very first Bundesliga champions. The club remained strong, but not a title contender – strong enough to end among top 8 teams, that was all. But in 1976 Hennes Weisweiler returned to the club, where he was a legend long before the world knew of him, and immediately got results: Koln won the German Cup in 1976-77. Of course, the fans wanted more… which was not likely to happen, judging by the transfers between the old and the new season: Overath retired. Along with him, another great veteran quit – Wolfgang Weber. Not a single impressive name arrived and, on the surface, Koln appeared weaker than the previous year. Overath out and some obscure guy from Japan in… did not look good at all. The beginning of the season proved skeptics right – Koln lost 1-5 their first match of the season. But skeptics were quickly refuted: Koln became a leader, leaving everybody else except Borussia (Moenchengladbach) far behind. The fascinating race kept everybody on tiptoes to the very end of the championship. Koln needed a victory in the last round and got it with style: 5-0 was a precaution against possible crooked victory of Borussia by more than 11 goals, but nevertheless was impressive, categorical ending of the campaign. It was great for long suffering fans to see their club at the top. It was great and significant victory in another, larger aspect, as well: it was the first time since 1968 West Germany had champion not called Bayern or Borussia (Moenchengladbach). It was the end of long – and getting boring – duopoly. It did not matter that Koln won only on better goal-difference: the reality of German football was redefined at last.
Of course, the new champions were full of famous names: Lohr, Flohe, Cullmann, Dieter Muller, Schumacher, the Belgian striker van Gool. Respectable names like Konopka, Zimmermann, Gerber, Strack, Glowacz. A new Danish player called Preben Elkjaer-Larsen… familiar names, but largely from the distance of the time. In real time, the team was rather strange mix of few current national team players – Flohe, Cullmann, and Dieter Muller – one respectable foreign player at his peak – Roger van Gool – and bunch of promising, yet not exceptional players. One relic from the 1960s was still here: Hennes (or Hannes) Lohr, but he was no longer influential key player. It may be right to attribute the victory to Hennes Weisweiler: he managed to motivate and use whatever players he had at hand. The exotic Yasuhiko Okudera was great discovery: the Japanese became a regular. Perhaps the other right decision was trusting Tony Schumacher – only two years ago Schumacher was generally a flop, sharing goalkeeping duties with similarly unstable Slobodan Topalovic. Topalovic was considered more promising of the two… Weisweiler however chose Schumacher and made him firm starter. Topalovic was dismissed in the summer of 1977, which left Schumacher without competition – apparently, it was better for his confidence, for the rise of the great goalkeeper really started in 1977-78. Yet, Weisweiler had few choices – the attack was reduced to two-men line, something rare in the 1970s: Dieter Muller played 33 matches and scored 24 goals. Van Gool played 32 games, scoring 12 times. Lohr, already 35-years old, appeared only 8 times and scored a single goal. Elkjaer-Larsen did not appear even once! The defense, depending of standpoint, was either very reliable or there were no options: Harald Konopka (31/3), Roland Gerber (34/2), Gerhard Strack (32/2), and Herbert Zimmermann (32/2). A mid-table club’s line really… competent, hearty, but lacking a pillar like retired Woldgang Weber. Midfield, in a way similar to Bayern, carried the season: Heinz Flohe, the star player and captain now, and Herbert Neumann did not miss a single match – Flohe was replacing Overath and was the playmaker, but although he had strong season and scored 14 goals, he was not very imaginative player. Certainly not a second Overath… Okudera played 20 matches and scored 4 goals – good debut, but more was to be expected from him next season perhaps. Heinz Simmet, hardly a big talent, appeared in 23 games. Another unknown – Dieter Prestin – played 14 matches. Holger Willmer – 11. Jurgen Glowacz, either because of injuries, or bad form, appeared in only 5 games – and he was likelier choice than anonymous Willmer, Prestin, and Simmet. In part, lack of enough quality players led to high rotation. In part, short defense and attack inevitably was compensated by midfielders. To a point the second 1974 World champion in the team – Bernhard Cullmann – was used as an emergency player, plugging holes in other lines. Nominally a defender, Cullmann was used in ’emergency’ roles in the national team – he was reliable and versatile enough, if not particularly bright and creative player. Cullmann played 27 games, scoring 6 goals. Not bad for a defender… yet, he was not the key defender of the team. With such limited squad, the best solution was disciplined collective play – and Weisweiler achieved precisely that. Koln was not a team praised for exciting football, nor it was found innovative – to a point, it was over-achieving team. And given its limitations, nobody saw Koln as building a dynasty: it was quite sure that another title was unlikely. But this was evaluation of potential – for the moment, Koln won the title – a fantastic success.