German Sport

With Kaiserslautern in the cup final: Friedhelm Funkel – out of retirement to Berlin

As of: April 3, 2024 12:53 p.m

Friedhelm Funkel’s coaching career actually seemed to be over. Now the 70-year-old has reached the final of the DFB Cup with 1. FC Kaiserslautern. A look back at an impressive career.

On December 10, 2023, Friedhelm Funkel was in Fuerteventura. He celebrated his 70th birthday with friends and family on the Canary Islands.

Arnd Zeigler interviewed the coach that day on his WDR show “Zeigler’s Wonderful World of Football”. Funkel liked to take his time, he likes to talk about football, he was relaxed, he felt good at 24 degrees, he enjoyed his “retirement life”.

Funkel: “That’s unbelievable”

Because Funkel was without a job at the time. In April 2021, he took over 1. FC Köln as a “firefighter” for eight games and saved them from relegation to the Bundesliga. At the end of June he made room for the new coach Steffen Baumgart. At that time, Funkel’s long career seemed to be over. And two and a half years later, on his 70th birthday, he had actually fallen out of focus among fans and clubs.

Against this background, it is simply spectacular that Funkel will be in the final of the DFB Cup with 1. FC Kaiserslautern as coach on May 24th. The “Red Devils” stopped the frightened favorites 1. FC Saarbrücken on Tuesday (April 2nd, 2024) and moved into the final in Berlin. There it will be against Bayer Leverkusen or Fortuna Düsseldorf, who will play the second semi-final on Wednesday. “It’s unbelievable. Football writes the most beautiful stories”said Funkel on the ARD microphone after reaching the final.

Brought to mind

Review: In an interview with Arnd Zeigler, Funkel remembered himself on his birthday and thus drummed up a bit of publicity for himself. Recently he has been on the sidelines as an expert one or two times and has “smell of grass” felt. “That was wonderful”said Funkel at the time and then explained that he might take on a coaching job again if there was an inquiry.

And that actually came. In mid-February, after the 21st matchday of the 2nd Bundesliga, 1. FC Kaiserslautern hired Funkel as coach. The Betzenberg team had just slipped into the relegation place and was in acute danger of relegation.

Already as a player in Kaiserslautern

Kaiserslautern and Friedhelm Funkel are a very special relationship. Between 1980 and 1983, the Neuss native played for the Palatinate in the Bundesliga – and was extremely successful, because Lautern was a top club at the time. In 1981, the dangerous midfielder reached the cup final with Lautern, which was lost to Eintracht Frankfurt. Funkel won the cup four years later with Bayer Uerdingen.

Funkel’s fifth final

Funkel has also been to the final twice as a coach. However, he suffered defeats in 1998 with MSV Duisburg (1:2 against Bayern Munich) and in 2006 with Eintracht Frankfurt (0:1 against Bayern Munich). The final on May 25th will be his fifth overall.

There for more than 50 years

Funkel’s career is already impressive. He has been in professional football since 1973, more than 50 years. After his playing career in Kaiserslautern and Uerdingen, he coached not only MSV Duisburg, 1. FC Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt, but also Hansa Rostock, Hertha BSC, VfL Bochum, Alemannia Aachen, 1860 Munich and Fortuna Düsseldorf. And of course also Uerdingen and now Kaiserslautern.

As a player and coach, Funkel has played more than 1,400 competitive games. He is the only coach in German football to have been promoted to the Bundesliga six times with a second division team. Funkel is therefore considered the most successful second division coach. The fact that he reached the cup final with Kaiserslautern in 1981 as a player and 43 years later as a coach is sensational.

Mission to stay in the league

But now it’s about not getting relegated. Lautern is currently where Funkel took over the team – in the relegation zone. If the Palatinate team actually has to go into relegation in the end, they will face a hot May with three games in eight days.

“But that would still be better than being relegated straight away.”said Funkel: “In my opinion it is very important not to go to Berlin as relegated. We want to prevent that by all means. Staying in the league is much, much more important than winning the cup.”

Curious: The “Red Devils” won their last triumph in the DFB Cup in 1996, a week after their first relegation from the Bundesliga. “This history must not be repeated”said Funkel. So the coach can only hope that he will be able to stay in the league and that he can then enjoy the final to the fullest. It would be nice for him.

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