Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Patrick Kohlmann

1993 - 07 : Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
2007 - 08 : Rot-Weiß Erfurt (Germany)
2008 - present : Union Berlin (Germany)

The son of a German father and an Irish mother, Patrick Kohlmann is one of a handful of Republic of Ireland players to have been in German football over the past 90 or so years.

Noel Campbell, Joe Kendrick, Ben Hannigan, Tim Pilkington and Selcuk Tidim are the only other Irishmen to have this honour. Although, Campbell is the only of the above 5 to have made a name for himself at senior level.

That Kolmann has played all his career in Germany, shouldn't be surprising since he was born there, in Dortmund in 1983. At the age of ten, he began playing with local giants Borussia, where he would spend the next 14 years.

One of German football's biggest clubs; Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund were founded in 1909 by local athletes. Since its establishment Die Schwarzgelben have won 8 league titles, 4 Super Cups, 3 German Cups, 1 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and 1 UEFA Champions League. Borussia play at the Westfalenstadion which, with an 80000 capacity, is German football's largest. They are known for their passionate fans and the South Stand which is Europe's largest terrace.

The young Kohlmann spent nine years rising through the club's youth ranks before emerging as a reserve team player with Dortmund II in 2002. He would make over 100 appearances for Dortmund's second team between then and 2007, mainly operating as a central defender. Reserve teams in German football don't play in a reserve league, as they do in England. Rather, like Spain, they play independently in the various lower tiers of the country's football pyramid. Dortmund II play most of their football in the Regional Liga West.

Because of his impressive spells with the German club, he was well-spotted by Irish youth manager Brian Kerr who invited him to an Under-16 training camp in Rotterdam in the mid-1990s. “I think Brian Kerr knew I played for Borussia, he didn’t know me, but decided to invite me along,” he told the Meath Chronicle in 2010. The experience went well, and from then on; Kohlmann would declare for the country of his Mother. 

He made his debut for the Republic of Ireland Under 21s in August 2003 against Poland and would go on to earn 5 caps for the side. Really, agreeing to play youth football for Ireland was a win-win situation for the young man. If Germany did eventually come knocking, he could always switch his allegiance if he wanted to before getting a senior cap. If not, he would still earn caps with Ireland. But it seems the young player was more keen on a green jersey than a white one.

In 2004, his hard work had paid off and the defender was finally drafted into the Borussia senior squad for the upcoming season. Under manager Bert van Marwijk (who had previously managed David Connolly at Feyenoord), Kolhmann would finally be representing his boyhood club in the Bundesliga alongside the likes of Roman WeidenfellerDédéTomáš Rosický and Jan Koller
Kohlmann with Dortmund

However, misfortune was to play a harsh trick on the Irishman's rise at Dortmund. On November 13th 2004, the was handed a starting role in a crucial Bundesliga game away to Kaiserslautern. Playing at right-back, Kohlmann made his senior debut in front of 34700 spectators. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a knee injury just 43 minutes into the game, and was substituted for Marc Kruska. It was a disaster for player and club. Kaiserslautern won 1-0, and Kohlmann was forced to sit out the rest of the season on the injury table. He would never make a senior appearance for Die Schwarzgelben again.

He did however, stay at the club for another two seasons, putting in some quality performances for the second team. However, by 2007 he was 24 and realising the need to leave in order to secure first team football. 

So it was that he dropped a crushing three tiers into the Regional Liga, with ambitious outfit Rot-Weiß Erfurt. Rot-Weiß hail from the central German city bearing their name and were founded as a cricket club in 1895. Between 1945 and 1990, Erfurt was in East Germany and competed in that country's league, which they won twice in the 1950s. Since reunification, the club has not appeared in the Bundesliga, but diminished to being a regional side, apart from a brief stint in the 2. Bundesliga in 2004. Their stadium is called the Steigerwaldstadion and holds 20000 people.

When Kohlmann arrived in 2007, the club was knocking about in the Regional Liga Nord. His new manager was German tacitician Karsten Baumann, who had played for Dortmund when Kohlmann was a youth player there. Most of the side were German, with a Brazilian, a Filipino  a Frenchman and an Albanian joining the Irishman. Kohlmann would wear the no.4 shirt.

Speaking on his switch to Thuringen, Kohlmann said, "there were several key factors that made me move here: the positive discussions I had with the manager and coaches, the ambitions of Erfurt, the environment and also the very beautiful city.
Kohlmann makes the front of Erfurt's
program for a match against Dortmund II

It was hard to leave friends and family. But I was looking for a new challenge, and the decision to join Erfurt was just right. "

His first goal came on March 4th in a 3-0 win against Wolfsburg II, and two weeks later he played at home against his old team-mates, when Erfurt took on Borussia Dortmund II. 

In his only season with the club he played 25 league matches and scored 1 goal as they earned promotion to the 3. Liga, Germany's third tier. 

As the club were not in the top two tiers of the German league system, they were not permitted to play in the DFB-Pokal (German Cup). Rather they played in the regional Thüringenpokal. As the rest of the competition was fairly weak, they steamed into the final against ZFC Meuselwitz, who they beat 1-0 after extra time.

The Irishman had been crucial to the side's promotion push, and his performances at the back earned praise. 

Such it was that the next summer, fellow 3. Liga team Union Berlin snapped him up.

The lesser team of the German capital, 1. FC Union Berlin has spent most of its history in the shadow of Hertha. Founded in 1906, Union have played home matches since 1920 at the Alte Försterei, which can hold just under 20000 fans. Known as Eisern Union (the Iron Union), the club is one of two clubs called Union that split from each other after the Second World War. While the other Union was in West Berlin (and competed in the West German leagues), this club were in communist East Berlin. They were runners-up in the Weimar German Championship of 1923, and won the East German Cup in 1968. After a final appearance at the German Cup in 2001, the club played in the 2001-02 UEFA Cup, where they reached the 2nd round. When Kohlmann arrived in the summer of 2008, they were in the 3. Liga (Germany's Third Division).

Union Berlin would be facing some formerly big names in German football, such as Eintracht Braunschweig, Dynamo Dresden, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Kickers Offenbach. Fallen giants also keen on promotion and resurrection. Bayern's, Stuttgart's and Werder's second teams were also in what was a tough league.

His coach was Uwe Neuhaus, another manager with Borussia connections, who had coached Kohlmann at Dortmund II between 2004 and 2006. I think its probably a testament to how valued the Irishman was at the Westfalenstadion's academy, that he has been signed twice by coaches who knew him there. Turkish under-21 international Kenan Sahin and Algeria international Karim Benyamina were two of his prominent new teammates, but most of the squad were lower league journeymen. Kolhmann would wear the number 7 shirt.

German seasons begin early, so his debut for Union came on 27th July, in the league's opener away to Bayern Munich II. Up against future stars Burak YilmazHolger Badstuber and Thomas Muller; Kohlmann's team lost 2-1. His first home match came six days later against VfB Stuttgart II. Deployed as a left winger, he helped Union to a 3-1 win.

On December 6th, he returned to the Steigerwaldstadion with Berlin to face his old club, Erfurt. The match ended 1-1. He again faced Erfurt on May 16th, at home, coming on as a substitute for Michael Parenson. Once more, it was a 1-1 stalemate.

Again, as Union were not in the top two divisions of the German game, they wouldn't play in the DFB-Pokal, but the Berliner Landespokal. Reaching the final, they saw off Borussia Berlin 2-1 at the Freidrich Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark. This was Kolhmann's second regional cup medal.

An ankle injury hampered part of his season in March, but he made a strong comeback to the first team in May and made 26 league appearances in total. Overall, Berlin triumphed. Only losing 4 games they finished 1st and gained automatic promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. 

With some new signings for the 2009-10 season, Berlin prepared to face Kaiserslautern, Alemannia Aachen, Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich. They got off to a great start by hammering Oberhausen 3-0 away, with Kolhmann playing at left-back. Impressive results followed, and it was October by the time Union lost their first game. The Irishman would miss the last three games of the season through injury, but would put in 30 appearances in total, becoming a vital component of a successful team. Berlin ended in 12th, a fantastic finish for a promoted side.

2010-11 was even better for Union, and they finished in 11th. The previous season, Hertha Berlin had been relegated from the Bundesliga, setting up a capital derby for the first time in generations. Kolhmann played at right-back as the two sides drew 1-1 at the Alte Försterei. But the zenith of Union's season, came at the Olympiastadion in the corresponding fixture. In front of 74000 screaming fans, Kohlmann and Union pulled off a remarkable 2-1 win over their rivals. A bitter sweet aspect of the season for the Irishman came on August 22nd, when he scored his first goal for Union away to Osnabrück, only for Union to lose 4-1

Kohmann scored a 30m cracker, but Union lost

Altogether, he put in 28 appearances for Eisern Union. In the Pokal, Union went out in the first round to Hallescher FC in Leipzeg.

Improvements were made again in 2011-12, with new faces joining the team. Finishing in 7th place, Union had shown that 'second season syndrome' would not be a problem, and they established themselves as a stable 2. Bundesliga side. The Irishman played in all but one of the team's games. They were again knocked out of the cup in the first round.

By 2012-13, Kohlmann had been at the club for four years, by now becoming a permanent squad member, synonymous with the club. He struggled with injury at the beginning and end of the season, yet still represented Union 23 times in the league. They finished 7th again and reached the Second Round of the cup where they were put out by Kickers Offenbach.

As of May 2013, Kohlmann remains at Union Berlin, where he is a respected figure, beloved by fans. On May 25th 2013, Dortmund reached the final of the UEFA Champions League. For the previous two seasons they had been Bundesliga champions, and even had a Pokal to their name. One wonders, if Kohlmann hadn't been injured all those years ago, could he have survived at Borussia and been a key member of their squad since, just like past teammates Roman Weidenfeller and Sebastien Kehl.

At the age of 30, his Ireland career is most likely over. However, it shouldn't be. Plenty of footballers from England's Championship are routinely called upon to represent the Republic, so one wonders if Kohlmann shouldn't have been given the chance over the past three years.

“It would be a big dream for me. To play for Ireland is still the dream,” Kohlmann admitted recently. “If I was told to come over and join the team of course I would, I always look out for the results because my eyes are always on the Irish national team.”


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