It would be fair to say that this has not been a great year for Roland Duchatelet's clubs.
Ujpest in Hungary finished 7th out of 12. In Spain, Alcorcón are close to relegation to the third tier. STVV (Sint Truiden) stand 12th out of 16 in the Belgian Proliga, but, as I understand nothing whatsoever of the maze-like Belgian League, I'd better say nothing more. CAFC managed 13th out of 24 in their latest foray into League 1 and thus narrowly avoided their lowest finish for over ninety years.
That leaves FC Carl Zeiss Jena (or FCC as they are known) as the only success story. All season long they led the Nordost division of the Regionalliga - Germany's fourth tier - and they finished champions by nine clear points. Their record is - P34 W23 D6 L5 GF68 GA25 GD43+ Pts75. They were the division's highest scorers and meanest defence. They then encountered Viktoria Koln in a play-off for promotion. They went 3-0 up in the away leg before being pegged back to 2-3. They lost the home leg 0-1 but stumbled through on away goals. They are back in the third tier after five years in exile.
In accordance with German football rules Duchatelet only owns 49.98% of the shares in FCC - the rest being held by the club’s members. There is thus an institutional brake on his influence and involvement. Would it be too much to suggest that herein might lie the secret of the club’s success?
FCC’s most prolific scorer has been Timmy Thiele. His 16 goals would come as a surprise to Burton Albion fans, for whom he played 22 games (1 goal) in 2015/2016, with three further goalless games on loan to Oldham. His return to Germany has been a triumphant one, and we can only wonder what impact he would have had if the Network had sent him to SE7 and not Jena. His crucial goals in the play-off first-leg were absolutely stunning.
The club were founded in 1903 as the works team of the Carl Zeiss company. In GDR days FCC were one of the elite teams, and played no fewer than 87 European ties. Their greatest achievement came in 1980/81 when they were beaten Cup-Winners' Cup finalists, losing 2-1 to a great Dinamo Tblisi side in Düsseldorf (att. 4,750). Since re-unification they have spent much time in the third tier with the occasional rise to Bundesliga 2. The last five years spent in the fourth tier have been painful ones for a team with such a proud pedigree, and spending that's lavish by divisional standards has led to several €1m annual losses.
Their stadium is called the Ernst-Abbe-Sportfeld, and lies in the picturesque valley of the River Saale. The sporting grounds extend for 2km. The stadium is an oval with an athletics track and one long seated stand. Capacity is around 13,000 but in 2015 a Cup visit from top-flight VfB Stuttgart saw temporary stands boost the gate to 19,200. The iconic floodlights, at 70+ metres at one time the tallest in Europe, were dismantled on City Hall orders for safety reasons. The world javelin record was set in Jena in 1996 by Jan Zelezny, and still stands.
The club's badge is in a very attractive Art Deco style. The club's colours are blue, yellow and white.
The city of Jena lies in the state of Thuringia, in the eastern part of central Germany. A number of FCC's Nordost rivals were in the Berlin area, around 150 miles distant, but Schönberg near the Baltic coast meant a round-trip of over 600 miles - some regional league! FCC fans travel in good numbers, the away-leg play off game drawing over 4,000 Jenaers in a crowd of 6,241. Liga 3 is a national league.
Jena's resident population of just over 100,000 is augmented by up to 30,000 attending universities, research institutes, technical colleges and other educational bodies. The city houses two world-class companies - Carl Zeiss (optical instruments) and Schott (glassware). Against a worrying trend of de-population in the former East (how else would Angela Merkel have found ready space for so many refugees?) Jena continues to expand, albeit slowly.
Duchatelet bought FCC a few days after he bought CAFC in January 2014. In accordance with Germany's 50%+1 rule, intended to leave power with the fans, RD bought 49,98% of the shares. He maintains control by having a sympathetic Supervisory Council, from which dissenters - including long standing stalwarts - have been removed, at times with much grief. The MD is Chris Förster, who also happens to be the MD of RD's factory in nearby Erfurt. A business trip to Erfurt will sometimes lead to RD taking in a match in Jena, and a willing appearance on camera. Doubtless Herr Förster has the necessary credentials and, during what was also his first year in post, has seen the club prosper, something which cannot be said of our own CEO.
Along with absorbing the seasonal losses, RD has other Jena expenditure in mind. Numerous cities in the former East have ambitious plans to develop their civic and commercial assets. Jena's plan is the most costly of them all, at €41 million. After allowing for EU, federal, state and city contributions there is a funding gap of, ahem, €26 million. What more needs to be said? Even the wild boys from the Südkürve (South Curve) have been offered a place at the table, provided they also accept their share of responsibility, for what exactly remains unclear. (Good luck with that, anyway).
These are euphoric days in Jena, and surely better times lie ahead. However, 50%+1 notwithstanding, FCC's fate lies in the hands of one man, someone who avowedly has no especial interest in football and who apparently sets no great score by sporting ambition. RD is still somewhat grudgingly welcomed - well, without him would FCC even exist? But beware - it is said that those who sup with the Devil should take a long spoon...