Stefan Krämer: Tale of a Football Maniac
In recent seasons, Stefan Krämer has emerged as one of the most charismatic coaches in all of German football. Most recently, he has played a major role in the revival of Ost-Westfalen side Arminia Bielefeld, leading them back to the 2nd tier of German football prior to his very recent departure from the club. He achieved this feat with a fascinating combination of a thoroughly scientific approach to the game, while maintaining a relaxed and engaging demeanor, charming people across the club – and league as a whole.
Early days in Köln
Krämer was born in Mainz on March 23rd 1967 and throughout his life has always lived close to the Rhine. Despite his rootedness, his first football love was Hamburger SV, a love which remains today. At the age of 8, Kramer attended his first HSV (vs. Eintracht Frankfurt) football match. Instantly, he fell in love with football, recalling that “the fever gripped me”. His love for HSV, however, was came a bit later, since the blue shirt he wore that day was merely something to wear.
Krämer currently lives in Königswinter away from the all the football activity in his life. He is easily identifiable by his curly perm haircut which is specially cut for him by a friend. However, Krämer cares little for others’ perceptions of his appearance: “In my image I place little value .. I can only be as I am.” Statements like these create the public perception of Krämer being a genuine character.
This genuineness is one of the key reasons Krämer has won respect from his colleagues and the wider football public. Currently, Krämer is a bachelor, though is active in caring for his four godchildren, two from his brothers and two from his best friends; he also sponsors through charity organizations in Brazil and Africa. To relax, Krämer enjoys taking his dog for a walk by his home, a place where he claims “to feel free.” However, even at home, football continues to run through his mind, as Kramer himself explains: “I’m generally quite well out of bed, but after a win it is a little bit easier.”
Perhaps the defining period of Krämer’s life was his move to Köln to study at university. He attended the Sports University in Köln where he not only developed his career studying sports science but also developed affection for the city. He described the city as being particularly beautiful and liking the mentality of the people, with his favorite thing about the city being the Köln Karneval, although he regrets not being able to regularly attend it after having moved away from the city.
His time in Köln has left an indomitable mark on the football future of Krämer. Aside from his first love of Hamburger SV, Krämer became a supporter of 1. FC Köln during his time in the city, describing it as “a club with character”. He regularly attended Köln games and continues to be very open about his lasting support for the club saying it is “clear that I have a great affinity for the club”. He was also able, through his work at the university, to be introduced to experienced people in the game such as former Köln player and West Germany international Heinz Hornig. Outside of university, Krämer and Hornig would also team up in a football environment.
From player to manager
Stefan Krämer’s first foray in football began when he played as a left winger for FV Bad Honeff in the Oberliga Nordrhein. Krämer, though, speaks very openly about his time as a player being honest about his limitations. “For me, I didn’t have enough to make it to the top. I was only one footed and I lacked a little speed.” During his time as a player Krämer was always interested in the broader aspects of the game, taking note of the good or bad elements of coaching that he was exposed to. Despite being a player, Krämer says “I tried to think like a coach”.
This approach served Krämer well following his move in the mid nineties to Oberliga side FV Rheinbrohl. There, Krämer established himself as a leader in the side and became captain. However, his playing career was to be cut short in 1998 due to a knee-ligament injury. Despite this setback, the injury provided an opportunity for Krämer, as he made the switch to become coach at Rheinbrohl, his first job in such a role.
Following two promising seasons as coach, Krämer took up an offer to become coach at SG Irlich/Neuwied. He made an instant impact there in his first season as coach by winning the Kreisliga ‘A’ title by 6 points in the 2002/2003 season, thus earning promotion to the Bezirksliga-Ost for the following season, guiding his side to a safe 10th position in the sixth tier of German football.
Success at Roßbach
In the summer of 2004, his previous success as a coach was rewarded with an offer to make yet another jump in standard to take charge of SV Roßbach/Verscheid of the fifth tier Rheinlandliga. It was during a nine-year stint with Roßbach that Krämer came to national attention on the back of significant success with the Rheinland club, in particular the club’s exploits in the Rheinland Cup. As before with Krämer, success came quickly, as Roßbach improved to finish in 3rd place in his first season in charge.
His second season was even more successful, as he managed to win the league, but the victory was bittersweet for Krämer as his side was refused promotion because the Rheinland Federation ruled that SV Roßbach/Verscheid were two separate clubs competing under a single name and, as such, were ineligible for promotion. Not only did this mean that they remained in the Rheinlandliga but Roßbach also missed out in the final of the Rheinland Cup, eventually losing 2-0 in a closely-fought contest against TUS Koblenz.
The 2006/07 proved to be one of Krämer’s most successful and most memorable seasons to date. Arguably, the highlight was Roßbach’s appearance in the first round of the DFB Pokal. As well as winning the Rheinland Cup, Koblenz had also won promotion to the 2.Bundesliga and as such automatically qualified for the Cup. Therefore, the qualifying place they had earned by winning the Rheinland Cup was passed on to the runners up, Roßbach.
Their reward was a glamour tie against Bundesliga outfit Borussia Mönchengladbach. Media swarmed on the normally quiet Roßbach as Krämer and his players adjusted to deal with the added media attention. Despite a respectable 4-1 defeat, Krämer still holds fond memories of that game. “This was a great story for all of us. The name SV Roßbach quickly became known nationwide. We will never forget this experience. To be part of the event was just great!”
The season was crowned with a second league title in a row, and with the merger of Roßbach-Verscheid having been completed, promotion to the then-fourth tier Oberliga Südwest was secured. That season also saw a second successive appearance for Krämer’s side in the Rheinland Cup final, though yet again it was met with a 2-0 defeat to Koblenz. In their first season in the Oberliga, Roßbach finished a very respectable 12th in the league in its final season, as the fourth tier was to become the fifth tier with the introduction of the national 3. Liga in the 2008/09 season.
It was during this time that one of Krämer’s many superstitions linked to football began to emerge. Before each game it became necessary to stop at a petrol station to purchase a pack of chewing gum. This was something he had once done before a victorious game and from then on the two became linked for Krämer, making sure to stick to this routine for the duration of his time at the club. There was a similar occurrence later in his career with Bielefeld when a short sleeve shirt worn during his maiden win against Kickers Offenbach became a lucky charm of sorts, so it was worn at all games, including at 3ºC winter temperatures in Chemnitz. Luckily, the streak was ended with defeat to Carl Zeiss Jena and Krämer returned to much more suitable attire thereafter.
During his time in amateur football, Krämer had a colorful selection of jobs to earn his income. He originally had a job as a research assistant in Köln which came up from his time studying there. This was supplemented by a career working in insurance for nine years dealing with the cover of professional athletes. Despite an extended period in this field, Krämer never fully embraced the formal nature of the job, being told by his employers, “[They said] Actually you should be dressed business-like… but I never did!” As is apparent, sport is something which is sure to arise when the name of Stefan Krämer is mentioned. The exception to this is his love of music, including his time working as a DJ in Köln.
While earning a living as a DJ in such venues as the ‘Rose Club’ and as far away as Bonn, Krämer was able to indulge in the other great passion in his life. To date, he still has a mixer and two turntables along with his 20-year-old record collection at the ready, so an impromptu performance is always a possibility. During performances, Krämer’s preference is “to lay on darker and nosier stuff on the decks, including ‘New Model Army’ and The Sisters of Mercy’”. Other favorite music of Krämer includes Oasis, The Smiths, Pixies and Beck, though it has been reported that his favorite band is UK formation ‘The Opposition’. This eclectic taste in music stems from his curiosity as a youth. “My hobby was usually to buy a box at a flea market and look at it at home, even if it was rubbish!”
In the 2008/09 season Krämer guided Roßbach to their highest finish of 8th in the Oberliga and another Rheinland Cup final defeat, this time losing to Eintracht Trier 2-0 in extra time. This was as high as he would take this side, as he followed up his two final seasons at the club with a 14th and 13th position finishes, drawing praise from Roßbach President Ingo Dittrich. “Stefan’s has been an outstanding performer over the years and has made the name SV Roßbach/Verscheid a regular fixture in the Oberliga. Our relationship will always remain very close”
Arminia, his one true love
Krämer’s time at Roßbach ended when he received an offer for an interview to become Markus von Ahlen’s assistant at 3. Liga side Arminia Bielefeld. Having been approached by Arminia, two more rounds of interviews followed before Krämer was given the assistant job, not without being philosophical about his departure from Roßbach. “In football there is always change”. However Krämer still has a place in his heart for the club and he attends as many games as he can, including the semifinal and final of Roßbach’s victorious 2012 Rheinland Cup campaign. He still keeps track of Roßbach’s progress and “To see how Roßbach are doing, my first glance after my games with Bielefeld is to the teletext”.
Krämer was finally appointed Arminia Bielefeld assistant coach on July 1st 2001 as assistant to Markus von Ahlen. The two men were already familiar with each other as Krämer had on one occasion in the past taken part in observations of Bayer Leverkusen’s youth team training sessions with von Ahlen as coach. This working relationship was not to last long at Bielefeld, as a string of early season poor results left Arminia at the bottom of the table, which resulted in the von Ahlen being released and Krämer taking over his place as head coach on the 21st of September of that same year. Krämer instantly set about putting his own impression the side.
In terms of a football philosophy Krämer references legendary Dynamo Kyiv coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi as an inspiration, so much so that he is still fascinated by the Ukrainians’ style of play today. He admits to still having a collection of old Dynamo Kyiv games on video, checking them to analyze how efficiently the players covered space on the pitch, so much so that Krämer said that he would “press stop [on the video] to see if Dynamo had 12 players on the pitch”. Krämer, though, points out a difference between himself and Lobanovskyi, that being that he is less keen on sitting passively on the sideline during games.
For his own sides, Krämer’s work with his teams begins by building a good relationship with his players, though only under the right terms, not wanting to be loved as a coach but rather accepted as reliable and competent. He tries to achieve this by giving his players clear agreements, rules and definitions as well as regular objective feedback, which he believes helps them develop quicker. This is not to say that is an impersonal relationship, as he stresses the importance of always being available to his players with any problems or comments that they may have. These methods come from Krämer’s own experience as a player. “I treat the boys as players how I would’ve liked to have been treated like myself”
On the pitch, the main requirement that Krämer has of his players is effort. He does not rely on a rigid tactical and formation system but rather on how players interpret the position on the pitch they find themselves in. This is very much in the style of Lobanovskyi in terms of covering such amount of ground that it is not always important to have possession. “Sometimes it’s more important that the opponent has the ball, as this opens the chance for counter attacks”. This approach of pressuring the opponent occurs all over the pitch, with the strikers seen as the first line of defense. This results in Krämer’s sides being very practical, which is seen as something as a necessity “Football is not a circus or entertainment, it is a results based sport”.
This pragmatic approach to the game is something that has developed from his background in sports science. In particular, he has worked on his players’ fitness. This approach not only applies to his players but also to how he views the opposition. On his holiday before the 2013-14 season, Krämer was more focused on watching over 40 videos of 2.Bundesliga. This is typical of a man who Roßbach chairman Ingo Dittrich described as “a football maniac who lives 24 hours a day for football”. The lone exception to this is when Krämer is at home with his family and friends, where he feels he can relax.
His first two seasons in charge at Bielefeld were very successful. Having taken over from von Ahlen with Arminia in the relegation zone, he steered them clear to mid-table safety by the end of the season. Arminia’s downward spiral was halted as Krämer completed the turnaround by securing promotion through a second place finish in the 2012/03 3. Liga season. This success was supplemented by two wins in the Westfalen Cup against local rivals Preußen Münster in 2012, following it up with a consecutive win in 2013 against SC Wiedenbrück. Arminia’s success caused Krämer to follow through on an earlier promise of getting a tattoo of the club, which is now emblazoned on his chest close to his heart.
Both cup victories earned Arminia the right to play in the DFB Pokal, which included two first-round wins against SC Paderborn and Eintracht Braunschweig in 2012 and 2013 respectively. This set up two subsequent second-round ties, both coincidentally against Bayer Leverkusen, in which they lost 3-2 in extra time at home last season and 2-0 also at home this season. Last season’s tie which went to extra time was an epic battle which ultimately further helped to etch the name of Stefan Krämer into the minds of the football public as well as earning much praise for the Arminia faithful. Sporting director Samir Arabi said “Krämer has brought to life the existing potential at DSC”.
The beginning of the end
Such a sudden amount of success was perhaps the undoing of Krämer at Bielefeld, as his side struggled to adapt to life in the 2.Bundesliga. There was early promise rising in their first season back in the second tier, rising as high as third in the table early on. However, Krämer’s loyalty to the players that had served him so well in the 3. Liga and perhaps naive tactics began to tell, as results began to fall away. This included a run of seven consecutive defeats which was ended with a hard-fought 2-1 win against FSV Frankfurt. It was followed by a 1-1 draw against Dynamo Dresden in which Dynamo heartbreakingly equalised in the 92nd minute and then a 4-1 hammering of high-flying Greuther Furth. However, this proved only to be a false dawn for the side as form did not pick up after the Christmas break despite numerous signings, which resulted in the sacking of Krämer in February after a 2-0 home defeat to Ingolstadt.
It was noted, perhaps as an omen by his tattoo artist, that the blue Arminia logo across his chest was of a simple variety and as such would be easy to remove. However, Krämer is a man who is aware of the journey he has come on in football so far, always holding special regard for his previous clubs and often attending their games when time allows him to. Speaking after his departure from Roßbach, Krämer talked about how he still maintains contact with his former staff and assistants though admitted that “ in football, you will always have to change”. This is a reality Krämer will have to deal with, having been let go from a club for the first time in his relatively-young coaching career.
Krämer’s famously positive outlook is sure to help him prosper in a long career in football management into the future. When interviewed in 2005, he spoke of his enduring enthusiasm for life and football. “If you’re lucky you can do what you love, then you don’t really have to work.” This enthusiasm is sure to carry on as Krämer reflected on where he is in his life. “I used to think that at 45 life is over, that you sit in the garden and everything is boring. Now I’m 45 and, somehow, I’ve not grown mentally since the age of 20”. This is a positive attitude which one can’t help but be affected by.
Always a popular figure in the game, Krämer has become a widely recognized figure in recent years due to his success in football, of which there is surely more to come. It is hoped that this is the case so that the football public can continue to experience the character of Stefen Krämer long into the future.