Fledgling and totally unqualified East German manager Ruprecht Prusseit had made a surprisingly strong start to his career, leading FSV Zwickau into third position in 3. Liga before a near two-month break for the Winter World Cup.
The team’s form in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign saw Prusseit handed a new 18-month contract through to the summer of 2024. While the board also agreed to allow the manager to undertake his first coaching qualification as he began studying for a National C Licence.
Even more promising news saw Prusseitt presented with a first-ever youth intake that could be “excellent.” He wasn’t getting too carried away with his expectations for the intake but was concerned about what his team might look like next year, given 15 first-teamers were out of contract in the summer. But more on that next time…
Immediately after handing Prusseit a new contract, previous Managing Director Lars Schauer was out of a job. The FSV Zwickau elections saw him replaced by Martin Donner, who apparently loves a kebab, didn’t have any plans to provide the club with investment and brought a posse of 10 new directors with him, as if such a thing was possible.
3. Liga resumes
2023 began in fine style as Zwickau welcomed Oldenburg to GGZ Arena. They found themselves 2-0 up after 35 minutes through strikers Dominic Baumann and Ronny König. A stunning solo goal by Oldenburg’s winger halved the deficit but a trademark defensive effort saw the hosts over the line to start the year with a win. That took Zwickau to six games unbeaten, which was tested by a trip to 1860 Munchen. They fell behind early and Prusseit feared the worst and took a more cautious approach. And, against all the odds, a total fluke by winger Patrick Göbel nicked a completely undeserved point!
However, they then lost the Ost Derby 3-2 at bottom side Hallescher. That was followed by entertaining leaders Meppen, in which they got a flyer to lead 2-0 inside 15 minutes through König and left-back Can Coskun’s first goal for the club. Winger Robert Herrmann (Mr Man) somehow hit the post twice with an open goal but Meppen offered nothing and Zwickau claimed a huge win that moved them two points off top spot!
However, a 2-2 at Duisburg and a 1-0 loss at 10th-place Elversburg saw three points separate second place from 10th! Zwickau got back to winning ways with a 2-0 success at Bayreuth, in which midfielder Luís Júnior, who’d suddenly emerged as a hot prospect, become the club and 3. Liga’s youngest-ever player aged 16 years 120 days.
That was forced by a mass of injuries hitting the Zwickau squad, which saw them fall to defeats at Victoria Koln and Dortmund II (which still feels unfair) but nick a 1-0 win over struggling Verl. That sent them into a huge Sachsen Derby at home to Erzgebirge Aue, who racked up an impressive 14 shots in the first half but, predictably, it remained 0-0 at half-time. The players were beginning to warm to Prusseit’s team talks, which showed as 39-year-old König gave them an undeserved lead four minutes after the break. His strike partner Noel Eichinger added a second and they strolled to a 2-0 derby victory.
Exciting promotion battle!
With 10 games remaining, Zwickau, who were predicted to finish 13th, found themselves in a surprise promotion chase. They sat in third place, three points behind leaders Freiburg II and one behind Meppen. But the race for promotion was very tight, so they could feasibly finish as low as 12th with a poor conclusion to the season!
That looked a possibility as they were dreadful in a 2-0 defeat at home to Ingolstadt, lost at leaders Freiburg II and Wiesbaden before throwing away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with fourth-place Saarbrucken, in which König became the oldest goalscorer in 3. Liga history aged 39 years 311 days. But an 88th-minute free-kick by midfielder Mike Könnecke, which was just his second goal of the season, nicked a massive 1-0 win over third-place RW Essen to snap a six-game winless streak.
Going into the final four games, any of the top 11 could feasibly nick promotion! B teams (i.e. the top two, Freiburg and Dortmund) can’t be promoted from this division, which technically means Saarbrucken lead the way on 56 points.
Game 1 – Waldhof Mannheim (16th, home): Zwickau had a poor start as Mannheim scored with their first shot. But they grew into the game and 16-year-old striker Eyob Bekele twice set up his strike partner Eichinger to put them 2-1 up at the break. Eichinger kicked on to wrap up the first hat-trick of Prusseit’s reign then bagged another for a 4-1 thumping!
Game 2 – Dynamo Dresden (10th, home): Prusseit celebrated his 39th birthday with a massive Sachsen Derby, as his hometown team Dresden made the short trip to Zwickau. But his team didn’t deliver a present as they put in a terrible performance, not even managing a shot in the first half. Dresden dominated and grabbed two late goals, but the game will be remembered for Luís Júnior scoring his first senior goal and becoming the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer with an injury-time strike from the centre circle! That result and performance dented Zwickau’s promotion hopes, but they were only one point back from third-place Meppen.
Game 3 – Oldenburg (18th, away): The perfect pick-me-up opportunity was a trip to relegated Oldenburg. Target forward Baumann was passed fit after two months out and made an immediate impact as his shot was parried for Eichinger to open the scoring. Eichinger doubled his tally just after the break and König replaced Baumann to head home a late third.
Game 4 – 1860 Munchen (4th, home): That teed up a thrilling final day with Zwickau sitting fifth, three points behind Saarbrucken, two behind Essen and two clear of 1860, Osnabruck, Dresden and Meppen and three clear of Wiesbaden. So technically, eight teams could still be promoted. Indeed, Zwickau only passed their objective to finish in the top half with that win at Oldenburg!
Crucial centre-back Davy Frick was suspended, which significantly weakened the defence, and Prusseit made a big call by starting 39-year-old König. But it paid off as the striker won two first-half penalties that Göbel duly slammed home. As it stood, Zwickau would stay fifth just a point behind Essen and Saarbrucken. But predictably, they gifted the visitors a goal straight after half-time. Eichinger and his manager thought they’d wrapped the points up but his 79th-minute strike was ruled out for offside and five minutes later the inevitable happened as 1860 equalised.
Elsewhere, Saarbrucken and Essen both won, Osnabruck lost to Dortmund II, Dresden won and Meppen lost to champions Freiburg II. So what on earth did all of that mean?
Well, Zwickau wrapped up fifth place on goal difference from local rivals Dresden, which took them into a promotion playoff! That was despite only finishing three points above 9th and four points above 11th!
Zwickau’s fifth-place (net third-place) finish sent them into a two-legged promotion/relegation playoff against Sandhausen, who finished 16th in 2. Bundesliga. Anoingly, they lost holding midfielder Maximilian Jansen to injury, which forced Prusseit to revert to a flat 4-4-2.
The home leg was up first and Zwickau didn’t even have a shot in the first half! They conceded early in the second to Ahmed Kutucu (a player Prusseit had actually heard of!) and failed to recover, only managing one shot and 0.04 xG in a pretty pathetic performance.
A few days later they made the return trip to Sandhausen hoping to at least have a shot on target! They did that in the first half as a free-kick was well-saved by the keeper. They then converted their second as Eichinger tapped home to level the tie up but immediately conceded. Prusseit threw everything he could at it and saw two huge chances missed by goal-shy Baumann and winger Johan Gómez, but the second goal proved elusive and they narrowly lost 2-1 on aggregate.
This was a superb first season in football for Prusseit, who led Zwickau to the verge of promotion without making a single signing. The star man this season has probably been centre-back Frick, who had the club’s highest average rating of 7.28 in 32 games and completed the most passes per 90 minutes (50). That won him fans’ player of the season but also the surprising honour of 3. Liga player of the season!
Eichinger led the way with 14 goals from 29 games, four of which were in one match, and won fans’ young player of the season. König scored 13 in 37, which isn’t bad for a 39-year-old, followed by Baumann (9), Göbel (7) and Frick and Herrmann (4). Baumann and Herrmann topped the assists with seven followed by Göbel and Gomez (5). While Frick, Baumann and König managed an average rating over 7.
Another positive was the youth intake, which delivered on its promise with four players with 4.5- or 5-star potential and four with 4-star potential. The pick of them is goalkeeper Feisal Ali, along with midfielder Luís Júnior (who actually started the save at the club), centre-back David Bangura and winger Torben Dierschke.
However, the summer was going to be interesting and probably an absolute disaster. Frick had already agreed a deal to join Sandhausen, König was retiring and at least 11 more first-team players’ contracts were expiring and Prusseit either didn’t want them or they were demanding too much money to stay.
East Germany Update
We’ll do season updates on how the other teams based in East Germany are progressing. This season, RB Leipzig finished 2nd in Bundesliga to champions Bayern. And, on a sidenote, my biggest concern is that they will win Bundesliga before we get the chance to do so – which would ruin the entire ethos of the save! While Union Berlin finished 14th.
In 2. Bundesliga, Hansa Rostock finished 10th, but only seven points off the promotion places, and Magdeburg finished 18th and last to be relegated to 3. Liga. At that level, Zwickau were the top East German side followed by Dresden (6th), Hallescher (11th) and Erzebirge Aue (14th). Energie Cottbus were promoted into 3. Liga, which adds a ninth East German side to the challenge.
Join us next time to discover the summer shenanigans awaiting Ruprecht Prusseit!