When staring relegation in the face, selling your top scorer doesn’t exactly sound like the best way to reverse the situation.
Yet that is exactly what SC Freiburg did in January, when Papiss Cisse moved to Newcastle for £10m.
He has made an unbelievable start to his career in the Premier League, with 10 goals in nine games for the Magpies and comparisons being drawn to Andy Cole. Despite this, however, Freiburg actually seem better off without him.
With him in the side, they picked up 13 points from 17 games, averaged 1.23 goals per game and were rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga.
Without him, they have 22 points from 13 games, average 1.53 goals per game and, if the table had begun after the winter break, would be sitting fifth (as it is, they are 12th).
His departure has seen the team play with more freedom, thus, while they don’t have anyone capable of scoring the goals he did, they now have more contributions from throughout the team. Cedric Makiadi has scored four of his six Bundesliga goals since Cisse’s exit; Daniel Caligiuri all five of his.
Stefan Bienkowski, founder of Bundesliga Football and Bundesliga writer for Four Four Two, said: “Despite Cisse’s obvious ability, and record with Freiburg, and now Newcastle, he wasn’t actually having his best form before his transfer. The club have obviously moved on since his departure and players like Caligiuri have been able to flourish, to the delight of the club.”
There is, of course, previous of teams performing better once the ‘star player’ is no longer the focus of everything. An example being Thierry Henry, towards the end of his time at Arsenal, and Steven Gerrard, as discussed by Jonathan Wilson here.
It should also be said that the reason for their resurgence is not solely down to the Senegal striker leaving. Over the winter break they also changed manager; out went Marcus Sorg, and it was up to youth coach Christian Streich to take over the reigns.
They now have the highest percentage of homegrown players in the Bundesliga, something Bienkowski believes has been a big factor. He said: “Such a local squad has obviously done well to ban together and the siege mentality that they possess has helped them overcome big and small sides, alike.”
One of those big sides, Bayern Munich, can perhaps be used to show just how much Freiburg have turned things around. They were hammered 7-0 by Bayern back in October. In February, with many predicting a similar outcome, they gained a 0-0 draw. Since then, they have played eight games, winning five, drawing twice and losing just once.
It is a similar story to that of Borussia Monchengladbach’s escape last season, although one that is far from finished. They may sit 12th, but they are only six points above the relegation zone.
Freiburg is a club well-known for yo-yoing between divisions. If they can avoid it this season – and form suggests they will – then they could banish that tag once and for all.
Meanwhile, the clip below shows what Cisse has been up to since he left: