Club | 02/04/2020

FC legend

Karl-Heinz Thielen turns 80

Karl-Heinz Thielen is one of the most present and successful personalities in FC's history. He was a player for 13 years and a funtionary for 18 years at 1. FC Köln - meaning he experienced every single trophy in the club's history. On 2nd April, "Kalli" Thielen turns 80.

Mr. Thielen, the most important question to start off – especially at the moment: how are you?

I’m good. Obviously, there are concerns, but I’m sure that they’ll get the situation under control eventually. Politics are busying themselves to do everything necessary and the people are going about with a knowledge of their responsibility. With that in mind, I am and remain optimistic.

How has the Coronavirus affected your birthday plans?

Unfortunately, we had to throw everything out and cancel everything. I had planned to celebrate at Geißbockheim, where I have had almost all my previous big celebrations. It was my second home for decades. That it wouldn’t happen this time was clear early on. The idea to have a family celebration at home also can’t happen. Now, I’ll celebrate my birthday with my closest.

How do the developments make you feel? Sad, or are you taking it as it is?

Obviously, I had hoped for things to be different, but we can’t change that now. The way of life is to deal with the prevailing events and to cope with them. I want to make the best of it and not get frustrated. If you want, you can draw parallels to football. When you are at your lowest – and unfortunately, with FC it was six relegations – then you have to pick yourself up and change things for the better. That’s how life is.

How do you view the current situation in the Bundesliga?

Thankfully, it has been responsibly dealt with. It is a situation that no-one can do anything about. The first steps have already been taken and the games pushed back until further notice. It would be ideal to play the remaining games with fans, but that will definitely be difficult. Many, especially the smaller clubs, are dependent on the fans coming to games. The deciding factor, however, must still be that the health of all those involved can be ensured.

Dieter Müller wanted to publish his autobiography at the start of April, which has now been postponed. He was then the first player that you brought to FC as a director. Which memories do you have?

Dieter Müller was not just the first manager that I helped to make happen, but also one of the best. He was exactly the player that we were missing. It was a great and successful time with him. Unfortunately he managed to break my record of five goals in a game, that lasted for around 14 years. There was a little anger with the happiness there (laughs).

How important is it, not just in phases like now or with one with such life experience as yourself, to look at things positively?

I was lucky, that we almost only had success in my time at FC. Only the time during the stadium expansion was difficult, as the games at the Radrennbahn meant FC missed out on fans and income. For me it was then quickly clear – as one of the younger Bundesliga directors, I was just 32 – that it was a tight jacket that I had put on. Two things helped me to solve the problems: Dieter Müller up from, who I brought in for not too much money from Offenbach. And the sale of Jupp Kapellmann to FC Bayern Munich, which was the first record transfer in the Bundesliga, which saved us financially. You see: there are always new chances, you just have to take them.

Do you think that the Bundesliga, in the current situation, can also take a chance to make things better? There are many sums talked about, that move professional football.

That’s a difficult question. At the end of the day, this discussion is almost as old as the Bundesliga itself. What is true, is that the sums paid for transfers and wages keep on increasing. Lately Martin Kind from Hannover 96 suggested to limit the wages. That in itself is no new suggestion and I don’t see the solution there. Then it would be a case of money going in other directions, and under the table. That can’t be the way to fix things. It is tough to control and regulate this market. I was President of the German Footballer-Agent-Agreement for more than six years and I know, that you can handle yourself as a serious salesman in professional football. When it comes to a good-sounding solution like a salary cap, I don’t think so.

Not everyone believes your philosophy, however.

Unfortunately, most just take up ink in newspapers. But almost the absolute majority of business is done clean and seriously over the table, which only a few understand. In general, these people have an awful lot to do in their field.

What was your success formula?

Plan early, keep your mouth shut, do your business.

You know how things are and have a lot of experience. How surprised were you by FC’s upward trend since the middle of December?

The number of victories in a row was certainly surprising. But at this juncture, you have to admit that the right decisions were made. And with that, I’d like to bring two factors to the fore: in Mark Uth, we have a player who brings the qualities that the team were missing. He can dictate a game, but also finish in front of goal. It’s just a loan, but he is helping at the moment. The other thing is the stability that we now have in defence, which is the most important part of being successful. The development of our own players is also very good. As a director, I also had to bring a lot out of the academy – which was also necessary given the lack of money at the time. Markus Gisdol, Alexander Wehrle and Horst Heldt are doing a good job. Horst Heldt is someone I know from my team at FC. He is factual, competent and correct – which is also part of the current form. The same applies to Alexander Wehrle, who has been doing good work for years. Wehrle manoeuvred FC out of a difficult financial phase and made sure that the club is operational again. That helps with a lot of important decisions.

How do you see FC doing in the rest of the season? If and when it does start again. Lately, the fans have been dreaming of Europe. Is this excitement a tad too soon?

Success is always good, whether or not it comes now or later (laughs). We definitely won’t have anything to worry about when it comes to relegation – of that I am sure. You sure never try and find a problem when you’re winning games. If the current trend under Markus Gisdol continues, then something is possible. But it’s always important to just look at the upcoming task. The rest will take its course.

What do you wish for your 80th?

Above all, health. That is the most important thing.

1. FC Köln wish Karl-Heinz Thielen health and happiness on his 80th birthday.

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