Bundesliga Team Report: Union Berlin
Earlier in the series we profiled Hertha Berlin and now we turn our attention to their neighbours from the east of the city, Union Berlin.
In their current guise, ‘The Iron Ones’ were formed in 1966 but, as they were based in the eastern part of Berlin, they only joined the Bundesliga league structure in 1990. Since then they’ve mostly played their football in the Bundesliga 2 and the 3.Liga and prior to 2019, their greatest success came in 2001, when they reached the DFB-Pokal final as a third-tier outfit, losing 2-0 to Schalke 04 in the final.
This is a club where the fans are everything. They volunteered to help rebuild the stadium’s crumbling terraces in 2008, ensuring that they didn’t have their professional licence revoked. Others united behind the ‘Bleed for Union’ campaign, putting the money they received for giving blood towards a fund that helped the club stave off bankruptcy.
Their immense loyalty was rewarded with success in the 2018/19 season, when they made good on a 17-game unbeaten run to start the season, finishing third overall and defeating VfB Stuttgart in the play-off to secure a first-ever promotion to the top-flight.
Second clubs in cities always find a place in the heart of the romantic football fan, and with the tide of history on your side, they’re the perfect candidate for a new save. Here’s everything you need to do before you get to work at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei (bit of a mouthful, sorry).
Media Expectation: 17th
Board Expectation: Avoid a relegation battle
The immediate goal with Union Berlin is very simple – punch above your weight against German football’s big boys and avoid relegation. From there on the board’s expectations are modest; retaining that top-flight status in the short-term is essential to sustained growth in the long-term.
In terms of footballing style, there are no requirements from the board; their goals are more financially driven – sign players under the age of 23, sell players for a profit, and work within the wage budget.
When it comes to the DfB Pokal, their target is the second round, meaning you only need to win one game. Of course, the club and their passionate fans would love another cup run, but the priority is seen as league survival, so you won’t be unduly punished for rotating and/or trying to give the youngsters more exposure.
Although you do have free rein to implement your own tactical philosophy from day one with Union Berlin, a cursory glance at the squad will reveal the players and playing style that brought them to the promised land of the Bundesliga; physical and direct players, finely attuned to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation.
From the start you won’t have any money to improve your squad but that may well follow as the season progresses. Thankfully, the squad has a nice mix of youth and experience with a couple of good options in each position, often like-for-like in terms of quality, meaning you should always have a strong balance to your squad, injuries or suspensions aside.
Likewise, in the shape of Akaki Gogia, Yunus Malli and Manuel Schmiedebach, you have some dead-ball specialists who will be essential across the season as you vie with the likes of SC Paderborn 07, Werder Bremen, 1. FC Köln and Fortuna Dusseldorf to avoid the drop.
Standing at an imposing 193cm, Marvin Friedrich has all the attributes you would want if you were trying to craft a model defender. He’s got strong Tackling, Heading, Composure and Marking attributes and his physical stats make for impressive reading – 14 for Strength and Pace and 16 for Jumping Reach.
The 23-year-old was an ever-present during Union’s promotion campaign and he will be essential to keeping things tight at the back. Likewise, there’s real potential on paper for him to form a rock-solid partnership with new signing and veteran Serbian central defender Neven Subotic.
33-year-old midfielder Gentner was one Union’s summer signings, making the switch from Stuttgart after the play-off games, and he’s got the ability and experience to be the heartbeat of your midfield. He is equally comfortable playing as a Deep-Lying Playmaker or a Mezzala/Box-to-Box Midfielder, which will be essential as you also look to accommodate the aforementioned Schmeidebach, as well as Felix Kroos and Robert Andrich. Another thing to make use of is Gentner’s natural fitness – he missed just a handful of games over his decade with Stuttgart.
16 Heading. 16 Bravery. 16 Teamwork. 17 Strength. 17 Jumping. Sebastian Andersson is the archetypal Target Man.
The Swede has a proven track record of scoring goals wherever he has gone during his career – he got 12 during the promotion campaign and he is the club’s top scorer at present in the Bundesliga with 11. His size makes him a real menace and if you can ensure regular service from set-pieces and crosses, he can be the key to firing you clear of the relegation zone.
Union Berlin might not have the conveyor belt of talent coming off their academy production line that some of their contemporaries do, but they do have a few younger players to watch out for.
20-year-old attacking midfielder Julius Kade is a great option to play behind the striker, while Norwegian defender Julian Ryerson has the potential to be a regular fixture at right-back for you for years to come. Central midfielder Maurice Opfermann Arcones is your best prospect based on FM20 data, while Jan Riecke, Lennart Moser and Fisnik Asllani have the potential to figure in the first team a couple of seasons in.
The Final Word
Union Berlin offer short- and long-term challenges – a key ingredient for any FM save. You have all the tools to not only avoid relegation but challenge for a mid-table finish in your first season and then you can turn your attention to overthrowing Hertha as the number one team in Berlin. The sky really is the limit for what you can achieve with ‘The Iron Ones’.