When Torsten Mattuschka was dropped for the opening game of the season against Kaiserslautern it was taken as a clear sign that the King of Köpenick’s reign was coming to an end. Uwe Neuhaus made a cryptic comment about his not having put enough effort into training, and his obvious successor, Tijani Belaid, was starting to dust off his crown, smooth down his robes and get ready to ascend to the throne.
But waiting for succession can be hard. Ask Prince Charles. Everybody’s favourite jam-making, architect-baiting, wax jacket-wearing, parasite-in-waiting has been warming the royal bench for decades, casting increasingly dour looks as his own mother continues to take all the misguided plaudits up front, and manages to cling on to her spot in the starting line-up like a potato-faced Paul Scholes. Belaid is desperate to play, but again it looks like he is going to have to wait a little bit longer.
Mattuschka is made of strong stuff. On Friday he found himself often on the periphery of the game against a Köln side whose confidence is so fragile it could have been made by Fabergé. He was flitting out to the left wing, allowing the young tyro, Björn Jopek, into his spot at the top of midfield, where his pace and drive were all too necessary. His free kicks weren’t hitting the target, and for all of Union’s pressure, they were still only drawing against a side who, with all due respect, were the equivalent of playing against the dyslexic kid at Scrabble, the Englishmen in a penalty shoot-out, or finding yourself in the pool against the Saharan synchronised swimming team.
Belaid was warming up at the other end of the pitch as Simon Terrodde managed to turn the ball into the skipper’s path. Mattuschka was unerring, facing the wall of noise that idolises him so – but whose faith was starting to shake, just a little – and he stayed calm, he knew what to do. His finish inside the far post was calculated and deadly, Union had the lead for the first time since the first match of the season.
This wasn’t just another game. Union had had a torrid campaign so far, and they were on the rocks immediately after Köln’s second minute penalty had put them a goal down. They soaked up the pressure. For twenty minutes the Geisböcken were made to look like an urgent, combative and speedy side, Daniel Royer was opening up Patrick Kohlmann like a cheap envelope. But, Union dragged their way back to dominate the match. As manager Holger Stanislawski acknowledged afterwards, Köln lack a leader on the pitch.
Belaid will get his chance, certainly. He just needs to be patient (as do those of us who have put the young man on the front cover of their magazine). There is a dearth of creativity at the flanks of the Union side since the sale of Chinedu Ede and the injuries to Patrick Zoundi, Michael Parensen and Felipe Gallegos. There is a lack of pace and wit through the middle.
But Friday wasn’t ever going to be about a flashing blade type of performance. What was needed was grit, fight and fire. It helped that a striker scored: Silvio broke his season’s duck by knocking home a scrambled clearance after Jopek’s excellent effort, and the Brazilian will be all too happy to have that monkey off his back. He will go into the Englische Woche renewed, and vitally, with his confidence in front of goal restored.
It is a confidence that Köln could do with now – they are in real trouble. As Anthony Ujah picked up a classic route one ball with only minutes to go, he bore down on goal with so much space opening up in front of him. Nails were bitten, thoughts flashed back to the last minute winner conceded against Ingolstadt the previous week. Ujah, though, skewed his chance wide. It was horrible, and Union had the let-off they needed, the bit of luck that they had been missing.
As he was subbed off for Belaid, Mattuschka was once again the king of his castle. He is not getting any younger, and he is still not the driving force he has been over the last few years, but his goal will be remembered for a long time to come. Like that other great prince, the Jamaican genius Jammy – who was years at the side of his mentor, King Tubby before his ascension to the titled role – Tijani will have to keep his crown clean for a little while yet.