Archive for December, 2011

Bayern Munich may have the best left-footed defender in Germany, but did they let the best overall slip through their fingers?

Mats Hummels progressed through the ranks at Bayern, a year or two ahead of Holger Badstuber, and played for their string between 2005 and 2007.

He flirted briefly with the Bayern first team, but ultimately found chances were few and far between. Highly thought of, he was sent on loan to Borussia Dortmund to gain experience.

Whilst undoubtedly talented, I don’t think anyone quite expected him to make such an impact as he did at Westfalenstadion.

Hummels and Subotic: works even when wet.

He was in the first team immediately, forming a formidable partnership in the centre of defence alongside Nevan Subotic. Together the pair became one of the best in the Bundesliga.

His move was made permanent in the winter transfer window of 2009, a year after his arrival. Bayern, they stated, were happy with his development, but were happier with the centre back’s they had: Lucio, Martin Demichelis, Daniel van Buyten and Breno. A decision they may now regret.

In the 2008/09 season, his first full season with the club, Dortmund had the second best defence in the league. But for Hummels and Die Schwarzgelben, the best was yet to come.

That best was last season, when Hummels helped Dortmund to a first league title in almost a decade. He may not have grabbed the headlines like Gotze, Sahin et al, but his contribution should not be underestimated.

He’s slowly but surely adding to his reputation and his caps at international level, and with Per Mertesacker’s form hardly inspiring, he should find himself firmly in the side come Euro 2012. His star his already rising fast, and Euro 2012 could be the tournament that catapults him to superstardom.

“He’s the most complete centre back in the world: his man-marking and passing abilities are absolutely world class. I’ve seen him mark some of football’s best strikers into anonymity for 90 minutes, but he still needs to improve: those times when he doesn’t succeed for 90 minutes it’s typically 89 minutes and 50 seconds, with the last 10 being just enough time for things to fall apart.” – Clark Whitney, goal.com German football editor. @Mr_Bundesliga.

“Mats Hummels, 23, for me, is the best young central defender in the world and one of the very best period.” Gerry Wittmann, of Bundesliga fanatic. @Bundesliga4u

The video below features Hummels displaying some of the passing skills mentioned above:

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Louis Van Gaal described him as “the best left-footed defender in Germany,” but is Holger Badstuber now one of the best, period?

Badstuber: “best left-footed defender in Germany.”

Badstuber progressed through the youth ranks of SSV Ulm, before his potential was realised and he made the move to Bayern aged 17.

He was a regular in the Bayern reserve side from 2007 until 2009 – starring for the team alongside Thomas Muller.

And it was along with Muller he signed a professional contract at Die Roten and, again with Muller, established himself firmly in the first team – with Van Gaal stating that if they were fit, they would play.

Often used as a left back, his form dipped in his second season and he found himself constantly in and out of the side.

Under Jupp Heynckes, however, he has found himself back in favour and back in the centre of defence – a defence that has conceded just 10 goals in 17 league games, and had kept 11 consecutive clean sheets in all competitions (a run Badstuber himself ended with an own-goal).

On the international stage, Badstuber has found himself going from strength-to-strength. Selected for the 2010 World Cup squad, he started the tournament as first choice left back, but soon lost his place to the man he now plays alongside, Jerome Boeteng.

However, since then he has established himself firmly in the national team, in his preferred centre back position as well, and is almost guaranteed to start when fit.

He currently has 18 caps for Germany, and over 100 appearances for Bayern to his name. At just 22, and under contract until 2014, both of those tallies should be added to significantly.

“He sometimes makes the obvious mistake, but is mostly rock solid. He’s a modern centre back – his passing is superb, I’d even say one of the best amongst all centre back’s. Wait a few years and, with more experience, he might be a top centre back.” – Bayern blog Red Robbery. @redrobbery

Watch the video below to see Holger Badstuber showing you how to defend:

Neuer: Two challengers for his jersey

Manuel Neuer is currently in possession of the Germany number 1 jersey, and is widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers not just in Germany, but the world.

That being said, however, he may well face some competition soon in the form of two 19-year-olds by the names of Bernd Leno and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The two goalkeepers have seen their stock rise remarkably this season, and are firmly established as first choice goalkeepers for their respective sides, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Leno came through the ranks at Stuttgart, for whose reserve side he made over 50 appearances.

Ter Stegen, meanwhile, was rather remarkably signed by Die Fohlen at the tender age of four. Since then, he rose steadily through the ranks and established himself in the reserves and often back-up to first choice ‘keeper, Logan Bailly.

Leno found himself unable to break into the Stuttgart first team, but did sign a contract extension in May, which was to keep him at the club until 2014, perhaps a sign of how highly he was rated.

Similarly, ter Stegen found his path to the first team blocked, even when many fans believed he should have been the man between the posts, as opposed to Bailly. His fortunes, much like the club’s, would turn around with the appointment of Lucien Favre.

Leno, not long after signing the aforementioned extension, joined Leverkusen on loan as a replacement for the injured Rene Adler. Since then, he has become the youngest German goalkeeper to appear in the Champions League; and his short-term loan deal has been turned into a permanent one that runs until 2017. Such is his rival’s form, Adler has announced he is to leave Leverkusen when his contract expires.

Ter Stegen finally got his chance towards the end of the 2010/11 season, and ended up playing a part in their avoiding relegation. Since then, he’s been handed the number one jersey (literally and figuratively), while Bailly has been sent out on loan. Mönchengladbach boast the second best defence in the league, and that is in no small part down to ter Stegen.

If it weren’t for Neuer, at least one of them would probably have German caps to their name by now. As it stands, it surely won’t be long before they both do. They may have to wait a while for a chance, Neuer himself is only 25, but it’s a chance that will undoubtedly come. And it’ll be interesting to see which one of them takes it.

“Apart from Gotze, [the most exciting youngster in Germany] is probably Bernd Leno.” – Raphael Honigstein, German football correspondent for The Guardian. @Honigstein.

“Among the many young goalkeepers in Germany, for me, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is the most exciting. He’s incredibly mature for his years.” – Clark Whitney, goal.com German editor. @Mr_Bundesliga.

Who is the better of the two is difficult to say, but you can have your say in the poll below.

Kroos: Schweinsteiger’s long-term replacement?

Toni Kroos is, arguably, the reason more hasn’t been made of the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger.

That’s not to say Bayern don’t miss him – any side would miss a player of his ability; nor is it to say Kroos is a better player – because he isn’t…yet.

But by the looks of things, he’s certainly on his way, and while Schweinsteiger’s injury may not have benefitted Bayern, it has benefitted Kroos.

Kroos was born in the town of Greifswald, and first emerged through the youth team of his local side – Greifswalder SC (now Greifswalder SV 04). Due to the club’s links with Hansa Rostock, it wasn’t long before he made the move there. And it was at Rostock he was spotted by Bayern Munich.

Kroos was snapped up in 2006 – aged just 16 – and moved to Bayern’s youth team. However, such was his potential, he was making his debut by the age of 17.

His ability didn’t go unnoticed by his senior teammates. Miroslav Klose said of him: “When you see in training, the talent he already has at such a young age, he really is a world-class player. These thoughts were echoed by legendary ‘keeper Oliver Kahn, who said: “He’s the best I’ve seen for years at youth level.”

In January 2009 he was sent on loan to Bayer Leverkusen for 18 months, a move that would ultimately be the making of him. He established himself in the Leverkusen side almost immediately, but it was the following season – his first (and only) full one with the side – that he really made an impact.

He featured in 35 games for Leverkusen in the 2009/10 season, scoring nine goals and helping Leverkusen achieve a 4th place finish. Unsurprisingly they wanted to keep him; even less surprising is that Bayern said no.

Heynckes: big impact on Kroos' career

Since then he’s gone from strength to strength, and, especially since Jupp Heynckes – who he played so well under at Leverkusen – took over, he has began to establish himself as a first team regular.

As mentioned, the injury to Schweinsteiger has perhaps benefitted him. He’s since been deployed in a slightly deeper role, and after perhaps initially looking slightly uncomfortable, now appears to be reveling in it.

The same can be said at international level. He’s came along at a time of plenty for German football, especially in terms of attacking midfielders, yet still made the squad for the 2010 World Cup and is almost certain to do so for Euro 2012.

As stated, he isn’t on Schweinsteiger’s level yet. But if he keeps going the way he is, he may not be long before he reaches it, and perhaps even surpasses it.

“Just a few years ago, Kroos was arguably Germany’s biggest talent. He joined Leverkusen on loan and, under Heynckes, played an incredible season. Hopes were high but when he returned to Bayern with coach Louis van Gaal, he struggled. But now that Heynckes is back, Kroos is better than ever. Probably the closest you’ll get to a playmaker in modern football, his passing is world-class. The only thing Kroos lacks is speed, aside from that he’s brilliant. A superstar in the making.” Bayern Munich blog Red Robbery. Twitter: @redrobbery

“Toni Kroos is looking Schweinsteiger-esque, and when you compare the two at age 21, Kroos is a much better player. The question now is whether he can round off his game with a bit more defensive class; if he can, he will be world class.” – Clark Whitney, goal.com German football editor. Twitter: @Mr_Bundesliga

An earlier piece discussed the turnaround in fortunes of Borussia Mönchengladbach, and one of the biggest reasons behind said turnaround is a 22-year-old by the name of Marco Reus.

Marco Reus: better than Gotze?

‘Rolls’ Reus, as he has been dubbed by the German media, is one of the biggest and brightest prospects in Germany. In fact, some may whisper, just whisper, that Reus is a better talent than Mario Gotze.

Yet his rise to stardom was far from straightforward. Born in Dortmund, it was no surprise when, around the age of 14, he was snapped up by Borussia Dortmund. However, via a rare misjudgment on the part of Die Borussen, he was allowed to leave as a 17-year-old.

Reus took it all in his stride, and moved down the leagues in order to gain regular football. He joined third division club Rot Weiss Ahlen, and even there he only started in the second team.

However, it wasn’t long before he was forcing his way into the first team, and in the 2007/8 season he helped the side win the league and gain promotion to 2.Bundesliga, and then played a bigger role as they finished 10th the following season.

His form hadn’t gone unnoticed, and soon he was back in the Bundesliga with another Borussia, this time Mönchengladbach. Perhaps a sign of how highly Reus was rated was the fact they allowed Marko Marin to leave that same summer.

He has gone from strength to strength at Mönchengladbach. Having quickly established himself as a first team regular; he’s now their most important player. Last season he scored 11 league goals in 34 games; a blistering start to this season means he’s already scored 10 in just 14.

He has an interesting release clause in his contract: it will stand at €18m next summer; one year later that becomes €15m and then €12m a year after that. It means Mönchengladbach could hang on to him until 2014, but even €18m could represent a bargain.

Quick, good with both feet, hard working, skillful and like the archetypal modern attacking midfielder, capable of playing anywhere across the midfield/attack. Germany and Reus both have extremely bright futures, and it’s looking increasingly likely they will be intertwined.

“At 22, he is finally realising his potential. He’s made tremendous strides this season, and is an absolute nightmare to defend against.” – Clark Whitney, German football editor for goal.com. Twitter: @Mr_Bundesliga

Marco Reus is an exceptional talent. I actually rate Reus higher than Gotze.” – Ross Dunbar, Bundesliga blogger for Mirror Football and SB Nation. Twitter: @rossdunbar93