In 2006, Lukas Podolski was awarded the Best Young Player award at his country’s home World Cup – grabbing the gong at the expense of Messrs Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionell Messi no less.
Having just turned 21, the youngster had been catapulted into the spotlight and was on the verge of signing for German giants Bayern Munich. It seemed Podolski was set for a glittering career at both club and international level – unfortunately, the former didn’t quite materialise.
Despite a number of high-profile moves both overseas and in Germany, the forward failed to fulfil the immense promise he had once shown.
One of the clubs to fall foul of his unfulfilled potential was Arsenal. The Gunners snapped up the former Bayern man for a considerable fee in 2012, yet after less than three years in north London, Podolski was heading for the Emirates exit door.
So where did it all go wrong?
To start with, you must first consider the paradox between his international and club career. To argue the failings of Germany’s third highest all-time appearance maker is futile without context of said international career.
Timing plays a major role in every single footballer’s career: timing of transfers, timing of injuries, timing of managerial appointments etc. For Podolski, timing made his international career. The Polish-born forward emerged onto the international scene at a time when Jürgen Klinsmann was beginning to alter the landscape of the German national team.
Youngsters such as Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker who would go on to represent the country for years to come were being bred into the squad. Podolski was part of that movement, and the timing of his country’s home World Cup could not have been better.
Following Germany’s promising campaign, Podolski’s stock was sky high, and a move to Bayern ensued; unfortunately, Bayern had been caught up in the national hysteria – Podolski wasn’t good enough to be a Bayern player and his 26 goals in three years at the club proved that.
After moving back to his first club FC Köln, the Germany international’s career had been rejuvenated and it was time for a second crack at the big time with Arsenal – and yet again timing proved to be a contributing factor in his downfall.
The Gunners were embarking on a critical summer transfer window, having seen Robin van Persie depart for Old Trafford.
In came Podolski alongside Olivier Giroud – and it was soon clear who Arsène Wenger preferred.
In a 4-3-3 system, Giroud was the focal point of Arsenal’s attack and Wenger began to build his team around the former Montpellier man. This was nothing new for Podolski, as he would regularly play on the left for Germany with Miroslav Klose adopting a central position, but Klose and Giroud are two very different strikers.
Giroud will often come looking for the ball and pick it up deep or look for flick ons, meaning the two players either side of him need to be looking to run in behind – and this couldn’t be further from Podolski’s game.
It’s no secret that Giroud is a fantastic target man and will win more than his fair share of aerial duels, as well possessing the ability to unlock defences with deft touches. Theo Walcott is testament to the big man’s service – the misfiring England international finished as Arsenal’s top scorer in Giroud and Podolski’s first season at Arsenal. But unfortunately for Podolski, his game is very different to Walcott’s.
As Podolski’s time at Arsenal wore on, it became abundantly clear that Giroud was Wenger’s main man. The Germany international would rarely make it past the hour mark and was visibly frustrated at the lack of game time he was being afforded at the Emirates – despite being a regular starter.
An overview of Podolski’s career tells you the forward doesn’t enjoy playing second fiddle. When at FC Köln, he was the star attraction. Fans loved him and he revelled in the role of being top dog.
In 2017, Podolski brought down the curtain on a stellar international career with a friendly against England – the night was all about the retiring forward and he didn’t disappoint when the spotlight was on him. A rasping 25-yard piledriver left Joe Hart clutching at thin air as the forward handed his side the win on his big night.
However, when asked to make the step up at Bayern and Arsenal, he couldn’t supply the goods. He’d suddenly become the little fish in a big pond and it was evident it didn’t sit well with him.
Had the timing of his move to Arsenal been different then the Gunners faithful may well have seen the best of Podolski, but some players aren’t suited to big clubs, and it may just be that he is one of them.