COMMENT: The ex-Bayern man has fallen down the pecking order at the Emirates but a lack of football has not yet caused him to lose his squad place for Germany
By Enis Koylu
Germany’s World Cup victory this summer will have been a bittersweet experience for Lukas Podolski.
A 100-plus cap international, few have symbolised the national team’s reinvention over the last decade more than the Arsenal attacker. Given his contribution to the teams of Joachim Low and Jurgen Klinsmann, few can argue that he doesn’t deserve to end his career with international silverware.
And yet, he only played 53 minutes in Brazil. The rest of it was spent on the bench, a vantage point for matches that he has become sadly used to in recent months.
Podolski arrived at Arsenal in 2012 with fans to win over in his new surroundings. Robin van Persie had just left the club and a huge goalscoring burden fell upon the former Koln man.
He had plenty to prove back in Germany, too. His place in the national team had come under intense pressure thanks to the performances of Marco Reus at Euro 2012. Former Germany coach Berti Vogts was quick to highlight that, given his ill-fated spell at Bayern Munich between 2006 and 2009, he needed to up his game after being handed another chance at a big club.
“It is always the defence that gets criticised but it starts with Podolski,” he said after Low’s side’s exit at the semi-final stage to Italy. “When he loses the ball, he must start running back. Now he needs to get educated as a professional.”
At first he proved to be a hit in London – a few early-season goals and his likeable personality helping him to strike up an instant rapport with his new fan base. In total, he scored a very respectable 16 goals in all competitions in his first season with Arsenal. But the issues highlighted by Vogts would gradually back to haunt him.
It seemed that he never had the full backing of manager Arsene Wenger and rumours of an exit were always there or thereabouts. Though he could be, as the world had seen with Germany, a potent attacking weapon, too often he went missing, particularly in big matches.
It all led to the predicament he currently finds himself in. At 29, he should be in the prime of his career, tearing up defences and scoring goals, but he finds himself frozen out of the first team.
Podolski was on the brink of leaving the Emirates Stadium this summer following the arrival of Alexis Sanchez, which pushed him even further down the pecking order. A number of top European clubs, including Juventus and Galatasaray, were interested, but an injury to Olivier Giroud led to Wenger keeping him at the club.
In his sole start this season, a League Cup defeat at home to Southampton, Podolski was one of the worst players on the park, putting in a limp performance as the visitors came away with a creditable victory. All of his other appearances this term have been brief cameos.
Though Giroud’s ankle blow saw Podolski stay put, his days at the Emirates Stadium appear to be numbered. His contract expires at the end of next season and he has already voiced his frustration at a lack of game time.
“I am a full-blooded player, a street player, and I love competition,” he said last week. “If I don’t have this competition every week then a change must occur.” It was a stark contrast from his previous stance in March, when he insisted that any interested parties should give up a futile chase for his signature.
In the short term, his place in the Germany squad is largely safe. Though the likes of Reus, Andre Schurrle and even Julian Draxler have leapfrogged him in the queue, he is a popular figure within the camp. He is important for team morale and, as an 118-cap international, can guide the younger players.
But, the longer his malaise at club level continues, the more his value to the world champions will be called into question.
Finding a top-level club where he can illustrate his worth will not prove easy. Within Germany, Bayern and Dortmund could easily afford him, but the former don’t need him and the latter don’t want him. At Schalke, there is plenty of competition for his position, leaving Wolfsburg the most likely option.
When rumours of a move to the Volkswagen Arena first surfaced in the summer, he was quick to reject them due to his emotional attachment to hometown club Koln. “I am from Cologne and it would be tough for me to represent any other German club.”
But another return to the Rhein Energie Stadion is just not feasible due to his old team’s precarious financial situation. That perhaps makes a move to a new country more feasible. Juventus held a serious interest in him in the summer but are unlikely to renew their pursuit when the transfer window re-opens. The same can be said of Inter, who will prioritise other targets.
Everything is in the air for Podolski and it looks as though he may be in for a frustrating club season as a reserve. He can, though, count upon a place in the squad of the world champions. For now.
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