If Wayne Rooney is looking for a sympathetic ear, he could do worse than board the next plane to Cologne to meet Germany’s own disgruntled No. 10.
The last time the want-away Manchester United striker saw Lukas Podolski, he was trudging off the Bloemfontein pitch after a humiliating 4-1 World Cup defeat. Rooney was about to face a media onslaught: Goalscorer Podolski was about to be hailed as a hero.
Now the two 25-year-olds have plenty in common.
The World Cup is a fading memory for Pod, who is joining that rare breed of player who has an international career that shines and a club career that stagnates.
Podolski’s frustration finally boiled over after he returned home last week from international duty. Germany’s No. 10 played superbly in the National Mannschaft’s Euro 2012 qualifying wins against Turkey and Kazakhstan, but it seems the very thought of returning to a Cologne side rooted in the bottom three of the Bundesliga was simply too much to take.
“We are going nowhere,” he lamented. ”And if it remains that way in the long term, then I will have to think about a future elsewhere. We simply don’t have a clear strategy. There are clubs with far worse financial means than us, yet they are doing better.”
Rooney isn’t a regular reader of Sport Bild, the mass market German magazine that interviewed Podolski, but the Manchester United man seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
Podolski’s week ended with an astonishing match between Cologne and high-flying Dortmund. Cologne were listless, bereft of ideas and inspiration before their star man slammed in a wonderful late equalizer. Podolski sprinted over to Nuri Sahin, Dortmund’s gifted Turkish midfielder and lifted three fingers in reference Germany’s 3-0 win in Berlin exactly a week before.
But there was a twist in the tale: Sahin scored an injury-time winner and in an Emmanuel Adebayor-inspired moment, raced 50 meters to Podolski, finger raised.
The match crystallized Podolski’s predicament: international success and club humiliation. He flourishes on the left for Germany, but cuts a lone figure up front week in, week out for Cologne. His club career is becoming a sideshow.
Like Rooney, Podolski believes his club lacks ambition. Both are fabulously gifted footballers, facing a crossroads in their career.
The Englishman is making a poor judgement, according to his coach Alex Ferguson. ”Prince Poldi”, voted Best Young Player of the 2006 World Cup, is known for playing the right pass at the right time on the pitch, but his decision making off it has often been questioned:
- As a teenager Podolski was desperate to play for Poland, the country of his birth. Luckily, he was rejected. ”I see no reason to pick a player just because he has played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga,” said an impassive Poland coach Pawel Janas. Now coaching unfashionable Polonia Warszawa (stadium capacity: 6800) Janas must be ruing the day he was ever asked about Podolski who, 83 caps and 42 goals later, is an automatic pick for his adopted country.
- In 2009, Podolski quit Bayern to return to Cologne in a €10 million move. Since then his club career has been on the slide: he has scored five goals in 35 games.
So where next? Podolski’s Cologne deal runs through to 2013, but a host of top European clubs would love to sign him this season. The striker would be loath to leave Cologne, a city he loves, but Zvonimir Soldo’s team look like relegation material. He has a release clause of €8m – but only in the event of Cologne being relegated. With a return to Bayern unthinkable, the Premier League is the player’s most likely destination. Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini is an admirer of the Cologne man: even if Rooney doesn’t take the plane to Cologne, he might be spending a lot more time with Podolski than he thinks.