I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve got something of a soft spot for your above-average left-footed footballing genius. Mention Gheorghe Hagi or Hristo Stoichkov and I swoon, the mere thought of Davor Suker in his pomp at EURO 96 has me scrambling for his goose-bump-inducing ‘Best of’ on YouTube while a recent in-the-flesh sighting of Dejan Savicevic provoked the sort of jelly-limbed, slack-jawed reaction in me that you would associate with a teenage female fan of Justin Bieber, minus the screaming.
Those four names are relics of a bygone age, the last glorious hurrah of football that did not fetter raw, brilliant talent with ‘tracking back’ and ‘closing down defenders’. But the legacy of that quartet lives on in Lukas Podolski, utterly brilliant, utterly unpredictable, overwhelmingly left-footed, and one of a select band of current players who I genuinely look forward to watching. Podolski puts bums on seats in the Bundesliga, and what he does on the pitch can often get them out of them, too. “Lukas can play anywhere,” said no less a person than Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, recently. “Whether it be Barcelona or Real Madrid – he has really come on.”
At 26, Podolski is coming into the prime of his footballing life. His stats this season – a personal best 14 goals already, just one behind Mario Gomez – would suggest that is the case, though he’s not exactly been slacking so far in his career.
• Sixty-six goals in 196 Bundesliga games, a ratio of one goal per 2.9 matches. Not bad for a man who is not an out-and-out striker, and who has played two-thirds of his matches at Cologne.
• Add in his 36 top-flight assists, and he’s been involved in a goal every 1.9 matches. • His record at international shows top-class pedigree – 43 goals in 95 caps is gob-smackingly brilliant.
All of that rather undermines the accusation oft levelled at Podolski, and others of his ilk, that he is not consistent enough. “With his talent, he should be among the best if not the best forward in the Bundesliga. But he’s not,” said Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp recently. “That’s because he doesn’t perform often enough. That’s why he’s too expensive for us, because it’s only once every couple of weeks.”
There is a certain truth in what Klopp says. However, you have to take into account the fact Podolski is at Cologne. He has scored almost as many as Gomez and as many as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar despite having a much weaker team around him. He and – with Podolski’s help – Milivoje Novakovic kept the club up last season. He not only carries the hopes of the club’s fans on his shoulders, they have to compete for room with those of all his team-mates, too. When he doesn’t play, Cologne don’t play. You just notice even an average game, because you know he can do so much better. He’s not so much a big fish in a little pond, more a blue whale in a puddle. Cologne currently have 21 points, without Podolski – according to a boffin quoted in BILD – they would only have 11. Even if he does – like every player – have ups and downs, I’d rather have Podolski at 50% than Sascha Mölders at 110%.
Regardless of what Klopp says, Cologne coach Stale Solbakken is happy. “In the half-year that Lukas has played under me, he’s been unbelievably consistent. Since the Leverkusen game, he’s the player with the best form in the Bundesliga,” gushed the Norwegian. “He’s progressed amazingly, including tactically. He’s a world-class player, and he has his best years ahead of him.”
Those years will, sadly for Cologne fans, likely be elsewhere. I don’t think there’s any doubt that his love for the 1.FC is genuine – why go back there from Bayern if not? Nonetheless, that love will not be enough to keep him in the Domstadt with Poldi having finally faced up to the fact that, like Alan Shearer at Newcastle, he will win nothing with his childhood sweetheart. Like Der Kaiser says, he can play anywhere, but surely his style would be best suited to the English Premier League where any one of the top clubs could 1) use him (bar Manchester City?) and 2) afford him with Cologne undoubtedly looking for at least double the €10m they paid Bayern for him, even though his contract only runs until 2013.
It’s scary to think that, if he had any sort of a right foot, perhaps he could be even better. Some 86% of his goals have been scored with that left foot of his. But then again, who cares if he is one-footed? If you’re not up out of your seat after seeing Podolski score THAT lob against Freiburg last season, you should – but might not be able to – check your pulse. Apparently, Poldi has the name of his three-and-a-half year old son Louis stitched into his boots for luck. “Yes,” says his proud dad. “But he shoots with both feet.”
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Join us from 20:00CET on Friday to look forward to Podolski against his former club Bayern Munich, which gets Week 17 underway at 20:30CET. Saturday kicks off with Freiburg v Dortmund before highlights of all Saturday’s games from 17:30CET before Schalke v Bremen rounds things off at 18:30CET. Kaiserslautern v Hannover is our first live game at 15:30CET on Sunday with Mönchengladbach against Mainz the final game before Christmas (17:30CET) with all the Week 17 highlights from 19:30CET. Thanks for joining us throughout the first half of the season – we’ll be back with the Bundesliga on 20 January, 2012. Have a great Christmas!