While Lionel Messi is proving that being very short is no bar to success, the Bundesliga transfer window shows that being skinny needn’t stop a player fulfilling his dreams.
Two moves have dominated Germany this winter: Pappis Cissé’s €12 million switch from Freiburg to Premier League Newcastle and Borussia Dortmund’s acquisition of Borussia Mönchengladbach star Marco Reus for €17 million.
As youngsters, both centre forwards were told that they were too lightweight to make it at the top level, and were left to ply their trade in European lower leagues. But both have proved their erstwhile coaches wrong and have bright futures ahead of them.
Cissé’s transfer was expected. Indeed, Freiburg pulled off a minor miracle by keeping the Senegalese player after he scored a stunning 22 goals in 32 games in his only full season at the Black Forest minnows.
Cissé has had a stunning rise to the top.
In January 2010, I commentated Freiburg’s home match against Stuttgart for Eurosport, when Cisse made his debut.
The player had only arrived in Germany on the morning of the match, though there was no danger of jet lag as he had been based just over the French border in Metz.
Then 24 years old, Cissé had the body of a skinny teenager. After being clattered early on by the towering Stuttgart defender Georg Niedermeyer, looked like having a short debut.
Cissé’s deft first touch and vision were clear for all to see, but he had a tough road to the German top flight.
For years, he was considered too lightweight even to get a game in the French second division with Metz, who loaned him out to third division Cherbourg.
After a promising start at Freiburg, Cissé scored more than half the team’s goals last season. Indeed, the 73 kg Cissé was outscored only by the Bundesliga’s great battering ram, the 86 kg Bayern forward Mario Gomez.
Cissé has continued that form with 9 strikes in 17 starts this season–a stunning return given that he plays for the worst team in the Bundesliga.
Cissé will never have the upper body strength of his bulky countryman (and now teammate) Demba Ba, himself a bargain buy from the Bundesliga. But if he works hard in the Newcastle United gym, the Tynesiders could have a prolific No. 9 on their hands. Freiburg’s future looks bleak: they have been painfully dependent on Cissé this season and his replacement, Sebastian Freis, is not in the same class.
Reus’ short move from Mönchengladbach to Dortmund, which takes effect this summer, was more of a surprise, but only because the Bundesliga champions ate a huge slice of humble pie by splashing out on a player they released for nothing because he was considered too skinny.
With the huge benefit of hindsight, Kicker magazine dubbed that 2006 decision ”a very expensive mistake,” but Dortmund Sporting Director Michael Zorc has no regrets about welcoming Dortmund-born Reus home. ”Things don’t always work out as you expect,,” Zorc said. ”I am not paid to be a historian, I must do what is best for Borussia Dortmund.”
Certain players have a moment when they go from being good footballers to potentially great ones. Reus’ time came in November this season against Bremen.
In the 23rd minute, Reus picked up the ball near the centre circle and weaved Messi-like through the visiting defense before making keeper Tim Wiese look a fool with a classy finish. Then followed a hat-trick — and a near-certain move to a bigger club.
Borussia Mönchengladbach have been a victim of their own success. When Lucien Favre took charge on Valentine’s Day 2011, they were bottom of the Bundesliga and seemingly doomed to relegation. But Reus scored 10 goals as the great old club were spared the drop.
Not bothered about Reus frail physique, Favre converted him into a centre forward this season and has been rewarded with 10 goals in 15 starts.
Now Mönchengladbach are fourth and genuine candidates for European football next term. Like Freiburg, they are something of a one-man team, the difference being that Gladbach’s other ten men are a superbly drilled unit with one of the meanest defenses in the country.
Like Cissé, Reus risked life as a journeyman footballer because of a feeble frame.
At 5 feet 11 (1.80 m), Reus is just an inch shorter than Cissé, and his frame is even more wiry. So it’s refreshing that in an age when millions are added to players’ worth simply because they have the build of a cruiserweight boxer (think Andy Carroll), there is still a place for footballers who would look more at home at a Mr Puniverse competition than a boxing ring.
Bundesliga Commentary Manager
The Bundesliga is back on Friday with Reus and Borussia Mönchengladbach hosting title favourites Bayern Munich. Coverage on Eurosport2 (north and east Europe only). We’ll feature four other matches live this weekend: Wolfsburg v Cologne (Saturday, 15:30) , Kaiserslautern v Bremen (Saturday, 18:30), Hamburg v Dortmund (Sunday, 15:30) and Leverkusen v Mainz (Sunday, 17:30). Then all Week 18 highlights at 19:30.