Drmic, Calhanoglu and More: The Bundesliga's Best Relegation Buys

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2014

Drmic, Calhanoglu and More: The Bundesliga's Best Relegation Buys

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    The end of the 2013-14 Bundesliga season is near, and with just two matches left to play, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Nurnberg and Braunschweig are all in varying degrees of danger of being relegated to the second tier.

    Although Braunschweig were only promoted a year ago, Hamburg are the only side to have competed in every Bundesliga season since the German top flight was established in 1963, Stuttgart were champions as recently as 2007, and FCN were German record champions until 1987.

    As many as three may go down, although the team that finishes 16th will be involved in a play-off against the 2. Bundesliga's third-placed team.

    The clubs that may be relegated have some players on a level well above their respective teams' performance, and those who are attentive could find some very well-priced transfers.

    For a look at the best potential buys from relegation-battling clubs, click Begin Slideshow.

Hakan Calhanoglu

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: February 8, 1994

    Position: Attacking midfield (central, left or right)

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €7 million (as of February 2014)

    Contract Until: 2018

     

    Profile:

    Just 12 months ago, Hakan Calhanoglu played in the 3. Liga at Karlsruhe. He scored 17 goals and gave 12 assists in 2012-13 but faced a steep hill to climb as he moved to 1. Bundesliga side Hamburg.

    The Turkey international immediately was a starter at HSV, and although he initially had some teething problems, his performance over the last two months has been outstanding.

    Calhanoglu now has 10 goals and four assists in 30 matches and has contributed directly to a goal in seven of his last 10 Bundesliga matches. If Hamburg are to avoid the drop, he is their best hope.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    Although his growing profile had brought interest from some top clubs, Calhanoglu surprised many in February as he extended his contract (which was previously valid through June 30, 2016) until 2018.

    Kicker (in German)among many other German sources, reported that the deal included no buy-out clause and was valid even for playing in the 2. Bundesliga. Calhanoglu's rationale was (per HSV's official website) that he felt at home in Hamburg and "wanted to send a positive signal during [HSV's] current situation."

    At the same time, Hamburg may have no choice but to sell Calhanoglu in order to avoid a financial crisis. He is their most valuable asset and could make the difference between solvency and insolvency.

    There is no shortage of news reports linking Calhanoglu with transfers both domestic and abroad. Sport Bild (in German) first reported in December that Leverkusen were monitoring the player, and that rumour has picked up steam in recent days as the player's agent confirmed B04's interest to both Express and Bild (in German).

    Other clubs have been linked with Calhanoglu, including Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal, but this story by Robert Schuller of HereIsTheCity sums up why the player is more likely to move to another Bundesliga team than to England.

    In short, it cites reports in German media that HSV need to raise €20 million by May 28 in order to be eligible for a 1. or 2. Bundesliga license and that Calhanoglu's agent stated the Leverkusen have a "big chance" of signing the player, who "sees his future in Germany."

    Given that Calhanoglu was recently willing to commit his long-term future to a club where he would have little hope of even Europa League football but also little competition for a starting role, Leverkusen would appear to be an appropriate, measured step in the 20-year-old's career.

Josip Drmic

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: August 8, 1992

    Position: Striker, right winger

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €10 million (as of March 2014)

    Contract Until: 2017

     

    Profile:

    Along with Calhanoglu, Josip Drmic is the Bundesliga's breakthrough talent of the season. And it just so happens that he could be a huge bargain, especially in the likely event that Nurnberg are relegated.

    Signed from Zurich for €2.2 million last summer, Drmic was an immediate success at Nurnberg. He's scored 16 goals in 31 appearances, leaving him just two behind joint leaders Robert Lewandowski and Mario Mandzukic.

    Given what little support he's had from the midfield, that statistic is remarkable, as is his having played a direct part in more than half (19) of his team's 36 goals.

    Still just 21 years of age, Drmic has room to develop as a player. He is in many ways similar to a young Lewandowski: strong, fast, combative, technical enough to play in midfield and a lethal finisher with both feet. The club that secures his signature this summer will have signed a player who could yet become a superstar.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    As with Calhanoglu, Drmic is highly coveted by a number of teams in England and in Germany. And like Calhanoglu, the signs are more clearly pointing to Leverkusen than any other club.

    Express (in German) reported earlier this week that Leverkusen have a €40 million budget and that Drmic has a release clause that would allow him to leave Nurnberg for €4.5 million in the event that FCN are relegated. The report claimed that ,although 'Gladbach are also keen to sign Drmic, the player much prefers a move to Leverkusen.

    On Thursday, Express (in German) updated their narrative, claiming that the transfer of Drmic to Leverkuen was a done deal. The player had chosen B04, who in order to avoid inevitable competition from potentially bigger clubs, acted to secure a deal before it is confirmed whether Nurnberg are relegated or not.

    While other clubs waited to find out what price Drmic would cost, Leverkusen reportedly offered FCN an amount in excess of the €4.5 million that would be required if Der Club are relegated. Nurnberg supposedly have accepted the offer.

    Lothar Matthaus has insisted multiple times (via Metro) that Drmic will sign for Arsenal, but the basis of this claim is uncertain. Express, on the other hand, is a reputable newspaper based in Koln, just a few miles away from the BayArena.

Martin Harnik

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    Uli Deck/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: June 10, 1987

    Position: Right winger

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €5 million (as of February 2014)

    Contract Until: 2016

     

    Profile:

    Martin Harnik is one of the more underrated talents of the Bundesliga, a player who is capable of much more than he has produced in the last two seasons. In 2011-12, he scored 17 goals and assisted eight more in the Bundesliga, making him one of the league's most dangerous attackers and inflating his Transfermarkt value to €11 million.

    The following season was poor for Harnik, though; he found the net just five times. And much of the current campaign went similarly for the Austria international, whose inconsistency contributed to Stuttgart's flirtation with relegation.

    Harnik has turned things around in recent weeks, though, scoring six goals in his last nine Bundesliga matches as VfB have climbed from the depths of the league table. If Stuttgart survive the drop, they may well have Harnik to thank.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    Harnik's name was hot in the transfer market in 2012, when he was at his peak, and even after he penned a new deal with the club. But since his drop in form, he's largely been forgotten.

    Stuttgart are close to being safe from avoiding relegation, but if they do go down, Harnik would be a good buy available for a presumably modest fee. Still just shy of his 27th birthday, his best years are still to come.

    And he's shown in the past that he has all the talent and ability to be a very useful player: Maybe not one for an elite club, but he'd be on his level in an Europa League side.

Vedad Ibisevic

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    Michael Probst/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: August 6, 1984

    Position: Striker

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €10 million (as of June 2013)

    Contract Until: 2016

     

    Profile:

    Vedad Ibisevic burst on to the scene in the fall of 2008 when he led promoted Hoffenheim to a stunning record. The Bosnia international scored 18 goals in the first 17 games but had his season end prematurely in January when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

    Now nearing 30 years of age, Ibisevic has not since regained the form that had him chasing Gerd Muller’s single-season Bundesliga scoring record. But he is a reliable source of goals, having found the net 10 times this season, 15 in the previous campaign.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    As of the time of publication of this article, there are no recent rumours concerning Ibisevic. The player has, however, become frustrated by Stuttgart’s situation and let his emotions get the better of him in February, when he was red-carded for an off-ball incident with Augsburg’s Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker.

    The striker’s punishment was a five-match suspension, since which time he is yet to score and has fallen out of favour as VfB’s main centre-forward. He’s been a bench-warmer for the last three games, playing just 32 minutes total in those fixtures.

    Whether or not Stuttgart are relegated, he could soon be found on the transfer market.

Hiroshi Kiyotake

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    Timm Schamberger/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: November 12, 1989

    Position: Attacking midfield (centre, left, right)

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €7 million (as of March 2014)

    Contract Until: 2015

     

    Profile:

    Along with Drmic, Hiroshi Kiyotake may be the only other Nurnberg player who can claim to have had a good season. The 24-year-old has only found the net three times, but his tally of eight assists is not bad at all and not far off last season’s benchmark of four goals and 11 assists.

    Kiyotake has spent just two seasons in Germany after leaving Cerezo Osaka for Nurnberg and still perhaps has some room to develop. The Japan international has not exactly taken a step forward in the current campaign but has great passing quality and a keen playmaking instinct.

    Under more positive circumstances at a more competitive club, perhaps he could develop to greater heights.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    Rumours about Kyiotake’s future have been rather dry as of late, the most recent of which being a match preview article in German newspaper Express in which it is asserted that Monchengladbach sporting director Max Eberl rates Kiyotake highly and speculated that the Fohlen could make a move for the Japan international especially if Nurnberg are relegated.

    Not long before that report, AS reported (h/t InsideFutbol) that Sevilla had joined the race to sign Kiyotake, in which Aston Villa were already a part. The Aston Villa link is a longstanding one that dates back to a Kicker report last July.

Jonathan Tah

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    Angelika Warmuth/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: February 11, 1996

    Position: Centre-back

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €6.5 million (as of February 2014)

    Contract Until: 2018

     

    Profile:

    Along with Timo Werner, Julian Brandt and Levin Oztunali, Jonathan Tah is one among an uncommonly large crop of top German talents born in 1996. The Hamburg man has long stood out as a future star centre-back, and after making his debut last August, he became a regular starter in September.

    Tah played the full 90 minutes for 14 consecutive Bundesliga matches but since has fallen out of the HSV lineup. A controversy over leaked details of his contract and the very legality of the deal itself has complicated his situation into obscurity.

    In April, HSV sporting director Oliver Kreuzer told was quoted by Transfermarkt (in German) as having told the print edition of Bild that Tah had become distracted from football and would spend the rest of the season with the amateur team.

    Tah may not be playing top-flight football right now, but it’s only a matter of time before he does. The youngster has abundant talent and is one of Germany and Europe’s finest young centre-backs.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    Tah's situation at Hamburg is as uncommon as his talent. In November, HSV were eager to secure his long-term future at the club and he signed a deal presumed to be valid through June 30, 2018. The problem was that this contract was signed when he was still 17, and Article 18 of FIFA's Status and Transfer Regulations states that a player under the age of 18 can only be held to contracts three or fewer years in duration.

    The illegality of Tah's contract duration does not necessarily make the contract void in full, but it could require that it become null within three years. And that could complicate details concerning his buy-out clause, which Hamburger Morgenpost (in German) claimed in February is in the amount of €25 million, effective next summer. That amount allegedly drops to €8 million if HSV are relegated.

    The Daily Mail reported in February that Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are keen to sign Tah. Scout Sebastian Arnesen, son of former HSV sporting director Frank Arnesen, supposedly tipped off City to the player's talent.

    Any deal is likely to take some time, though, as the situation regarding Tah's contract with Hamburg is resolved.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

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    Carmen Jaspersen/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: February 11, 1983

    Position: Attacking midfield

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €7.5 million (as of March 2014)

    Contract Until: 2015

     

    Profile:

    The captain of the Netherlands' national team, an ex-Real Madrid player and a 109-times capped Dutch international, Rafael van der Vaart needs no introduction.

    The playmaker may be on the wrong side of 30, but he remains the kind of player who on his day can single-handedly change a game.

    Van der Vaart is too good for second-tier football. And even if HSV avoid relegation, if they need funds, he almost surely will be sacrificed.

    Removing the No. 10’s wages from Hamburg’s bill would free up substantial capital alone. Selling the player would, of course, bring in necessary extra cash, although the fact that he is 31 and has a contract that expires in just over a year could limit his selling price.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    Media around the world has been rather mum about Van der Vaart in recent months. There were some murmurs in Turkish press about possible interest from Besiktas, but a link with a return to his former club Ajax is gaining momentum.

    Football Orange has quoted Van der Vaart as having told Dutch television program SBS Shownieus that "[He has] always said that Ajax is [his] club" and claims the player and coach Frank de Boer are keen on securing Van der Vaart's transfer from Hamburg to Ajax.

Timo Werner

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    Michael Probst/Associated Press

    Date of Birth: March 6, 1996

    Position: Striker, left winger

    Transfermarkt Valuation: €12 million (as of February, 2014)

    Contract Until: 2018

     

    Profile:

    Timo Werner is the most promising striker talent to emerge from the German youth academies since Miroslav Klose. To date, he's been ahead of the developmental curve at every step.

    Along with Julian Brandt, he was one of two under-aged 1996-borns to compete at the under-17 European Championship in 2012; he even started in the final. A year later and barely 17, he was promoted to play with the U19 team as a starter.

    After scoring 55 goals in 57 appearances for Stuttgart's under-17 and under-19 teams, Werner was promoted to the first team in 2013-14. In November, he became the youngest-ever Bundesliga player to score twice in the same match.

    Werner is no longer the starter he was earlier in the campaign; Huub Stevens has removed him as well as Rani Khedira and Moritz Leitner from the starting lineup, instead opting to put the pressure on experienced senior players in the fight to avoid relegation.

    But with a respectable four goals and five assists in limited playing time, and still at such a very young age, Werner could become an international phenomenon in the next few years.

     

    Latest Transfer Narrative:

    As of now, there is no narrative to speak of. Werner penned a long-term contract in March, tying him to Stuttgart until 2018. And unlike Calhanoglu, for example, he's not yet at the point where playing in the 1. Bundesliga is a necessity.

    He could potentially benefit from playing as a full-time starter in the 2. Bundesliga in the event that Stuttgart are relegated.

    Germany's top clubs are certainly monitoring Werner's situation very closely; his talent is undeniable. But unless VfB find themselves in a deep financial crisis and perhaps sell with a loan-back option (in which case any fee under €25 million could later be considered a steal), expect him to stick around.