The 2014 World Cup will be Ottmar Hitzfeld’s last as a manager before retiring. Typically, he has begun the final tournament of his career by making a bold call: The Switzerland boss has decided, despite facing some criticism, to leave experienced striker Eren Derdiyok at home.
The signs were there early on. In the two qualifiers played back in October, Derdiyok played a meagre total of 20 minutes. As his domestic form worsened, his international prospects dwindled. Now, Derdiyok will be forced to watch the tournament on television like the rest of us.
It’s not a question of being over the hill. Derdiyok is still only 25. It is far too early for him to be permanently cast on the international scrapheap. However, for the time being, Hitzfeld has deemed him surplus to requirements.
A few years ago, no-one could have predicted such a fall from grace. At Euro 2008, he caught the eye as the tournament’s youngest player. He went on to play twice at World Cup 2010. As recently as May 2012, he grabbed headlines by scoring an international hat-trick as Switzerland beat Germany 5-3.
However, since then, his confidence in front of goal has plummeted. A move to Hoffenheim went sour, and even a loan switch to his old club, Bayer Leverkusen, couldn't rescue his performance levels. Last season, Derdiyok made 18 Bundesliga appearances, but he scored only once. It’s a shocking return for a player who was once regarded as the obvious successor to Swiss great Marco Streller.
In place of Derdiyok, the German coach has opted for the likes of Josip Drmic. Drmic has only a handful of caps to his name, but he is one of Switzerland’s brightest hopes for the tournament.
In stark contrast to Derdiyok’s struggles in 2013/14, Drmic has flourished. He scored 17 times in 33 appearances and made a name for himself as one of German football’s biggest talents. There is a certain irony about the fact that Drmic has recently moved to join Bayer Leverkusen: The very club where Derdiyok enjoyed former glories and yet struggled to make any kind of impact last season.
There’s also a significant distinction style: Derdiyok is fundamentally a traditional No. 9. Drmic, on the other hand, is a versatile forward who offers Switzerland speed and variety in attack. For Hitzfeld, the choice was a no-brainer.
There is hope that Derdiyok will return to the international fold in the future. Like Drmic, he has already sewn up his summer move, leaving Hoffenheim to join Turkish outfit Kasimpasa on a three-year deal. There is plenty of time for him to win back his place, starting with the qualification campaign for Euro 2016.
For now, however, the focus is on the squad in Brazil. If Drmic and company can perform to their potential, few will miss the presence of Derdiyok.