Koelner Crisis: What's Wrong With Lukas Podolski?
With the summer approaching, World Cup fever is starting to build up in every nation participating and even in most nations who aren’t competing for the most prestigious of international trophies.
As the tension is mounting, people are starting to discuss possible candidates who can represent their nation in its quest for eternal honour and glory. People will also discuss players who should be dropped from the current squad.
In Germany, the case of Lukas Podolski appears to be a reason for concern. The 24-year-old FC Köln forward has been an important player for manager Joachim Löw, and he has been as prolific as ever for the national side.
In the domestic leagues however, his form has been less than breathtaking over the past few months. His team FC Köln is battling bravely against relegation and Die Geißböcke (the Billygoats) have one of the least productive forward lines in the league.
A mere seven goals were produced by the likes of Podolski, Novakovic, Maniche, Ishiaku and Petit. I’ll let that number sink in for a bit. Seven goals in 15 games, that’s an average of 0.5 goals a game. Even red lantern Hertha BSC has scored more goals.
Podolski has so far managed to bag a single goal and contribute a single assist to his team’s cause. This lack of firepower from the Kölner forward is odd, since the lad is a proven goal-scorer.
During his first stint in Köln, he bagged 46 goals in 81 appearances, and he’s managed to score 37 goals in 69 international appearances for Germany. Only his tenure at Bayern was slightly less successful, with a mere 15 goals in 72 appearances, but one must keep in mind that Podolski was usually a substitute player in München.
Either way, his recent lack of firepower has critics worried. Some are concerned that Podolski can’t bring what was expected to save Köln from relegation, others are worried that his poor domestic performances are eventually going to harm his performances for Die Mannschaft (the national team).
It has even come as far as FC Köln fans booing the entire team, including Podolski. For reference, Prinz Poldi, as he is called, is a product of the Köln youth academy and he has always been so popular that booing him would have been considered an act of sacrilege prior to this season.
With a single goal and a single assist to show after 14 matches, the fans have every right to be a bit disappointed in the club’s €10 million summer-signing. They’ve paid about five million euros for a goal and five million more for a single assist, hardly a bargain buy it would seem.
But can we really blame Podolski for his poor form at club level? He came in with a lack of match experience from his time at Bayern, where he found himself benched more often than he liked.
To add insult to injury, the fact that FC Köln manager Zvonimir Soldo is rotating him in the team is not really helping him improve his game. Soldo is not picking a definitive line up.
Instead, he’s been using Poldi in various different positions, which is making it more difficult for him to gel with his new teammates.
So we have a lack of match experience and no time to gel with his teammates due to being fielded in various positions. This will inevitably lead to a lack of confidence, which is exactly what Podolski is showing right now.
An in-form, confident player will always demand the ball. He has a sort of aura around him which attracts passes from teammates, and if his teammates ignore him, he will shout at them or make a run towards the ball.
An in-form player is hungry for the ball. Podolski isn’t hungry for the ball.
It’s true that some of his teammates are not providing him with the passes he so desperately wants, but he’s not making a real effort to improve this. Instead of demanding the ball or making a run, he sulks and stays put, a tell-tale sign for a player lacking confidence.
This again is evident whenever the former prodigy is on the pitch for FC Köln. His poor goal-scoring record is obvious, but at one point during the season, Poldi went over 500 minutes without even attempting a shot at goal. Pretty symptomatic of problems for a forward, wouldn’t you agree?
So what’s next for Podolski? As long as he keeps performing for the national team and remains fit, he’s pretty much a certainty for the German national team. Whether or not Joachim Löw will actually field him in South Africa will depend on his form in the Bundesliga as well.
His Bundesliga form has been far from stellar so far, which is something Soldo should aim to fix. When in-form, Podolski is easily the best player in the Kölner squad and Soldo needs to massage his bruised confidence back to what it once was.
Give the lad a guaranteed spot in the line-up and use him in a single position, so he can actually gel with his teammates. They will learn how to interact with him and vice versa, something which can only improve the team as a whole.
With his confidence restored, Podolski should once again be able to prove he is one of the best forwards in the Bundesliga, which should make both the city of Köln and everyone who supports the German national team very relieved.
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