This time of year always brings with it a wave of hysteria, as the world’s top clubs battle to outspend their rivals and enrich their squads with the hottest properties who have emerged or confirmed their abilities in the first half of the season.
That’s why outsiders could be forgiven for believing Marco Reus, (currently) of Borussia Mönchengladbach, is the only forward plying his trade in the German Bundesliga at the moment.
But, each January also means a chance for a team’s forgotten man to plan his escape and kick-start his career.
Having been left out in the cold by boss Felix Magath this season, one such man looking for a way out is Patrick Helmes of VfL Wolfsburg. Read on to see what he has to offer, why he’s not showing it and where he might end up.
German international striker Helmes first made his mark with his hometown club FC Cologne in the 2005-06 season, but was unable to save them from relegation.
Over the following two campaigns in the German Second Division, however, he scored 31 goals in 52 matches for Cologne, ensuring their return to the Bundesliga.
Helmes had come close to making the step up a season before, but only now, at the end of his contract and available for free, did his proposed move to Bayer Leverkusen go through.
Once there, he enhanced his reputation as a lethal two-footed finisher with 21 goals in 34 league matches and three in six in the DFB Pokal (German FA Cup), as Leverkusen lost out in the final in his first season at Bayer.
He later fell out of favour at Leverkusen, however, and in January 2011 became one of Steve McClaren’s last signings during his ultimately doomed reign as boss of Wolfsburg, costing €4.4 million.
The former England manager only survived one more month in the hot seat, and Helmes was given just five starting appearances.
If that was bad, this season has been disastrous for the 27-year-old. He has not featured at all in the Bundesliga since a substitute appearance against his previous club at the start of October—but why?
Helmes has always been an out-and-out goalscorer, with the selfishness required to perform that role never in short supply. Nevertheless, this proved too much of a hindrance to his all-round play for legendary manager Felix Magath, who led VfL to the 2009 Bundesliga title in his first spell with the club.
Despite his big-money contract, Helmes has spent much of this season in the reserves, and Magath discussed why with German football magazine 11 Freunde this month.
"Patrick Helmes is a pure finisher who has never learned to help defensively and contribute to creating chances himself,” Magath said.
With Wolfsburg struggling in 12th place, Magath clearly feels a cohesive, hard-working unit is required to turn things around, and Helmes doesn’t fit into that plan.
Whether his poacher’s instinct could, in fact, benefit a team that has been heavily reliant on Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić for goals this season is a theory Magath seems unlikely to test in the second half of the season.
A good opportunity then for one of Europe’s many goal-shy outfits to swoop and make an offer beneficial to all three parties? Apparently not…
Before eventually switching to Wolfsburg in January of this year, Helmes had been tracked by a host of clubs, whilst both VfB Stuttgart and English Premier League side Sunderland showed interest this summer.
Unwanted by his manager, he should now be available at a knock-down price of around €2.5 million.
However, one week before the transfer window opens, the number of inquiries about Helmes’ availability that have reached the public is currently zero.
And you can be sure that the player’s representative, Coaches & More GmbH, would be quick to inform the press of any potential moves to drum up interest from other suitors.
So, where might Helmes fit in?
If Patrick Helmes remains in Germany, a switch to any of the Top 6 seems unlikely, unless under-pressure Leverkusen boss Robin Dutt believes he could link up as successfully with Stefan Kießling as he did in his first season at the BayArena. The continued presence of the man who initially pushed Helmes out of that team, Erin Derdiyok, makes it a long shot, however.
Thorsten Fink has successfully shored up HSV’s leaky defence, but their wasteful finishing against Augsburg last weekend highlighted their lack of firepower. With none of their forwards having netted more than four times in the league this season, Helmes could be a useful addition at the Imtech Arena in Hamburg.
Outside of Germany, Helmes' style of play would suit life in the EPL or perhaps Ligue Un in France.
New Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill should have money to spend. But, he may prefer to chase his own targets rather than someone fancied by his predecessor, Steve Bruce, as the club continue their attempt to fill the huge gap left up front by the departure of Darren Bent in the last January window.
Or, could Helmes team up with Bent at Aston Villa to form a partnership of pace and power that could ease the pressure on the much-maligned Alex McLeish?
Across the Channel, Helmes was linked with Évian Thonon Gaillard FC in August, and—just two points above the relegation zone—they could do with reinforcements to secure their survival in France’s top division.
If no transfer develops, all is not lost for Helmes. Felix Magath has said that he could return to the side if the team develops an attacking style that would suit the striker.
In reality, however, Patrick Helmes’ Wolfsburg career is probably dependent on the misfortune of his teammates; an injury crisis might mean he gets another chance. And if there’s one thing he doesn’t do too often, it’s miss chances.