In a week that saw USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann visit Germany and talk about setting up regional offices throughout the world to seek out U.S. talents, fears have grown that the Germans might poach a player who's been turning out for the Stars & Stripes in recent times: 1. FC Nürnberg's Timothy "Timmy" Chandler.
Ever since the son of a U.S. service man and a German mother failed to make it to the CONCACAF Gold Cup -- his club successfully pleaded with former U.S. coach Bob Bradley to leave him out of the squad, citing fatigue -- U.S. fans have worried about a possible defection by Chandler to his adopted homeland. Since Klinsmann's team don't play another competitive match before the World Cup 2014 qualifiers in June 2012, Germany could technically still call Chandler up and make him a permanent German international, by playing him in next month's Euro 2012 qualification matches against Turkey (in Istanbul) or Belgium (Düsseldorf).
On Wednesday, former Nürnberg and U.S. player Tony Sanneh really put the cat among the pigeons with this tweet: "Rumor is chandler gonna play for Germany. Lowe (sic) visits nberg today". Sanneh, later backtracked somewhat, stressing that he was only reporting a rumor, but the story seemed plausible enough to dominate the news agenda for a few hours.
The German FA, however, were completely surprised to hear about this supposed meeting. "I spoke to Löw yesterday," the national team's spokesman told SI.com on Thursday. "He categorically denied seeing Chandler. There is nothing to this story, it's just a silly rumor."
Conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly chip in with a "he would say it, wouldn't he?" at this point, but someone with a very different agenda confirmed this version of (non-)events. "I can tell you that Löw neither phoned nor met with Timmy," Chandler's agent Thomas Kroth told SI.com on Friday afternoon. Kroth, a former Bundesliga midfielder with Hamburger SV and Eintracht Frankfurt, seemed bemused by the rumor. "Nothing has changed, nothing at all. He's still very happy to play for the U.S.," he added.
It's all Philipp Lahm's fault, of course. When the Bayern Munich skipper announced a switch back to his customary left back position this summer, after two less than stellar years on the right, the tremors were felt all the way to Frankfurt, the HQ of the German FA. National manager Joachim "Jogi" Löw immediately declared that he would accommodate his captain in his team, too. Thus, Lahm moved back to the left to make Germany's right side of the back four the weakest link once again.
A variety of players have been tried in the position but none have been able to hold down a place, let alone become an automatic choice for Germany like steady performer Lahm. Christian Träsch (Wolfsburg) feels clearly more at home in midfield. Schalke 04's Benedikt Höwedes offers little going forward and Jérôme Boateng (Bayern) is much happier in the heart of the defense. What's worse, the pool of eligible candidates in the league is decidedly shallow. With the possible exception of Leverkusen's Gonzalo Castro, there are simply no additional contenders of the prerequisite quality to fill the problem spot. The dearth of German right backs has, ironically, troubled both U.S. and German supporters.
However, the good relationship between Klinsmann and Löw, his former assistant, should allay U.S. fears further. It's hard to see the latter go against the express wishes of the former and fall out over a player. Chandler would have to perform extraordinarily well in the next months, far better than he has up to now, to make it worth the headache for Löw.
The player himself has kept quiet this week, understandably so. He has nothing to gain from getting dragged into a debate that seems merely hypothetical in the absence of any real interest from the German FA. The 21-year-old will surely know, too, that the current uncertainty, caused purely by FIFA regulations, is to his advantage. Unless he turns out for Germany next month, a scenario that is unlikely in the extreme, he will have a whole more season to make up his mind. If -- and that's still a very, very big "if" -- the question ever arises.