Back in 2006,
Podolski's $14 million move to Bayern Munich from 1. FC Köln was set to catapult the close friends to new heights. But reality intervened. Midfielder Schweinsteiger struggled to replicate his Germany form at the Allianz Arena, while Podolski found his opportunities limited.
Fast forward four years and you'll find that Schweinsteiger has finally begun to live up to the hype (again). He, too, felt underappreciated at Bayern. He said people were too critical of him. But instead of sulking, the 25-year-old decided to concentrate on improving his game. He no longer wanted to be "Schweini," the teen mag celebrity, but a respected, serious player. Under
"Prinz Poldi," on the other hand, is still lost in a funk. Cologne rescued the homesick striker from Bavarian exile for a fee of $13.5 million in the summer and made him the most expensive player in the club's history. He was instantly hailed as a messiah by the local tabloids, who wasted no time debating Cologne's imminent return to European greatness. Manager
The (provincial) stage was all set for the return of the prince. Podolski had obviously not lost any confidence during his unhappy spell down south. "I've got nothing to prove, I know what I can do," Podolski said.
Five games before the end of the campaign, however, his goal-scoring tally stands at two. Last Saturday's 3-0 home defeat to bottom-feeders Hertha BSC was emblematic of his season. Podolski spent 90 minutes running aimlessly at a moderate pace, unable to get hold of the ball and influence the game in any manner. Sections of the local press still loyal to the star player blamed Soldo for continually changing Podolski's position. While it's true that he's been asked to play on the left, as a sole striker or behind Slovenian forward
Never the most industrious attacker to begin with, his cult status in the Rhein-Energie-Stadion has prevented people, including himself, from asking serious questions about his work rate. He would also benefit greatly from some instruction on the pitch, but sadly, he doesn't know it. When German captain Ballack pointed out where the attacker should be going during the match against Wales a year ago, Podolski angrily dismissed him, adding insult to injury with a slap.
Cologne is 13th in the Bundesliga table, six points clear of the relegation playoff spot. But based on Saturday's shocking evidence, the club could yet go down. Podolski isn't the solution but very much part of the problem -- something that is obvious to all but the most blinkered Podolski aficionados. Senior players like Novakovic,
"He's a red rag to Petit and Maniche," one dressing-room insider told the
In a way, Köln, a club prone to delusions of grandeur, and Podolski, a superstar in his own mind, simply deserve each other. But there's a serious side to this farce, one that concerns the rest of German football fans. Two months before the World Cup, his dramatic loss of form is a big worry.
The reemergence of Schalke's
Schweinsteiger and Podolski used to be a great double act, on and off the pitch. Now, their differing career trajectories prove that in football, exceptional talent is but the starting point. It takes determination, humility, lots of hard work and some soccer IQ to make the most of your gifts. Those who understand that succeed. Those who don't, won't. The fear is that Podolski, for all his skill, firmly belongs to the second category.
Hannover 96's horror season surprisingly didn't take a turn for the worse away to Hamburg on Sunday. Right back
Two weeks ago,