To bring you this series we locked several insightful Bundesliga writers, bloggers and fans into a room with the sole purpose of selecting the most objective list of Germany’s best performers over the course of the season.
We resume our countdown with the first batch of players to break into the top ten. In this part we feature some of the league’s most outstanding attacking talent, some of which had a lot to prove this season and others whose profile just keeps rising to seemingly endless proportions.
You can find the first three parts of the series here.
10. Marco Reus
Marco Reus turns 22 this year and faces a bright future. At such a young age, he is already considered one of the best in the league and it seems that up is the only way to go. He was chosen for the Bundesliga Fanatic’s Top 25 long before he scored the historic goal last week in his team’s 2nd leg of the relegation playoff against VfL Bochum that saw Gladbach complete their miraculous comeback to remain in the top flight next season. Still, in a sense it says so much about the value of the young attacker that he would score that decisive goal despite playing with a groin strain picked up in the first leg. That determination and ability to persevere in spite of odds being stacked against him epitomizes Reus’s character and personality as a player.
A native of Dortmund, Reus began his career with Post SV Dortmund as a child before joining the Borussia Dortmund youth system in 2003. The thin 5”11 attacker subsequently joined Rot Weiss Ahlen’s U-19 team in 2006 where his career would start to show their first signs of flourishing. He slowly began working his way up the club structure, first for Ahlen’s reserve side before finally breaking into the senior team. Reus finished the 2007/08 season with 16 appearances for the first team including a goal on the last match day that saw Ahlen promoted to the 2. Bundesliga. It would not be the first time Reus was involved in end of the season drama. Reus continued to impress the following season after helping his side finish an impressive 10th place. Curiously enough, at Ahlen, Reus played alongside another one of the league’s young stars, Kevin Grosskreutz.
It did not take long for other clubs to come calling after Reus’s breakthrough, and after 43 matches for Ahlen, Reus signed a four-year contract with Borussia Mönchengladbach in May 2009, right before his 20th birthday. In his first season there, Reus started out as a substitute before becoming a regular during the last 25 matches of the season. He introduced himself in style, scoring a brilliant goal against Mainz after a 54-meter solo run in just his third game. It was a sign of things to come. Overall he missed only one game and became an integral part of Gladbach’s 10th place finish, scoring 8 goals and assisting 4. Few had heard about him before that season but he impressed many with his tenacious and cheeky play.
The jury was still out though whether Reus would be able to repeat his performances and grow as a player. The recently departed Marko Marin struggled at his new club Bremen after doing well initially at Gladbach as well so similar skepticism surrounded Reus. All that would be put to rest this past season however as Reus made most Gladbach fans forget that Marin ever existed. Reus followed up a fantastic season with an even more remarkable campaign, as difficult as that was to imagine. As Gladbach struggled with relegation all year, failing to win a single home game in the first half of the season, it was Reus that continually kept their aspirations of safety hanging on a thread. No team with Gladbach’s point total by January had ever survived the drop in Bundesliga history. It was mission impossible for the Foals but a mission not beyond the reach of the ambitious Reus. As if by sheer will, Reus continued to power through the season, scoring one important goal after another and doing so in style. Through Reus’s performances and new coach Lucien Favre’s work, Gladbach worked their way into the relegation playoff by the last matchday. I don’t have to tell you which Gladbach player again stole the show and scored the decisive goal that kept his team in the Bundesliga.
Reus brings flair and excitement to the game along with more tangible skills like his lethal shot, great set-piece marksmanship, pace, work ethic and great vision. Capable of playing anywhere up front he is truly a total package. Never shying away from a momentous occasion, Reus scored against the league’s top 5 teams this season including a winner against champions Dortmund and a laser of a shot against Schalke that left even Manuel Neuer helpless. Reus was deservedly called up by National Team coach Löw for their qualifying campaign this summer but was unfortunately set back for the third time running due to the groin injury he picked up earlier. Either way, Reus is around to stay and will continue to dazzle spectators everywhere.
9. Thomas Müller
Honestly, what better description of why the lad belongs on this list than what Cris wrote after Müller’s performance against Schalke? Oh, right, we can’t just copy and paste that one. Well, here’s an interesting statistic from the 21 year old’s recently concluded Bundesliga season–of the sixty shots he recorded, 29 of them were on goal with twelve finding the back of the net. That is fairly economical and efficient for a player who could have easily scattered about shots like Sepp Blatter throws out hush money, being fully aware that with the likes of Gomez, Ribéry, and Robben around he was unlikely to get a return ball.
So much for wasted youth. One of the traits that Cris touched upon in that piece was that Müller lacks the selfishness that some younger footballers and other World Cup Golden Boot winners possess and seeks to involve his teammates in the attack rather than go it alone. Not that it is a a consequential deficiency of course. One can see it with Thomas the same as with Mario Götze—despite playing in an advanced position, both play with their heads up instead of looking down at their feet. His 19 assists in all competitions attest to his selflessness and willingness to be a team player, a quality that propelled him to superstardom in just under two years. As Maradona can now famously attest, you question Thomas Müller at your own peril.
Rather than being impressed with his own dribbling abilities or deciding how best to nutmeg his defender, Müller scans the pitch to see if someone is beginning a deadly run down the channel or getting into a good position near the goal and calculates whether he should lay off to a trailing player like Schweinsteiger while numbers arrive, or if Mario Gomez is onside to make a cross into the box. This is something that took QPR’s Adel Taarabt seemingly a lifetime to figure out for example — how to be an effective teammate, something that at the tender age of 21 seems to have already been mastered by the Bavarian. That is not to say that Müller is not capable of taking players on himself. His Champions League debut against Sporting Lisbon in the bygone era of Klinsmann featured exactly that, a brash young Müller who gave Sporting players fits down the right flank in his cameo appearance. Müller’s link up play and willingness to include others so readily does distinguish him amongst his peers though and confirms why so many believe him to be mature beyond his years.
It is difficult to imagine where Bayern would be this season without Thomas Müller. Between the injuries to key players like Robben, Olic and Ribery as well as drops in form from the likes of Van Bommel and Schweinsteiger, Bayern needed some source of consistency. Especially when you consider the off field drama that played its’ part in destabilizing the team. Müller was involved in pretty much everything that was positive for Bayern this season, whether it was scoring match winners or assisting crucial goals, or just letting his infectious energy and enthusiasm rub off on others, he did it from beginning to end with a regularity that most players would be envious of.
8. Didier Ya Konan
“Not good enough”, was one of the terms thrown around when Didier Ya Konan was sold by Rosenborg Trondheim back in summer of 2009. Norway’s most successful club sold the striker for less than 1 million Euros and were rather happy to use that money elsewhere. Hindsight is said to be the great equalizer and looking back, it appears to be a regrettable decision. The little Ivorian has been absolutely outstanding since his move to Germany and played an essential role in Hannover’s Europea League finish this season. His 14 goals have propelled his side to its’ best finish in Bundesliga history and his partnership with Moa Abdelloue up front has been one of the most fruitful in the league.
Ya Konan made his Bundesliga debut with a bang, setting up Hannover’s equalizer against Mainz on the second matchday of the 2009/10 season. Hannover started that season well but few would have imagined the difficulties ahead. Between the tragic death of goalkeeper and captain Robert Enke and turmoil within the team, the side became engrossed in a heated battle against relegation. It was on the brink of relegation that Ya Konan endeared himself not only to Hannover supporters but to all Bundesliga spectators, who would get a first glimpse of his talents. In his last four matches that season, Ya Konan scored 3 goals and helped Hannover collect 9 out of 12 points to beat the drop by the slimmest of margins. Without Ya Konan and the form his team was displaying all season they could have easily ended up in the 2. Bundesliga. The Ivorian came through in his debut season however and ensured Hannover went on to make history the following year.
A player’s true qualities are revealed if his performances do not just stand on their own but consistently raise those of the players around him. In his second season Ya Konan nearly doubled his goal scoring figures and set up another 7, but apart from impressing statistically he was a vital cog in manager Mirko Slomka’s ruthless counter attacking system. Such a system requires not only speed on foot but speed of thought and Ya Konan’s awareness and clever movement coupled with his pace and technical ability made him the perfect striker for Slomka. Hannover have scored some 14 goals on the counter that lasted less than 10 seconds, Ya Konan being involved heavily in most. The perfect foil to target man Abdelloue, the pair scored 24 goals between them.
In just two years, Ya Konan has become one of the league’s most fearsome strikers. Already an icon at Hannover, Ya Konan equaled Fredi Bobic’s club record 14 goals in a single season. To say that he has become an invaluable asset to the team is an understatement. Hannover has not lost a single game in which their Ivorian striker found the back of the net, telling of his influence and the confidence he instills in his teammates. His stand out season at Hannover also saw him rewarded with a return to Ivory Coast’s Nation team back in February for a friendly against Mali. Appropriately enough, Ya Konan scored the winner in that match. Surely one would think twice now before labeling him “not good enough”.
7. Mario Götze
By now, voicing one’s disbelief over Götze’s young age is somewhat of a cliché but watching his performance over the season one cannot help but wonder how an 18 year old kid is capable of playing the kind of football most 28 year olds could only dream of In his first full professional season Götze turned out to be a key player in his side’s impressive championship winning run. The young playmaker was at the heart of Jürgen Klopp’s aggressive attacking brand of football that took the league by storm. Conducting in front of the famed Südtribüne at Dortmund’s high capacity stadium, Götze channeled Mozart to weave and spin the football through and beyond defenses with the zest and imagination of a young prodigy. Age aside, with 6 goals and 15 assists to his name, Götze was the league’s most prolific playmaker and has already established himself as one of Europe’s brightest talents, all in less than a year.
There was always an air of exception about Götze and his trajectory is telling of his immense talent and potential. Having been a part of Dortmund’s youth system since the age of 9, he impressed in the various junior teams, reaching the junior DFB Cup final in 2009. It was with the youth National Teams though that Götze really made a name for himself. He quickly worked his way up the youth levels and was at the heart of Germany’s U-17 EURO championship in 2009. He ended up winning Gold in the Fritz Walter U-17 category, an award handed out to the best in each age group each year. He quickly made the leap to the U-21 before eventually being called up to the senior squad where he became the youngest debutant for Germany since Uwe Seeler. Germany legend and current technical director, Matthias Sammer, identified Götze as one of Germany’s best ever talents. Praise is often heaped upon young players in abundance nowadays but in Götze’s case, it is thoroughly warranted.
It says a lot about a player when a coach trusts you to play 41 matches in all competitions, including important games in Europe. In a way, it says a lot more about Götze’s maturity but also his ability to cope physically and mentally at the highest level. National Team coach Joachim Löw did not hesitate in selecting Götze early on in the season and has since been a regular on the team. On the field, Götze’s brain appears to operate on a different wavelength, combining his technical skill with sublime vision and sharp movement. His controlled first touch made him an ideal link up player for the likes of Sahin and Barrios. When Dortmund’s preferred playmaker, Shinji Kagawa suffered a season ending injury, Götze was trusted with the role and filled in seamlessly. Similar to Mesut Özil, by virtue of Götze’s football IQ he will almost always contribute in a game and needs just a split second to make that incisive pass or to find himself in a good position near goal.
Götze delighted spectators from start to finish this season and only a handful of players have been as consistent as the 18-year old. Moreover, few players have been as instrumental in their team’s style of play than Götze. Admittedly, Götze 15 substitutions indicate a need for further physical development but that comes with time and his influence and contribution in his time on the pitch was massive. Contrary to the en vogue possession football so widely heralded throughout Europe, Dortmund’s game can be likened to a wave of bees. Their attacks are initiated in their own half and quickly spread across the field in split seconds as the most of the team swarms forward to overwhelm the opponent. The aggressive yet elegant movement would not be possible without the cerebral Götze who is at the epicenter of this game plan.
While Nuri Sahin created most of Dortmund’s chances, it was Götze who followed through and provided the most assists and was looked to as the direct link between midfield and attack. Götze and Sahin shared the flow of creativity and dictated play simultaneously. His brilliant turn of pace and playmaking instincts was the perfect foil for Sahin’s meticulous play. Given Götze’s performances, perhaps it is only a matter of time before Real Madrid come calling for him as well.
6. Mario Gomez
Can a 30 million Euro striker living up to his price tag be regarded as an underdog or comeback story? When Bayern Munich signed Mario Gomez from Stuttgart for that record fee of 30 million Euros expectations were high right off the bat. On top of the price tag, Gomez must have felt the additional pressure of an entire nation as he was being pegged as the next great German striker to follow in the footsteps of Miroslav Klose. In his first season under Louis van Gaal Gomez faced a stern test for several reasons. First, van Gaal did not hesitate to point out that Gomez was not his signing or the type of player he preferred. Second, he had to contend with a system that did not exactly cater to his strengths and instead favored players like Thomas Müller and Ivica Olic. He was faced with heavy rotation and a tactical layout that was unfamiliar to him. Overall he played 54 games in all competitions that season but only managed to score 16 goals, which by his standards, was a poor return. For all effective purposes, it was a disappointing first season and many were quick to label him as a flop.
Fast forward a year and Mario Gomez is on the tail end of a historic individual season, leading the league with 28 goals and an astounding 39 in all competitions. Gomez became the first player since Karl Heinz Rummenigge to score more than 25 goals in the league for Bayern and collected an incredible 6 hattricks overall. He was instrumental in keeping Bayern afloat amidst a turbulent season, scoring a third of Bayern’s goals in the league. It is difficult to imagine Bayern making an effective late push to grab the final Champions League spot without the form and goals of Mario Gomez. His 9 goals in Bayern’s last 5 matches of the season effectively ensured Bayern’s place in the competition next year. In a season as volatile as this one for the Bavarians, Gomez was one of the few steady elements. Considering the difficulties in his first year, it has been a truly remarkable turnaround.
At the beginning of the season, van Gaal openly admitted that he had to change the shape of the team to suit Gomez. Gone was the 4-4-2 of the previous season and in came the en vogue 4-2-3-1. Whereas the 4-4-2 saw Olic and Müller enjoy a fruitful partnership that thrived on playing from deep and constantly running at the opposition in tight spaces, Gomez shares most of his traits with those of a traditional target man. That meant that to get the best out of him one had to play him close to the goal where he would always be ready to pounce on opportunities and an able supporting cast supplying those opportunities.
The change paid obvious dividends and by season’s end, only Mess and Ronaldo boasted better individual records. The new system geared directly towards Gomez’s strengths and he became Bayern’s primary goal outlet. Robben and Ribery were asked to play slightly narrower with a focus on serving crosses and passes into the box. Moreover, their instincts to cut inside and take shots benefited Gomez’s ability to pounce on a deflection or loose ball. Müller, Robben and Ribery all played interchanging roles with Gomez picking up scraps with great efficiency. With their creativity and Gomez’s sharp instincts Gomez was extremely difficult for defenders to deal with. He may lack pace but his acceleration and quick reaction to get near the ball was nearly impossible to read by defenders around the league. Gomez’s real strength lies in his positioning, knowing exactly where to place himself to optimize his goal scoring chances. His first season at Bayern nearly destroyed the great reputation he came with from Stuttgart but after this season he more than restored it.
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