Currently trailblazing its way through footballing circles is a concept that embodies the post-modern, the alternative, the niche. Once it takes over a football fan, their outlook on the beautiful game is irreversibly altered. The concept I’m referring to, is the notion of the ‘football hipster’.
A new hybrid football fan, the hipster defies the contours of the modern game, struggling against the mainstream tide to uncover the latest trends and modes in the game we love and cherish. Not content or satisfied with adoring Marco Reus or Mario Götze anymore (way too universal), a fully fledged hipster would go out of their way to watch Leon Goretzka in a training match for Bochum, just so they could claim they ‘discovered’ him. Germany in recent years has become a haven and stomping ground for said hipsters, as has been proven recently with the explosion of praise emanating from England and Europe for the German game. I must confess, the hipster fad unashamedly claws its way into my own perceptions from time to time too…
With that in mind, and with the Bundesliga 2012-13 campaign gradually becoming a distant memory, I shall in true hipster fashion countdown some alternative awards that stood out last season. The awards will look upon those who may be common names to the regular weekly Bundesliga viewer, but not so common to the casual follower on German football. So to kick things off:
Best Goalscorer Outside the Top 4
1. Alex Meier
At 30 years old, Alexander Meier is hardly one of German football’s great unknowns. Having already made well over 200 appearances before the season began for the Eagles of Eintracht Frankfurt, nothing new was expected of the big man up top. Meier surprised everyone however, notching 16 goals for the season (his highest total to date), coming 3rd in the scoring charts and propelling Frankfurt into the Europa League. A combative, towering figure at 6 foot 5 inches, his work rate has permeated through the team. Add to that Meier’s genuine skill, craft and technical ability playing behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1, and its no surprise the old timer is finally coming of age.
2. Adam Szalai
The Hungarian hipster with a penchant for Gangnam Style celebrations has had a breakout season at Mainz. After hit and miss spells at Stuttgart and Real Madrid’s B team ‘Castilla’, the 25-year-old led the line with conviction this season. Though missing in patches towards the back end of the campaign, his 13 league goals still ranked handsomely in joint 6th for overall top scorers. Without his strikes, the threat of slipping into the relegation mire below would have proven an all too serious possibility for Mainz. With January rumours linking him to high-profile clubs in England and Germany, his career should be an intriguing one to follow.
3. Heung-Min Son
Fearless is the word to describe this 20-year-old starlet from South Korea. 12 Bundesliga goals, joint with Hamburg’s other reliable scorer Artjoms Rudnevs, is pretty impressive. What’s more impressive, is the manor of his goals. Son can use both feet comfortably, proving a nightmare for full backs when cutting inside off the flank. He can take men on, score from outside the box and get into areas to poach goals from two yards out. The highlight of his year was surely the solo golazo he netted in a 1-4 away win at Dortmund, driving from the halfway line before cutting inside from the right edge of the box and bending it far post past a flapping Roman Weidenfeller. This lad is a special talent, and will enjoy Champions League play with Bayer Leverkusen for next season.
And the winner is: Heung-Min Son – A wildly gifted striker with a big future ahead.
Biggest Domestic Disappointment
1. Borussia Mönchengladbach
When Die Fohlen finished last season unbelievably in 4th, everyone knew a repeat success would be some task for Lucien Favre. An 8th place finish by no means signals a season of failure, but the hype surrounding a potential Champions League entry meant expectations were astoundingly high, ultimately too high. Losing key players in Marco Reus, Dante and Roman Neustädter, and replacing them with the inconsistency of Luuk De Jong and Granit Xhaka, led to moments of genius, but largely squandered opportunities in the long run.
2. Borussia Dortmund
If this category was taking into account European endeavours, then naturally Die Schwarzgelben would be nowhere near it. Serious questions may have been asked of Jürgen Klopp and his domestically disappointing eleven, if not for their first Champions League final since 1997. A staggering 25 points off title winners Bayern München, and a meagre point ahead of Leverkusen, Klopp must rebuild again this summer to be able to fight on all fronts.
3. Schalke 04
They may have attained the final Champions League place, but by the skin of their teeth on the final day. For a team boasting a multitude of talented names, much more was expected of Schalke than a desperate scrape for 4th, ten points behind Leverkusen in 3rd. The form of their leading marksman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has let them down, and the Gelsenkirchen outfit will be hoping for an improved top 4 challenge come August.
And the winner is: Borussia Dortmund – 2 crowns on the run and suddenly nowhere to be seen in the title race? There’s much work to be done.
Most Exciting Foreign Import
1. Takashi Inui
Inui has exploded into life in the Bundesliga since newly promoted Frankfurt penned his signature last summer. Operating on the left wing, the Japanese playmaker makes shifting in and out of defenders look effortless. His low centre of gravity and neat dribbling combinations have earned him plaudits all year round, with some likening him to former Bundesliga prodigy Shinji Kagawa. Frankfurt will do well to keep hold onto him.
2. Kevin De Bruyne
From his style of play, Kevin De Bruyne resembles more of an experienced late 20s international than a young upcoming breakthrough act. His dominance in the Werder Bremen line up, playing all but one game and being used as the fulcrum of the team’s attacks, has made him one of the standouts of the entire league, let alone the team itself. The one shining example of consistency and composure in the club’s worst season since 1999, his 10 goals and 9 assists dragged Die Werderaner to safety with only a few games remaining. All this from a Chelsea loanee without a single league game for his parent club. With Jose Mourinho now at the helm, the club would be foolish not to consider keeping him around, despite interest from Dortmund.
3. Hiroshi Kiyotake
The second Japanese nominee on the list, Kiyotake, is another nippy playmaker, able to duck and dive tackles on his route to goal. His main contribution to the team has been via assists, 10 in total and the outright leading creator of chances for Nürnberg. Equipped with a tantalising set piece swing for the likes of Per Nilsson to get his head on, Kiyotake is another gem from the land of the rising sun, rising through the ranks of the Bundesliga.
And the winner is: Kevin De Bruyne – To do what he’s done this season was special. Chelsea must surely give him a go.
Most Exciting Domestic Import
1. Bernd Leno
If Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the darling goalkeeper of German football in 2011-12, Bernd Leno has surely taken over that mantel in 2013, especially after ter Stegen’s clanger in the national team’s recent 4-3 defeat to the USA. Permanently replacing Rene Adler at Leverkusen (who himself has enjoyed a revival of form at Hamburg), the young German Under 21 international has held his place in between the sticks at the BayArena, adding to the pool of goalkeeping talent that Germany produces in abundance. Leno oversaw all 11 of Bayer 04’s clean sheets, ranking 3rd in the league in that category behind Freiburg and Bayern.
2. Maximillian Arnold
Wolfsburg – another big name who had a season to forget, despite a slow improvement past December. One player for the Wolves who redefined the term ‘bursting onto the scene’, was Maximillian Arnold. Aged 19, he played in only 6 league matches, but expect to see much more of him next season. Used by manager Dieter Hecking in an advanced role apart of a 3 behind the striker, Arnold showed no signs of frailty or juvenility, blending in to support fellow playmaker Diego. In the 6 games he was apart of (five in April and May), Wolfsburg didn’t lose once, and his three goals in three consecutive games made him the youngest player to score for the club in the Bundesliga.
3. Philipp Wollscheid
Something of an anomaly in German football, Wollscheid has risen unconventionally up the lower ranks through semi-pro and village clubs, before landing a big break at Nürnberg in 2009. Through hard work and consistency, the defender attracted a summer move to Leverkusen and has not looked back since. Unlike many talented German prospects who benefit from the country’s extensive youth networks, Wollscheid has gone the long way round, but at 24 he’s hitting his peak at a great time. His role at the heart of the Bayer defence earned him his first two caps for Jogi Löw’s post-season friendlies against Ecuador and the USA, caps that he could well build on in the lead up to Brazil 2014.
And the winner is: Philipp Wollscheid – He’s got here the hard way, but it looks like he’s here to stay.
Photo courtesy of sportwitness.ning.com
Latest posts by Lee Warner (see all)
- Profile: Bayern’s Opponent, Manchester City - October 1, 2013
- Season Preview. 1899 Hoffenheim: Renewed Hope or False Optimism? - July 28, 2013
- Confessions of a Football Hipster: The Alternative Bundesliga Awards - June 14, 2013