‘Nobody knows ya when you’re down ‘n out’ — the ancient blues lyrics proclaim, and if one’s lived long enough, these words ring pretty well true. But two 28 year-old Bundesliga veterans, Nuri Şahin and Holger Badstuber, proved that there is room for redemption for the down ;n out in Germany’s top division as both long-injured and oft-forgotten players led their teams to victory on MatchDay 2, revitalizing their own careers and creating a sense of team well-being over the international break. Both inspired, as Badstuber scored Stuttgart’s only goal for three points while Şahin had an assist and a laser-like goal in his MOTM performance in Dortmund’s 2-0 win over Hertha Berlin.
Nuri Şahin — A Once Rising Star Takes Center Stage Again
It was once, not too long back, Nuri Şahin’s world, and we were just living in it — and most of us outside of Gelsenkirchen were enjoying every minute. A Borussia Dortmund youth player from back in 2001, the German-born Turkish international was the maestro of the brilliant Dortmund renaissance of 2010/2011 that saw the Valley club wrest the Bundesliga title away from Bayern Munich. Then 22 years-old, Şahin was a mature former prodigy, someone who’d made the Bundesliga at the age of 16 and was now working from his defensive midfield role to spray incisive passes and play a lynchpin role in Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing style that made the yellow-blacks not only relevant again but a joy to watch. By the end of that season, Şahin — German champion, dead ball specialist and passing wizard had well-over 150 first league matches under his belt (he also had played a season on loan with Feyenoord), European experience and…a new suitor.
Jose Mourinho had become head man at Real Madrid, and already had added Bundesliga players Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, and set his sights on Şahin. Jose gets who he wants, usually, and Sahin officially became a Madrista on July 1, 2011 for a 10 million euro transfer fee. He became one of the first stars to exit the reborn Dortmund — a yearly occurrence that would include Shinji Kagawa, Robert Lewandowski, İlkay Gündoğan, Mario Götze, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mats Hummels and, just days ago, Ousmane Dembele.
But while Dortmund went on to win the 2011/2012 German championship and narrowly lose to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, Şahin’s first season in Madrid was extremely disappointing. He missed the early part of the La Liga season with a twisted knee, and afterwards rarely even made the bench, featuring in only four league matches and another six times in Cup and European contests. The 2012/2013 season saw the midfielder loaned to Liverpool FC, where he got into 12 competitive matches, scoring three times, but was someone whose star had certainly dimmed when he rejoined Dortmund on loan in January, 2013. He featured in 18 matches, and his workload grew back to its previous norm the following season, as the prodigal former prodigy played in 48 BvB matches. If he wasn’t quite the maestro he’d been, he earned his way to a permanent signing with Dortmund in the summer of 2014 for 7 million euros, but when all looked well again, the injury bug bit the Turkish international hard.
Şahin featured in only seven league games in 2014/2015 season as the Kloppo/Dortmund magic disappeared, with the club having to rally in the Ruckrunde to earn a Europa League spot. New coach Thomas Tuchel had little use for the former maestro over the next two seasons as the midfielder, still suffering from knee and back troubles and replaced by Gündoğan, Gonzalo Castro, Sven Bender and then Julian Weigl from 1860 Munich in a crowded and talented BvB squad. In the three seasons prior to this new campaign, Şahin saw action in 21 Bundesliga matches, and hadn’t scored a goal since February, 2015 against Mainz.
But Dortmund’s new Coach Peter Bosz has recognized the quality of a healthy Şahin, and Saturday the re-born midfielder had a performance that was reminiscent of his best days. The Man of the Match not only had the important 15th minute assist on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opening goal and his own 57th minute rocket golazzo to make Hertha’s task too daunting, but also provided a 87% passing success rate on 68 attempts, three shots in total, three tackles, two interceptions and two clearances. Şahin has played all 180 minutes of BvB’s first two matches, and it appears that all the frustration of rehabbing and not even making the bench when healthy are gone. In a league full of teenage wonders, it’s good to see one who has since gone through so much adversity not all persevere, but rise again.
Holger Badstuber Gives Stuttgart Home Opener Win
While Şahin has faced a great deal of adversity, it pales to that which Holger Badstuber has endured. The former German international, good enough to earn 31 caps when healthy, has endured so much in the way of injuries Although he’s played in 118 league matches for Bayern Munich, his career began falling apart during the 2012/2013 season, when he initially suffered an anterior ligament injury in December, 2012 and reinjured the knee in May, 2013. The great season of Bayern’s treble under Jupp Heynckes also was the year that Badstuber’s career entered freefall.
The defender, who’d played in Stuttgart’s youth system in the early 2000s, came to the Bayern youth system in 2002 and made his senior squad debut to start the 2009/2010 season. Although his performance was criticized by Louis Van Gaal a few seasons later, his partnership with Jerome Boateng made Bayern’s defense impenetrable under Heynckes. But after his knee troubles, Badstuber missed the entire 2013/2014 campaign and played in only 18 matches under Pep Guardiola and then Carlo Ancelotti as thigh and quadriceps injuries hobbled the international and defenders such as Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels came in to establish themselves in Bayern’s central defense. A forgotten man, Badstuber did get a loan deal with Schalke last winter, and played in 12 matches for the Royal Blues, but was cut loose by Bayern after the loan deal ended.
Rumors stirred that VfB Stuttgart were interested in his services, and on a free transfer, the Bundesliga 2 champions signed the native of Memmingen. Badstuber came on as a sub in the Swabian’s road opener, a loss to Hertha Berlin, but started Saturday.
His first start will be one to remember, not only for Badstuber, but for Stuttgart fans on their return to the first division. After being shut out against Hertha and playing a scoreless first half against Mainz, the former Bayern man stood tall for his team by stooping low to head a low ball from Dennis Aago into the Mainz net for a 1-0 lead that the Swabians would not surrender. It was Badstuber’s first Bundesliga goal since 2009. More importantly, the oft-injured defender was able to play the entire 90 minutes while making four tackles, three interceptions and four clearances at the heart of Coach Hannes Wolf’s defense, and completed 82% of his 45 passes. There was excitement on the chat boards among fans when Badstuber signed with Stuttgart, as the young Swabian backline lacked much leadership and Bundesliga experience. On Saturday, Badstuber provided leadership — and much more.
As the league enters the international break following Sunday’s matches, it is quite apparent that German fussball is a league of jungs with jaw-dropping talent. But it is also a league in which forgotten former young stars can make a comeback after injury and adversity, and nothing says that more clearly than the wonderfully redemptive Saturday experienced by Nuri Şahin in Dortmund and Holger Badstuber in Stuttgart. Indeed, their performances made for an inspiring MatchDay 2 for all of us.