The Renaissance of Karim Bellarabi

‘What a difference a day makes’ as Dinah Washington sang back in 1959, but in the case of Karim Bellarabi, it is more a case of ‘what a difference 14 days make’ as the Bayer Leverkusen forward has enjoyed a real purple patch of form to see him return to the limelight with a bang.

It has been an up and down start to the season for the Werkself in the opening weeks of the seasons with lots of troughs finally giving way to a few peaks, which have eased the pressure somewhat on trainer Heiko Herrlich. One of the main protagonists in keeping the Bayer coach in a job as been Bellarabi- a player who has experienced just as many peaks and troughs this season.

Re-wind a few seasons and making headlines was something the now 28-year-old was doing with regularity. Remember his ‘fastest goal in Bundesliga history’ after just 9 seconds against Borussia Dortmund in August 2014? What about him being the scorer of the Bundesliga’s 50,00th goal in February 2017? Then there was the €40 million bid from Dortmund in the summer of 2016.

It did however seem that his best days were behind him after a disappointing 2017-18 Bundesliga campaign. The emergence of Leon Bailey relegated Bellarabi to a secondary role- following matchday 7, he only manged to start seven further games. It really was a season to forget, and the attacker would have been excused for having a less than optimistic outlook going into the current season.

Pre-season brought another dip with a cruciate ligament strain and his collapse from heat exhaustion during a friendly with Wuppertal. When the Bundesliga got underway, there was more woe coming his way.

Eight minutes after coming on in Bayer’s matchday 2 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, he received a red card from referee Tobias Welz with his frustration getting the better of him as his caught Rafinha horribly late on his achilles. Uli Hoeness took particular offence at the challenge, accusing Bellarabi of being ‘geisteskrank’ (mentally ill) and declaring he should be banned for three months for the “malicious wounding”.

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As it was the player received a four-match ban and a €10,000 fine, but the compulsory lay-off seems to have done him the world of good. “We had a lot of talks” his coach Heiko Herrlich revealed. “There are things that I also demanded of him last year that he’s putting into place now.

“I always asked him if he still had the hunger, and told him there were people around here that thought he didn’t have this hunger anymore. I had the feeling he felt attacked and that he wanted to show that he still had this hunger. You could definitely see that in the last games.”

Talk about an understatement.

Brought back into the squad following his ban, he made an instant impact with a fantastic 94th minute equaliser to rescue a point at home to Hannover. The following match saw him in the starting XI for Bayer’s Europa League trip to face FC Zürich and scoring both goals in a 3-2 defeat.

A much-needed win was then secured away at Werder Bremen and Bellarabi was once again the main man with two assists and goal. That was just the start and when they thrashed rivals Mönchengladbach 5-0 in the Pokal, the attacker grabbed another brace. Not content with six goals in four matches, he scored again against Hoffenheim this weekend, although it wasn’t enough to prevent a 4-1 loss. He was however forced off with a thigh injury shortly after his goal.

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Fourteen days, five games, seven goals and one assist is about as perfect a run of form that the Leverkusen player and his coach could have hoped for. The below-par form of last year’s star Leon Bailey has been compensated largely by the resurgence of Bellarabi.

Born again? That might be going too far, but Karim Bellarabi is certainly enjoying himself right now and proving he still able to deliver on the big stage.


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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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