In the 2010 World Cup, Joachim Löw called up six strikers in his final squad to South Africa: Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, Cacau, Stefan Kießling, Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski. Thomas Müller was considered a striker back in those days as he played a supporting striker role in a 4-4-2 during his debut season at Bayern under Louis Van Gaal. He was later on converted into a wide forward as Bayern München and Germany both played a 4-2-3-1 and thus a supporting striker was no longer needed.
This year, Löw has called up just two strikers in his preliminary 27-men quad: Klose and Kevin Volland and there’s even a small chance that one of them will be omitted from the final 23-man squad. Risky? Perhaps. Jupp Heynckes and Olaf Thon have publicly questioned Löw’s decision of just bringing two strikers to his World Cup quad, with Heynckes stating that Löw should wait and see how Mario Gomez recovers while Thon thinks a lethal target man like Pierre-Michel Lasogga could be useful to a team like Germany.
Müller and Podolski are still in the squad but they haven’t been playing regularly in the striker role for several years. In Müller’s case, he hasn’t been used as striker since the 2009/2010 season, used mostly on the right flank or as an attacking midfielder. On the other hand, in a recent press conference held during the team’s South Tyrol training camp Löw already closed the door on the idea of playing Podolski up front, since he thinks Podolski “can perform better when he’s given more space and on the flanks”
So, that leaves just Klose and Volland. In this case, it’s easy to understand why Volland is the player under the most pressure among all the rookies. In front of him is a 36-year-old player on the verge of the end of his (international) career who has also had much trouble with niggling injuries in recent seasons. Mario Götze is also an option up top but he hasn’t been used there in months, and positioning and lethality in front of goal would be compromised if Götze was Löw’s final choice as centre-forward.
Prior to Volland’s national team debut against Poland, fans and media focus were all over him, even if it was a debut match for a few other youngsters as well, such as Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka, Christoph Kramer, Shkodran Mustafi and Oliver Sorg. The reason behind this pressure was simply because he was the only striker option for that friendly match and he was the one with the best chance of making the final squad among all the rookies. On the other hand, his doubters wonder whether he has the quality to play for the National Team in the World Cup as second-option striker and they also ponder if Volland is even able to play in the centre-forward role. In the 71 minutes of action time he saw against Poland, Volland failed to surprise any doubters as many of them may have had expected. It was a disappointing performance and he was anonymous for most of the match.
So, do his doubters have a point? Is it true that Volland cannot play in this position?
Before his move to Hoffenheim in the 2012/2013 season, Volland had never been used in any other position other than striker during his professional career with 1860 München. He was used as a striker from B-Jugend (U17) to A-Jugend (U19) teams, in 1860’s reserve team and finally with their first team, although they did play a 4-4-2 system with Volland and Benjamin Lauth rotating and interchanging in the attacking positions. Volland had his breakout season in 2011/2012 with 13 goals and 11 assists at the age of just 19, quite an achievement at such a young age which sparked interest from several Bundesliga clubs. Out of all of them, Volland chose Hoffenheim.
When Volland arrived at Hoffenheim in the 2012/2013 season, the team had strikers such as Eren Derdiyok, Joselu from Real Madrid and a serviceable Sven Schipplock, with the winter addition of Igor de Camargo from Borussia Mönchengladbach. As a result, Volland was used mainly as a winger on either flank, as the team was using a 4-2-3-1 formation with just one centre-forward.
Despite the competition, Volland still played six times as a lone striker, even in crucial games against Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and Dortmund in the season finale. More surprisingly, Volland ended up being the second top scorer of the team (six goals) behind Sejad Salihović (7 goals), scored more than any other player in the team, including the more experienced Derdiyok and De Camargo. What impressed people the most about Volland, though, were his 12 assists in what was his debut season.
The following season was his breakout seaso. Derdiyok’s 5.5m€ transfer turned out to be a disappointment and he was later loaned to Leverkusen; De Camargo was sold to Standard Liège; and Joselu was loaned to Eintracht Frankfurt. Hoffenheim brought in Anthony Modeste from Bastia in France, who went on to have a fairly impressive debut Bundesliga season. However, when Modeste had injuries and suspension issues towards the end of the season, (with Schipplock also injured), it was Volland who was employed as striker, not doing a bad job and ending the season with an impressive 11 goals and 9 assists.
On 8th May, Hoffenheim‘s head coach Markus Gisdol, after learning that Volland was nominated in Germany’s preliminary 30-men squad by Löw, stated that “Kevin can play up top, on the right or on the left. He is very versatile and there aren’t many players in the league that have such quality.” Gisdol knows Volland’s ability and capabilities well but Löw also knows a lot about him. As early as six months ago, Volland was already under Löw’s observing eye. Löw and assistant manager Hans-Dieter Flick have sent scouts to analyze Volland’s strengths and weaknesses week after week and even gathered comments from Volland’s ex-coaches and youth coaches from 1860 München and Hoffenheim. If Löw didn’t believe Volland is capable to play as a striker, he wouldn’t have taken the risk of not even bringing in Mario Gomez, Lasogga or Max Kruse in his preliminary squad. After all, there is only one other striker in the entire squad and that’s 36-year-old Miro Klose at that.
Right after Volland was nominated, in a pre-game press conference before the friendly against Poland, when the media asked if he was capable of playing up front, he answered “What is the difference between a centre-forward and a false 9? If the manager wants me to drop back into midfield from the striker position in order to receive the ball, I can do it; but if he wants me to stay up top and just move around the box I can do that comfortably as well. I am a very versatile player and I can play every attacking position, including striker. I have been training to play there for my entire career.”
From a physical standpoint, though Volland is just 5’11” (not small but on the short side for a striker), he is very strong and has a chiselled frame that may help him playing inside the box. Son of the former German ice-hockey national team member Andreas Volland, Kevin has an ice-hockey background and this may be where his physicality developed. At his height, his listed weight is at 82 kg. which is considerable for a player of his height and so that physique will help his hold-up game, his ability to protect the ball and playing with his back to the goal, all underrated skills of his. Despite his strong and stocky frame, Volland is still agile and fast. He has been under a special weight-training program since he joined Hoffenheim, as they want him to gain muscle without affecting his explosiveness, agility and pace. Although he is mainly used as a right winger, the key is whether he has the qualities to play as a center forward or not but players like Robin Van Persie and Robert Lewandowski also started their career as wingers and attacking midfielders respectively.
In the most recent interview, Volland said, “Miroslav Klose is a great mentor, and has been giving me advice about how to play better as a striker. We have some private chats and he shared some tips about positioning, movement and hold-up play. It’s great to learn from him, he has been at a world-class level for years, he is a role model for me and I enjoy training with him everyday. I am both a classic 9 and a true 9 if you want me to define myself. I have been used in every attacking position at Hoffenheim but my favorite position on the pitch is both as a striker and at right wing.” Klose’s help may even upgrade Volland’s skills up front, which may be crucial since Volland may be one injury away from having a fairly significant role.