September 26, 2017

Gimme Five: On-Field Reunions to Watch in First Half of Bundesliga Season

Now that we’ve all successfully ignored Euro 2012 knowing that paying attention to the tournament would only end in heartbreak for fans of the German side, we can again look safely toward the internet for our football news without ever learning that our beloved Mannschaft fell short of the goal, yet again at the hands of the Italians.

Okay, so that didn’t really work out the way I was hoping. And, frankly, I’m a bit hungover about the entire thing. Hence, I’m going to crack open a Bitburger tall boy at a completely inappropriate hour and scan the recently released schedule for the upcoming Bundesliga season for story lines that will again make me happy with anticipation of early-morning Bundesspectating (game time in Germany is REALLY early here on the US west coast).

The transfer market always offers plenty of moves that will pit players against their former teammates, as moves within the Bundesliga are very common. Heap atop that some imports from national teams in the recently completed but not to be mentioned competition in Poland and Ukraine as well as from outside German borders, and we get to see plenty of awkward on-pitch reunions.

The Croatian Kolo: FC Bayern Munich – VfL Wolfsburg (26 September)

The Kolo is a traditional folk dance of Croatia. There are a good many variations on the kolo, but they generally involve a circle.

This particular kolo in a pair of Croatian nationals trading places with one’s star burning bright and the other searching for a return to relevence.

Ivica Olic arrived in Munich as a high-flying goal machine from Hamburg SV and departs as a bit of an enigma. In three seasons down south, Olic went from productive to chronically injured to afterthought, watching from the bench as Mario Gomez became one of the Bundesliga’s top threats.

Mario Mandzukic’s star was already on the rise, accounting for 12 goals for Wolfsburg last season before striking for three goals in three matches for Croatia last month. Ironically, Olic was sidelined with (yet another) injury and did not appear for his national squad.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUouUJBja5c&w=560&h=315]

Bayern sporting director Christian Nerlinger saw something he liked and decided he wanted it. As is often the case in personnel issues, what Bayern wants, Bayern gets, especially when Wolfsburg boss Felix Magath had made no secret of his wish to be rid of Mandzukic’s tempestuous demeanor.

Will Mandzukic get the playing time Olic was craving in a crowded Bayern squad? Will Olic do enough so that Wolfsburg fans forget that they lost over 20% of their 2011-12 goal production with the departure of Mandzukic? One game won’t tell, but you can bet Olic will want to show his former employers what they’re missing.

Hey Fellas, How Does the Big Time Look on Me?: Borussia Dortmund – Borussia Mönchengladbach (30 September)

It’s not as if Marco Reus wasn’t already pretty “big time,” to be honest. Reus scored the deciding goal in Mönchengladbach’s relegation play-off at the end of the 2010-11 campaign after being a key contributor to a late-season surge that gave the Fohlen enough gas to reach the playoff spot after looking like a sure-fire direct relegation squad most of the season.

In the most recent campaign, Reus continued a rise to prominence, scoring 18 times helping Mönchengladbach secure a Champions League qualification spot.

Most recently, even though we’re not discussing Euro 2012, Reus did play against Greece and scored a fairly impressive goal in a rout for Germany.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ua888-JfFc&w=560&h=315]

In fact, Reus is so clearly “big time,” I woudn’t be surprised if anyone reading this is rolling their eyes, thinking, “yeah…we know.”

That won’t dissuade me from putting his first appearance for the defending champions against his former club among my top five reunions for the first half of the season.

The BVB paid enough money to Mönchengladbach that sporting director Max Eberl will be able to field a competitive squad, at least talent-wise. Whether they’ll be up to the quality found in Champions League and at Signal Iduna Park will be answered, in part, in this match.

Two Wild and Crazy Guys from Czechoslovakia: VfL Wolfsburg – SV Werder Bremen (24 November)

No…not these guys.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH9sAENQNV8&w=420&h=315]

And…forgive me for indulging a 70’s flashback, if you would.

Being of Czech descent, I have always had a soft spot for Czech nationals, the Gambrinus Liga, and, yes, even the old Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd goof I doubt my grandfather ever saw and of which he’d certainly not approved.

Hence, the arrivals of Vaclav Pilar to Woflsburg and of Theo Gebre Selassie to Bremen may have piqued my interest more than it would have yours.

There is more than personal bias here, I promise.

The pair connected on an early goal in the Czech Republic’s group-stage match with Greece which turned out to be the deciding goal in a game that propelled the Czechs from the humiliation of their opening 4-1 defeat at the hands of Russia to group winners.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDieK9PC_NM&w=560&h=315]

Pilar was already a known quantity before his two-goal performance in Euro 2012. His Czech club (Viktoria Plzen) followed their 2010-11 championship season with a run though UEFA Champions League qualifying into the group stages, earning praise along the way for an exciting brand of play. Much of that exciting play and success came in large part thanks to Pilar’s frenetic pacing on the wing and, well, six goals.

Gebre Selassie also managed to win a club championship as a member of the 2011-12 FC Slovan Liberec squad who will have a tough time repeating the success of Plzen without their top player, who will enter the Bremen team at a time of heavy turnover.

Assuming Magath uses Pilar on the left wing, he will have plenty of opportunity to exchange greetings with his fellow Czech who plays at right fullback. Definitely a reunion worth watching.

Remember to Offer Your Thanks From the Stands: Fortuna Düsseldorf – Hamburger SV (25 November)

When last we saw the supporters of Fortuna Düsseldorf, they were making sure the primary story of the evening–Fortuna’s victory over Hertha Berlin and subsequent promotion from Budesliga 2 would be lost on much of the rest of the world, who’d likely be focused on the fact those fans stormed the pitch before the game was actually concluded.

Don’t believe me? Google “Dusseldorf fans” and see what the top results are.

Shame that.

The chaos caused a 15 minute delay before the final minutes could be played and resulted in appeals by Hertha for a replay. While the request was denied, the events put a slight damper on what should have been a solely joyous occasion.

Bringing home a 2-1 road victory, Esprit Arena was packed to the rafters knowing their side needed only a draw to secure their spot in the top tier of German football. Hence, when Maximillian Beister sliced through the Berlin defense and blasted a ball by keeper Thomas Kraft in the opening minute of the return leg, he provided the hardly needed spark for a night-long celebration.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGqOBx3nojY&w=420&h=315]

Of course, those of us who follow the Bundesliga know that Fortuna fans, like the vast majority of German fans, are well-behaved and can be expected to provide a kind and respectful welcome for Beister who will make his first appearance in front of the Düsseldorf fans since being recalled to Hamburg after his loan to Fortuna expired.

Besides, you can hardly blame the fans for being excited at the prospect of promotion, having not seen their team participate in a Bundesliga match since May 31, 1997 Their opponent that day? Yep, the HSV.

Sweet Swiss Names and Slick Swiss Games: FC Bayern Munich – Borussia Mönchengladbach (16 December)

With all apologies to Bas Dost, FC Basel imports Xerdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are easily my favorite new names making debuts in Bundesliga squads this August. It’ll never not be fun to say “BAS DOST!” of course, but two “X”s, a “Q,” a name reminiscent of igneous rock, and another a marriage of Shaquille O’Neal and Shakira?!

Bring on the boys from Basel!

Turns out these two youngsters (neither of legal drinking age in the US) have the goods to live up to the names, though Shaqiri will have more expectations heaped upon him in Bayern than will Xhaka in Mönchengladbach.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0hOJtdYcgA&w=420&h=315]

Basel…Basel…why does that sound familiar?

Likely because it was FC Basel who defeated Manchester United in their final group-stage match of Champions League last December, securing second place in the group and sending the “red devils” to the Europa League, firsts for both clubs. Basel went on to win their first knockout match 1:0 in the Allianz arena, stirring a good deal of unrest among the Munich faithful until Bayern returned the favor with a 7-0 drubbing in the return match.

Bonus:  Current Hamburger SV chief Thorsten Fink was the FC Basel head coach when the two young Swiss nationals became regulars in their club side. Fink will get to see Xhaka again on 26 September when HSV travels to Mönchengladbach and Shaqiri on 4 November when hosting FC Bayern.

Whichever games you’re highlighting on your calendar, I’d guess you’re ready for Bundesliga action to get under way. I know I am.

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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