March 22, 2017

Hoffenheim’s Strikers: The Unique Star Trio

Most of the stars in the Bundesliga these days are hotshots from a very young age with incredible natural talent. This talent gets noticed by the first team, and eventually these players grow into top players. There are many Bundesliga stars whose career paths are like this in Germany or other countries, but for the strikers on Hoffenheim, they had much different routes to stardom. The strikers i’m referring to are Sandro Wagner, Andrej Kramarić, and Mark Uth, who have all blossomed under Julian Nagelsmann. The routes they took to become stars were filled with promise, struggles and ultimately triumph.

Early Promise

Each of the three strikers showed promise early in their career, which is typical of most top players in the Bundesliga. They were able to show goalscoring ability early on with the either lower level clubs or teams in other leagues. This is the case for Uth, who definitely showed promise early in his career. Back in 2010 he earned his first cap for the German u-20 side, and in 2011-12 he was even in the first team squad for Köln. Even though he didn’t get a chance to play in the first team, Uth did get a chance to play for the reserve team. And the German did very well in the Regionalliga West, where he scored 9 goals in 15 games in his final season with the Billy Goats. Despite this solid form, he never got a chance to play for Köln and was let go in favor of other young strikers.

The story of Uth’s early days is reminiscent to that of Wagner, who also showed a lot of promise at the age of just 20. Wagner made multiple appearances for Bayern Munich in the 2007-08 season in which they won the Bundesliga. Shortly after making his Bayern cameo, he scored four goals for the German U-21 side in the 2009 Euros, and he had a brace in the tournament final. Wagner was clearly able to do it against some of the better young players in the world, but just like Uth, he never got another chance and he was sold to Duisburg, then in the 2.Bundesliga. Wagner’s inability to impress with the Bayern reserves ultimately overshadowed the promise he showed internationally, which led to his departure from Munich.

The story of Kramaric is slightly different from those of his two German teammates, as the Croatian started off his career with the top club in Croatian football, Dinamo Zagreb. Kramarić  was always one of his country’s top prospects, which was evident in the fact that he played for all of Croatia’s youth national teams. His exploits for those teams—he notched 10 goals in 19 games at the U16 and U17 levels—allowed Kramarić to break into the first team of Zagreb as a teenager. Back in 2009-10 he scored seven goals in 24 games despite his youth, but he really became a star in 2012-13 while on loan at NK Lokomotiva Zagreb when Kramarić scored 15 goals in 32 games. And after sealing a transfer away from Dinamo, the Croatian scored 37 goals in 42 games with his new club Rijeka despite being in his early twenties. Kramarić, Wagner and Uth all showed promise in their early days, but the promise they all displayed quickly turned into struggles and a lack of form.

Struggles At New Clubs

Besides the fact that all of the strikers for Nagelsmann’s side displayed potential early in their careers, they all had some struggles before getting to Hoffenheim as well. For Uth, his struggles were probably the least prolonged of any of the three, as after the German left Köln, he ended up at Dutch side SC Heerenveen.

Uth didn’t see the field a lot early on, and he only played three Eredivisie games for Heerenveen in 2012-13, while failing to score in any match. But then he was loaned out to Heracles Almelo, another Eredivisie side. With Heracles he started to find his form, and Uth ended up with 10 goals in all competitions. After finally showing promise in the Netherlands, he went back to SC and became their star man. Uth scored 15 goals in the league and 20 in total, which earned him his move to Hoffenheim. Even though Uth struggled initially for Heerenveen and at times for Heracles, he turned it around and began to show that he could succeed at higher levels of competition.

While Uth certainly did struggle, the poor form of Wagner during his career lasted much, much longer. Wagner’s fall from grace was well documented, as the former Bayern man struggled for goals at multiple clubs. After a solid tenure at Duisburg, Wagner went to Bremen, where he was never able to get amongst the goals. He only scored 5 times in 30 games, and Wagner didn’t score a single goal in his final season with Werder. But it only got worse for the German, as he followed up his Bremen tenure with a complete lack of scoring in 11 Bundesliga games as a member of Kaiserslautern. Wagner understandably only lasted one season with the Red Devils before landing at Hertha Berlin. Things didn’t go his way in the capital city either, as he only managed seven goals in 71 games in the 2.Bundesliga and the Bundesliga, which led to his move to Darmstadt. To the surprise of many, he was great with Darmstadt as Wagner managed 14 goals in the Bundesliga, which was more Bundesliga goals in one season than he had in 5 top flight seasons with Hertha, Bremen and Kaiserslautern. His turnaround took quite awhile, but it was a welcome sight for most fans of German football, and certainly was a huge factor in the Lillies’ surviving their first season in the Bundesliga in decades.

Kramarić didn’t struggle to the level that Wagner did for so many years, but the Croatian still faced some tough times. After the scintillating form he had in Croatia, it made sense for Kramaric to want to test himself in a better league. This led him to Leicester City, who paid a club record fee for his services. Even though Kramarić showed some flashes in England, he never materialized into the player the Foxes had hoped he would be, as during parts two seasons he only scored two goals in 15 games. Some of this bad form must be attributed to frequently coming off the bench due to the rise of Jamie Vardy, but nonetheless the Croatian striker never got acclimated to life in England. This resulted in a loan to Hoffenheim in January of 2016, and he found his form again during that loan, which saw the 25-year-old score five crucial goals to help keep Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.

Becoming Stars

All three strikers had recently found form going into this season, if it was with Hoffenheim or another club. And as most German football fans know this good form has continued, as all three strikers have helped make Hoffenheim the 3rd highest scoring team in the Bundesliga. While Nagelsmann’s style of football certainly has a lot to do with 1899’s ability to score, the men up front have been vital as well. With 10 goals, Wagner leads Hoffenheim and is the second highest scoring German in the Bundesliga. He also has 3 Man Of The Match awards and he’s winning 4 aerial duels per match, along with a match rating of 7.23. Wagner has been at the center of Hoffenheim offensive exploits with his goals and aerial abilities, but Uth and Kramaric have also played their part. With 6 goals and 2 assists in only 838 minutes, whenever Uth has stepped on the pitch he’s had an impact before recently suffering injury. Combine that with a match rating of 7.02 and Uth has been in very solid form this season.

Kramarić has been the best passer of the three, with his 6 assists and a passing percentage of 83%. The Croatian also has 6 goals to his name along with a 6.86 match rating, which shows how effective he’s been as an all-around attacker. All three of Hoffenheim’s strikers have been great this season, and this has helped lead them to the success that they’ve had. After showing early promise, and struggling with other clubs, Wagner, Uth and Kramarić have all become Bundesliga stars. But they route they’ve taken hasn’t been typical in the least.

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Alex Lynch

Alex a passionate fan of the Bundesliga and German Football who resides in the United States, who also loves writing and talking about the Bundesliga.

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