October 24, 2017

Looking Deeper at the Striker Drought for die Nationalmannschaft

As early as 2010, German national team coach Jogi Löw already stated that “attack and left-side of defense were the two positions where we have problems in Germany.”

The problem with the German attack is once again in the spotlight, thanks to recent injuries to both Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez, leaving Löw with limited options. Playing a “false 9” up top is a short-term solution now, but a traditional center forward is also needed to provide diversification as well well physicality, toughness, aerial ability and clinical finishing, which are all  attributes missing in the current die Nationalmannschaft.

But are there any realistic options for Loew to choose from? Let’s take a look.

Since the emergence of Mario Gomez in 2006/2007 season, another international-caliber German striker has not emerged during the last next 7 years. Between 2007 and 2014, names such as Richard Sukuta-Pasu, Peniel Mlapa, Marvin Poruie, Lennart Thy and Shawn Parker were mentioned as supposed “successors” to the aging Miroslav Klose, but so far none of these names are the answer and their chances are becoming increasingly slim.

A major reason why these “wonderkids” cannot emerge and are not given enough chances is because most teams in Bundesliga have changed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 formation, in which only one starting center forward is needed. So teams will prefer a proven and experienced striker as their only striker in their 4-2-3-1 lineups instead of a rookie striker.

The young striker prospects will always be “unproven, uncertain and inexperienced” when they are always behind the veteran strikers from all over the world as we can see in Bundesliga. As a result, there are two options for these young striker prospects: 1) either being benched until the young striker moves to a lower division club and gets more playing time (e.g. Ginczek, Lasogga, Philipp Hofmann); or 2) instead play as an attacking midfielder, since there is less competition for the three attacking midfielder positions (e.g. Aaron Hunt, Schuerrle, Thomas Müller, Volland, Timo Werner).

But this latter option doesn’t always fit the prospect. For example, it may be a mistake to play Timo Werner on the flanks as he is a pure poacher and a real predator in front of goal. Moreover, could you ever imagine playing our legendary strikers like Gerd “Der Bomber” Mueller, Ulf Kirsten, Stefan Kuntz, Karl-Heinz Riedle on the flanks just because they are “undersized”? This is the problem facing Timo Werner.

It’s hard to blame the clubs though. When they are starting just one center forward, they expect a “complete package” at this position: size (since it affects a player’s aerial ability and hold-up game), finishing ability, killer instinct, proven scoring record, experience, and a certain degree of mobility and creativity (as strikers are all required in build-up in modern games). So when a striker is undersized and inexperienced like Timo Werner, the club will automatically come up with the options of “benching him or playing him out wide.” Such a pattern is a main cause of this striker drought for die Nationalmannschaft.

It won’t surprise me if there is a time in the future when some of our NT strikers are chosen from Bundesliga 2 sides. Daniel Ginczek, who is likely following Nürnberg down to Bundesliga 2 next season) is a strong candidate in my opinion, especially after Klose’s international retirement. With top teams like Bayern Munich, Dortmund, and Schalke 04 using proven, experienced, and mainly foreign star strikers via big money transfers, it’s hard for the likes of Ginczek to break through in Germany’s top flight.

Let’s use Dortmund as an example. When Lewandowski leaves this summer, people wonder if the highly-rated young striker prospect, Marvin Ducksch, will have a chance to fill Lewandowski’s boots. However, a team with Dortmund’s ambition isn’t going to start a rookie up top no matter how talented he is. Instead they’ve already signed Adrian Ramos from Hertha Berlin and are planning to bring in another striker (possibly Immobile).

So Marvin Ducksch, despite being the best player in Bundesliga 3 this season and playing exceptionally well for Dortmund’s reserve side, won’t have the chance to earn regular playing time at top level unless he is loaned to another team. Furthermore, at Dortmund, Ducksch will not have the chance of starting in his natural position on a regular basis in the foreseeable future. Even when Ramos’ contract runs out in 4 years, it doesn’t guarantee Ducksch’s emergence, as Dortmund may again spend millions of dollars on another star striker given the importance of this lone striker position. So the cycle continues.

The same story can be told about the next crop of other “wonderkids” striker prospects from Germany. For example, Davie Selke and Johannes Eggestein from Werder Bremen, Luca Waldschmidt from Eintracht Frankfurt, Prince-Osei Owusu from Stuttgart, and Philipp Ochs from Hoffenheim may either be benched (since big money signings will always be ahead) or converted into wingers to guarantee playing time.

VfB Stuttgart’s Timo Werner (born in 1996) was once seen as the future hope at striker for German football; however, he is now listed as a “winger” simply because VfB’s coach always prefers veteran strikers like Ibisevic or Cacau ahead of the extremely talented poacher. Timo Werner scored 43 goals in 41 games last season for Stuttgart’s U19 side (at the age of 16) and for youth national teams in the 2012-2013 season. His scoring record at the youth level is amazingly impressive (23 goals in 27 games in all youth national team appearances). His stats suggest that he is a top poacher for his age and possibly the best in Germany in years. Nonetheless, his inexperience and slightly lack of size (standing just 180cm, thus he’s not much of an aerial threat) make coaches consider him as a winger at professional level. As a result, we have another striker talent wasted and misused as a winger.

In the future, as the Bundesliga is becoming more and more competitive, I doubt it will be easy for young German strikers to emerge. So the striker drought problem will stay with us. Thus, I won’t be surprised if one day Jogi Löw (or the next national team headcoach) will have to choose our strikers from Bundesliga 2 – perhaps the only place where talented young strikers will find regular playing time in Germany.

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Silas Swarbrick

Silas Swarbrick was born in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, U.K. but moved to Düsseldorf at the age of 3. Since 1990, he's been watching the Bundesliga closely. Because of the German talent drought in the 90s, he's devoted himself to following the development of German youngsters, even developing close connections with youth coaches for several Bundesliga clubs. Over the years, he's proudly witnessed the rise of stars from Bierhoff and Klose, to Timo Werner, Julian Brandt, and Goretzka more recently, to the coming-soon-talent of Johannes Eggestein.

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