March 23, 2017

What the hell happened to Kevin Großkreutz?

Let’s go back to December 11th, 2013.

Borussia Dortmund was playing the final match of the Champions League group stage at the Stade Velodrome. After 80 minutes, Borussia and Olympique Marseille were tied at 1:1. In the other match of the group, Napoli was leading Arsenal by two. So with five minutes left, Dortmund found themselves in third place and the looked to be headed for the Europa League.  For Dortmund to improve their position, somebody needed to step up and break the deadlock, but who? Marco Reus? Robert Lewandowski? Henrikh Mkhitaryan?

At the heroic moment, it was none of those well-known scorers delivering the needed goal.  Rather, it was Kevin Großkreutz who forced the ball across the line with a very unconventional technique to send Dortmund into the Round of 16.

Though that moment took place just a little more than three years ago, much has happened to Großkreutz since then.

Back then, “KG19” was en route to becoming an iconic BVB legend. He was a two-time German champion and had won the DFB Pokal and a Champions League silver medal. In 2014, Grosskreutz would add a World Cup winner medal to his collection. Not a bad track record for an unheralded bargain player Dortmund bought from LR Ahlen for just 1.2 million Euros in 2009.

While Großkreutz was never elite at any particular position, he was above-average everywhere he was deployed. Ever since Hasan Salihamidzic left the Bundesliga, German football hadn’t seen a such a versatile player. No joke, Großkreutz also once went in goal for Dortmund.

Großkreutz was lacking natural talent and athleticism, but he made up for it with his high work rate and intensity. It almost felt like he was born to play in Jürgen Klopp’s Gegenpressing system. Joachim Löw took notice and called KG up to Die Mannschaft for the first time in 2010.  Joachim Löw eventually took notice and called KG up to Die Mannschaft in 2010.

BVB fans instantly fell in love with Großkreutz, who originated from North-Dortmund and had been a BVB season-ticket holder since age seven. Even though Dortmund had better footballers on its payroll, “Keeeeevin” would regularly receive the loudest ovations from “Yellow Wall.” Großkreutz acted like a BVB ultra trapped in a professional athlete’s body. He knew every word of every BVB chant, greeted BVB ultras by name, and would trash-talk archrival Schalke 04 whenever given the chance.

After Schalke had beaten Inter Milan 5:1 at the San Siro, a reporter asked Großkreutz whether he had seen “the big Schalke win last night.”

Großkreutz: “No, my TV is broken.”

Reporter: “But you are aware of the result?”

Großkreutz: “Yeah, I heard Inter was terrible.”

Because of statements like this, Großkreutz bonded with BVB fans in real life and online like nobody else. During his first Meisterschaft parade, KG drank so much beer that he had to be escorted off the stage by two bouncers to vomit.

Nobody really cared about that slightly unprofessional incident, but it might have been a warning sign nobody heeded. Three years later “Dönergate” happened.

Großkreutz was out late in Cologne one night and got into an argument with a group of 1. FC Cologne fans. In the end, the FC supporters called the cops and claimed that Großkreutz had intentionally tossed a Döner at one of them. Großkreutz claimed he threw it to the ground. His version was backed up by then-BVB teammate Julian Schieber, who was tagging along.

Jürgen Klopp slowly became concerned about his player, especially since several bystanders reported that Großkreutz was visibly drunk. However, the claims made by the Cologne fans were never proven, and no charges were filed.

We’ll never know what really happened that night, yet the incident seems to have been the beginning of an unprecedented downfall. In German football, players are held to extremely high standards when it comes to off-field conduct. Some players can play for 20 years without a single negative headline. Therefore, stuff called Skandal in Germany wouldn’t even make the news in the Premier League, NBA, or NFL, where players are regularly involved with police and sometimes charged with serious crimes. By contrast, “allegedly having thrown a Döner at somebody” is front page news in Germany.

“National team player tosses Döner”

Großkreutz should have felt warned. Yet, not even a month after “Dönergate,” he urinated in the middle of a Berlin hotel lobby. To make matters worse, Großkreutz got into a physical altercation with a hotel employee and bailed before the police arrived. Needless to say, KG was again allegedly inebriated. Earlier that night, Dortmund had lost the DFB Pokal final against Bayern Munich in controversial fashion. Anybody might have understood his frustration, but the way he expressed it left a very negative public opinion of him and had many questioning what he may cost himself, especially with the World Cup around the corner. After all, striker Max Kruse had been expelled from the national team for the relatively innocuous-by-comparison offense of having a girl in his London hotel room.

Media outlets expected Löw to cut KG from his 2014 World Cup roster. Surprisingly, he decided to keep Großkreutz around, and people rightly criticized the double standards. The national trainer explained that Kruse misbehaved while he was traveling with Die Mannschaft, while KG acted out away from national-team duty.

What?!

The honest reason probably was that Löw had plenty of players to choose from with Kruse’s skillset. By contrast, the “Swiss-army knife” skill-set of Großkreutz was unique, which made him a valuable bench asset to Löw.

Ultimately, “winning fixes everything,” so after Götze scored his iconic winner against Argentina, all controversies magically disappeared.

When you look at the two incidents in hindsight, Klopp should have banned KG for a couple of matches after “Dönergate,” and Löw should have cut him from the World Cup squad because of the hotel incident. Maybe tough measures would have woken the guy up. Arguably, both coaches have turned a blind eye to KG’s erratic and inappropriate behavior for too long. Großkreutz crossed the line too often even by “regular people standards.” What do you think would happen to traveling salesman if he peed in his hotel lobby while on a business trip, just because some deal went wrong? He’d be fired the next day, of course. By contrast, Großkreutz was not punished at all. When someone never has to deal with the consequences of bad decisions, why should he make better decisions in the future?

Eventually, Borussia Dortmund had seen enough.

Since Großkreutz joined the club, Borussia Dortmund evolved from a rebuilding project into a European heavyweight. Back in 2009, Dortmund was dead broke and had to make do with academy products and bargain-bin signings. Five seasons and multiple trophies later, Dortmund was able to bring in top-shelf talent. It became harder each year for Großkreutz to start or even get off the bench with guys like Mikhitarian or Matthias Ginter around.

Frustrated by his reduced role, KG elbowed BVB teammate Jonas Hoffmann in the face during practice. Even then, Klopp, who always had KG’s back, gave him yet another shot.

Once Thomas Tuchel took over at the Westfalenstadion, however, Großkreutz’s days were numbered. Unlike “Kloppo”, who prefers a long-leash approach, Tuchel is a so-called “Laptop Trainer.” Tuchel puts a huge emphasis on advanced metrics, performance data, healthy food, and extreme discipline on and off the pitch. Unsurprisingly, Tuchel wasn’t the biggest fan of Großkreutz who also was a bad fit for Tuchel’s possession-oriented playing style. In Gonzalo Castro, Tuchel had a better version of Großkreutz on the roster, therefore the club was in no hurry to hand Großkreutz a new deal before his old BVB contract was up.

But instead of proving Tuchel wrong in practice, Großkreutz chose to vent his frustration through social media. In an Instagram post, KG accused Tuchel and sporting director Michael Zorc of mistreating and ignoring him. As Borussia Dortmund officials had repeatedly stood-up for KG during all those scandals and were more patient with him than he probably deserved, it was a shocking accusation.

https://www.instagram.com/p/5xuzgpr8DW/

In the end, that post was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Maybe Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, or Manuel Neuer could get away with slandering club officials on Instagram, but not Kevin Großkreutz. He was sent down to the BVB U23 squad and was told to look for a new club. Großkreutz’ BVB exit in 2015 was sad and unworthy, as he had to clear out his locker without saying goodbye to anybody. Galatasaray Istanbul snatched up Großkreutz hours before the transfer deadline closed.

In Turkey, the downward spiral continued. Galatasaray officials weren’t able to upload transfer documents to FIFA servers before the deadline, so Großkreutz was not allowed to take the field in Turkey until January 2016. Even though this error wasn’t on him, Grosskreutz stumbled into another well-publicized mess. He never felt comfortable in Istanbul because of homesickness and fled during the winter break.

Another rushed transfer decision brought him to the sinking ship that was VfB Stuttgart. A couple of months after Großkreutz joined the VfB, the club was relegated.

Großkreutz hasn’t been called up to Die Mannschaft since March 2014 and plays in the 2. Bundesliga now. Sadly, he is not even dominating the second-tier opponents he faces. During the 2016 Hinrunde, Großkreutz put up a pedestrian 4.05 Kicker grade point average (that’s a D, if you’re American). Whoscored.com has him ranked as just the 13th best player on the current Stuttgart roster and 170th of all 261 ranked second-divison players. In a vacuum, being an average 2. Bundesliga starter would be an amazing achievement. Footballers all over the globe would die to take the field in that league just once. For a 28-year-old World Champion who once held his own against the likes of Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mesut Özil, playing in the Zweite Liga must feel like rock bottom.

Hopefully we will someday get an autobiography that will unveil the real reasons for his unprecedented fall from grace. Until then, I guess I can speak for all Bundesliga fans (even some Schalke supporters) when I say: We miss the Dortmunder Jung and his antics!

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1 Comment

  1. VfB Stuttgart fan here. Großkreutz is an interesting beast. Many VfB supporters love him because of the fight he put up during the relegation battle. At a time when many of our players had accepted relegation as inevitable, KG fought hard every match. Then, after the fall, he announced he would stay with Stuttgart and do everything he could to see us back to the top flight. He said the things we like to think we would say in the same position.

    This season he’s been a bit of a mixed bag. He seems distracted on the field. He’s working hard, but not doing much. He’s a high emotion guy, and that’s getting the better of him right now. VfB need him to be a steadying veteran hand, and he’s still a bit erratic and reactionary.

    I still have a great affection for KG, even though some of my compatriots are starting to sour on him. I just wish someone would sit him down and have a little heart to heart about how he can best help our club. We need Großkreutz at his best right now.

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