With the World Cup in Russia underway, I’m reminded of the poor state of East German football and the struggles players from the East have had to get into the national team. When the Berlin fell in 1989, the landscape of German football changed with the reunification which saw the DDR-Oberliga and Bundesliga combined. Through this only Dynamo Dresden and Hansa Rostock made Germans top flight and in essence, football in the East was close to doomed. As Die Mannschaft look to go back to back at the world cup, Toni Kroos is the only player who comes from the East. So with that in mind, what if the wall hadn’t fallen? What if East Germany were heading to Russia and what would the squad look like?
Let’s find out what the squad of 23 would look like if East Germany made the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
#1 Ralf Fährmann (FC Schalke 04)
A junior with VfB Chemnitz and Chemnitz FC, Ralf Fährmann would make the journey to Gelsenkirchen in 2003. Fährmann would compete with Manuel Neuer for a place as Schalke’s number one, but it would be the keeper from the East having to make way as he joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 2009. The two seasons in Frankfurt was a coming of age for Fährmann who became much improved with Die Adler, once Neuer left the Veltins Arena for Bayern Munich it was only fitting that Ralle would return to Schalke.
This season, Schalke’s number one is coming off his best campaign yet and is undoubtedly East Germany’s best shot stopper. The Chemnitz native had 13 clean sheets in the 2017/18 Bundesliga which was the best in the league ahead of Bayern Munich’s Sven Ulreich, Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Bürki and Stuttgart’s Ron-Robert Zieler. Fährmann has become the quintessential German goalkeeper with shot stopping ability, solid distribution and excellent leadership. All told, Fährmann made a total of 97 saves in the Bundesliga last season.
#12 Martin Männel (Erzgebirge Aue)
Martin Männel has been a long serving servant of East German football, as a junior he played in the town of Velten with FSV Velten and SC Oberhavel Velten. In 2004, Männel moved to Cottbus to join Energie where he would spend four seasons developing his craft. An impressing campaign in the seconds for Energie Cottbus would seal a move to Erzgebirge Aue in 2008. Männel has remained loyal to Aue for the past 10 seasons in which he has endured relegation and two promotions.
This may come as a major surprise selection as the next “best” option would seem to be Mainz’s René Adler. However, I don’t see that as the case as Adler’s lack of consistency and inability to remain on the pitch see’s him out of consideration for a goalkeeping position. Aue’s Martin Männel has been a rock to what has been a very leaky defence. The human fly may have conceded 49 goals this season, but made a solid 99 saves which was ranked 7th best in 2. Bundesliga last season. For me, he will make for a solid goalkeeping competitor but is light years away from being the starter.
#22 Kevin Müller (1.FC Heidenheim)
Hailing from Rostock, Kevin Müller sailed the high seas with Hansa Rostock where he developed his craft and in just three seasons the shot stopper became the number one. After nine appearances in the 3. Liga, Hansa gained promotion to 2. Bundesliga where Müller would be first choice. In 2013, Müller joined Stuttgart but it didn’t last long with the Rostock native being loaned back east to Energie Cottbus. One solid season back East and Frank Schmidt and Heidenheim signed Müller for an undisclosed fee. Müller would play a season behind now Eintracht Frankfurt back up Jan Zimmerman before he would leave for 1860 Munich. As the number one at Heidenheim, Müller has excelled as a strong shot stopper and presence in the box.
Müller had a very good season for Heidenheim and deservedly gets the nod to be apart of the East Germany set-up. A goalkeeping saying is “you are only as good as what is in front of you” couldn’t be truer for the Rostock native who conceded 51 goals in the last campaign for Heidenheim, that’s amongst the most conceded by a goalkeeper in 2. Bundesliga. But Müller’s resilience was on display for most of the season as he made 110 saves which was fifth best amongst all goalkeepers. Müller will be fighting with Martin Männel to be the number two behind Ralf Fährmann.
#2 Tony Jantschke (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Right back is a position in which East Germany is extremely lean at, yet Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Tony Jantschke will be the best option. The 28-year-old was a main stayer for die Fohlen prior to the 2015/16 season under former boss Lucian Favre, but since the signing of Nico Elvedi, playing time for Jantschke has dried up. Jantschke has also been dealt with multiple spells on the sidelines but he will still find his place at right back for East Germany.
Note: Unlike the Adler situation, Jantschke would find his way into the squad as he is the only right back in the top two tiers of European football who was born in East Germany
#3 Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund)
One of the most experienced campaigners in the squad, Marcel Schmelzer will play a pivotal in the East Germany side whether it’s on or off the field. Since leaving Magdeburg at the age of 17, Schmelzer has been Borussia Dortmund’s go to left back with 346 appearances in black and yellow in all competitions since 2008. Similar to right back Tony Jantschke, injuries have begun to take its toll on the 30-year-old Schmelzer who missed 14 Bundesliga games this season due to injury.
#4 Toni Leistner (Union Berlin)
The Dresden native is a strong hard-nosed defender and will be one putting his hand up to start for East Germany. Toni Leistner made 28 appearances in 2. Bundesliga for Die Eisern winning 45 tackles from 50 attempts which is amongst the most effective in the league. Leistner will be on the move as he leaves Union Berlin after four seasons of service on July 1 with his future on where he will play next undecided.
#5 Jordan Torunarigha (Hertha Berlin)
At 20-years-old, Jordan Torunarigha is one of the youngest players in this East Germany squad. Hailing out of Chemnitz, Torunarigha burst onto the scene for Hertha Berlin towards the end of the 2016/17 season in which he featured in seven of the last nine encounter, five in which he was a starter. For the most part Torunarigha was impressive and many hoped he would carry on his momentum into the previous campaign. However, that wasn’t the case in the 20-year-old played second fiddle to Niklas Stark and summer signing Karim Rekik from Marseille.
#6 Robert Huth (Unattached)
An Union Berlin junior, Robert Huth’s biggest accomplishment in club football at least was winning the English Premier League as apart of a Cinderella story in Leicester City. In that season, Huth made 35 appearances alongside Leicester City captain Wes Morgan as the foxes trotted home for their first Premier League title in the club’s history. However, since the title glory Huth has struggled making just 33 appearances in the past two Premier League seasons. Injury derailed his 2017/18 campaign and now Huth is on the look out for a new club.
#15 Chris Löwe (Huddersfield Town)
An underrated left back, Chris Löwe developed his trade with Chemnitz FC for nine seasons in which he rose through the ranks before becoming a regular towards the end of the 2008/09 season. Two solid seasons in the first team for Chemnitz and Löwe found his way to Borussia Dortmund where he would compete for the left back job with none other than Marcel Schmelzer. Löwe would feature just 11 times for Borussia Dortmund which included starting away in the Champions League in a 3-2 defeat at Marseille. A frustrating lack of playing time saw Löwe leave for Kaiserslautern in which he became an instant first team player.
Three promising seasons with Kaiserslautern saw Löwe draw interest from abroad where he would sign with David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town. Löwe was an instant hit with the terriers where he would start 41 matches as well as the three play-offs fixtures as Huddersfield were promoted. In his first season in England’s top flight, Löwe was solid completing 70% of long ball passes and producing five assists. Like he did many years ago, Löwe will challenge with Schmelzer for the position to start.
#17 Ohis Felix Uduokhai (VfL Wolfsburg)
Ohis Felix Udhuokhai was a relatively unknown quantity when he joined from 1860 Munich last summer, but the Aue junior showcased himself to be an exciting prospect for Wolfsburg in his first season in Germany’s topflight. Native of Anneburg-Buchholz, Uduokhai made a strong account for himself making 21 Bundesliga appearances 60.5% of all aerial duels and 51.9% on the ground. Uduokhai showcased that he is strong on the ball by completing 88.7% of passes attempted in open play. The 20-year-old is a bright prospect for Wolfsburg and is one to watch for years to come.
#18 Julian Börner (DSC Arminia Bielefeld)
Julian Börner is a plucky defender who is always willing to put in a shift, from humble beginnings with RW Erfurt in where he rose through the junior ranks before eventually securing a move with Energie Cottbus in 2009. However; with Cottbus, Börner got a rude awakening as he struggled to make headways in the first team where he made only five appearances in two seasons. It took Börner until the 2012/13 season for the Weimar native to gain more playing time but he never felt apart of the side.
Börner joined Arminia Bielefeld two seasons later and immediately made an impact with Die Arminian where he became a first team regular. He would play a major role in their promotion and eventually Börner would become club captain. This season was no different where Börner was reading the play like a book where he was amongst the best in the 2. Bundesliga in interceptions. Börner can also be a threat from set-pieces where he scored all four of his goals from this season.
#7 Leonardo Bittencourt (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
Leonardo Bittencourt is very much a feast or famine type player and for fans who have him in fantasy or he plays for your side, this can be extremely frustrating. There is no doubting that Bittencourt is extremely talented but his lack of consistency is ever-present in his game. A prime example of Bittencourt feasting for Köln came between the stretches of matchday’s 29 to 32 in which the Leipzig native was involved in a goal in each of those games, including a brace against Freiburg. Yet, Bittencourt will also go stretches with little involvement. This was present from the start of the season in which he failed to be involved to score or assist on a goal. His talent is enough to be in the squad of 23, but his consistency will need to improve as he joins Hoffenheim next season.
#8 Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)
You will be hard pressed to find a player with such a successful career than Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos.
- 3x Bundesliga titles
- 3x DFB Pokals
- 2x German Supercups
- 1x La Liga title
- 1x World Cup
- 4x FIFA Club World Cups
- 4x Champions League titles
- 4x UEFA Supercups
You’d almost forget that Kroos only turned 28 in January yet his accomplishments at all levels is top notch. This year has been no different with Kroos notching up his fourth Champions League title with Real Madrid. Kroos is an outstanding player and whomever decided to let this gem leave Bayern Munich must be regretting it.
#10 Maximilian Arnold (VfL Wolfsburg)
Maximilian Arnold made a bold move at the age of 15 to leave Dynamo Dresden for Wolfsburg, but there is no doubting that the move has worked out in spades. At 17, Arnold made his way into the Wolfsburg first team and made his debut off the bench in a 2-0 defeat against Augsburg in 2011. Since then, Arnold has made 193 appearances in all competitions which has included fixtures amongst European heavyweights such as Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Arnold has developed into a strong midfield presence for Wolfsburg, but his greatest asset in recent seasons has been the Dresden natives dead ball skills. This season Arnold chimed in for two goals which both came from free kicks (granted one of which was spilled in by Sven Ulreich). His best achievement at the international stage was captaining the under 21 German side to the European Championship against a strong Spain side.
#11 Steven Skrzybski (FC Schalke 04)
Hailing from the capital, Steven Skrzybski has become a tactically flexible player for Union Berlin and as of next season we will see him apply his trade for is boyhood club Schalke. Skrzybski has been with Die Eisern since 2000 where he spent 10 seasons inside the youth set-up before gaining a professional contract in 2011. The 25-year-old made his debut as 17-year-old in a 2-1 defeat to FSV Frankfurt yet finding regular action in the first team wasn’t clear until the 2014/15 season where Skrzybski made 23 appearances for two goals and two assists.
Recently, Skrzybski has become an important player for Union whether its playing out wide on the right, as the primary striker or playing in behind as a number 10. Being able to play in a variety of positions has helped Skrzybski develop and his last season was his best statistically. 14 goals for the previous campaign which was second best alongside Nürnberg captain Hanno Behrens and VfL Bochum’s Lukas Hinterseer.
#13 Tobias Werner (1.FC Nürnberg)
Tobias Werner hasn’t been able to replicate his magical form that saw him a regular must watch with Augsburg as injuries and a lack of form has hindered the Gera native. A junior with Carl Zeiss Jena, it didn’t take Werner long to make an immediate impact in the first team. In his debut of Jena in 2. Bundesliga, Werner produced his first assist to Sebastian Helbig in a 2-2 draw with Kickers Offenbach. Werner would make the move to Augsburg at the start of the 2008/09 season, coming off an eight goal and six assist season and he continued to improve under manager Jos Luhukay.
The 32-year-old made 208 appearances with Augsburg before moving back to 2. Bundesliga with Stuttgart. However, Werner didn’t get to showcase his talents in Stuttgart as muscular problems halted his return. With Stuttgart gaining promotion, Werner need game time and Hannes Wolf couldn’t guarantee this. Alas, a move to Nürnberg on loan was put in place and he made a strong impact off the bat with two assists in a 6-1 rout of MSV Duisburg. Werner’s best football might be behind him, yet he can still make a meaningful contribution on the right team.
#14 Kevin Möhwald (Werder Bremen)
Kevin Möhwald comes from humble beginnings with his home town club RW Erfurt and made his debut in the first team debut at the age of 18 in a 1-0 defeat against fellow East German club Carl Zeiss Jena. 106 appearances later and Nürnberg were calling for the Erfurt natives services after a strong 2014/15 campaign in which Möhwald scored eight goals and three assists. Playing in the heart of midfield, Möhwald has really hit the German footballing scene over the past two seasons. Möhwald’s impact has been well felt as he played his part in helping Nürnberg return to the Bundesliga for the first time in four seasons.
It’s evident at least statistically that Möhwald’s game has adapted from an assist king to a major goal scoring threat. In his first two seasons with Der Club, Möhwald had five goals and 22 assists. Yet this season he was more clinical in front of goal with seven which is third most amongst Nürnberg players behind Hanno Behrens (14) and Mikael Ishak (12). As of next season, Möhwald will apply his trade in the north of Germany with Werder Bremen.
#16 Arne Maier (Hertha Berlin)
Arne Maier’s first season in the Bundesliga was a baptism of fire with the 19-year-old thrown into the mix after injuries Vladimir Darida and Per Ciljan Skjelbred. Yet despite his inexperience, Maier adjusted to life well in the Bundesliga with Hertha manager Pál Dárdai showing plenty of faith in the young Ludwigsfelde native. In his first season in the top flight, Maier completed 85.9% of passes from open play and won 47.2% duels contested and its evident to me that he is someone who could take the Bundesliga by storm with the tutorage of an experienced Hertha midfield.
#21 Thomas Eisfeld (VfL Bochum)
Thomas Eisfeld’s footballing journey has taken him to various parts of Germany and England but there is a sense that the Finsterwalde native is yet to fully reach his potential. After leaving Borussia Dortmund’s youth system to join up in Arsenal, however; his footballing future at the Emirates lasted only three and a half seasons before he was sold to Fulham. Eisfeld’s stay at Craven Cottage was only six months where he made just seven appearances in the Championship before returning to the Ruhr Valley with VfL Bochum.
The move to Bochum became permanent in 2015 and with that came a regularity of first-team football yet injuries have hampered Eisfeld from completing a full season without miss. Eisfeld is known for having strong vision when playing the ball whilst having good set-piece abilities like Maximilian Arnold. We expect to see more of Eisfeld next season with Kevin Stöger departing for Fortuna Düsseldorf but one hopes he can spend more time on the pitch than under restrain from the medical staff.
#23 Felix Kroos (Union Berlin)
It’s never easy to be the brother to a World Cup and Champions League winner as you are always being compared. That can’t be easy for any sibling or son of a legend and that is no different for Felix Kroos who once his career winds up, he will inevitably be compared to brother Toni. Yet, Felix has carved out a solid career to date although it hasn’t come out without its challenges.
Starting his career with Hansa Rostock like brother Toni, Felix bought his time before making his debut in 2009 in a 0-1 defeat to MSV Duisburg. But Felix couldn’t make himself a regular so he made the change to Werder Bremen at the start of the 2010/11 season. Kroos spent five seasons with Bremen and similar to his time with Rostock, becoming a first-team regular was a real challenge and eventually his time in Bremen was up with Union Berlin coming to the rescue. Since the move to Union, Kroos has been one of the first names of the team for the past two and a half seasons making 73 appearances in all competitions. As of last season Kroos became the club captain of Die Eisern.
#9 Nils Petersen (SC Freiburg)
Nils Petersen’s footballing journey spans all over Germany starting with Germania Halberstadt and Carl Zeiss Jena before making the jump to Energie Cottbus in 2008. Although he didn’t make early inroads until the 2010/11 season where Petersen won the 2. Bundesliga Torjägerkanone with 25 goals whilst also providing six assists. That aroused excitement from many of the Bundesliga heavyweights and the following season Petersen made the move to Bayern Munich. Yet the move to Bayern to humbling more than anything as he struggled for playing time and the following season the Wernigerode native moved to Werder Bremen.
The move to Bremen worked a treat for Petersen who featured in all 34 Bundesliga features where he chipped in for 11 goals and six assists. Yet, Petersen wasn’t the number one option with Franco Di Santo favoured by Robin Dutt. Midway through the 2014/15 season after making just seven appearances for Bremen, Petersen was loaned out to Freiburg and immediately made an impact scoring a hat-trick on his debut. That’s where Petersen would stay even when Freiburg dropped down to the 2. Bundesliga, making a total of 117 appearances with 64 goals to his name. Petersen has only recently made the German national team set-up and in 2016, he would be the top scorer for Germany in the Summer Olympics.
#19 Christian Beck (1.FC Magdeburg)
Christian Beck isn’t exactly a household name, yet his goal scoring record with Magdeburg is spectacular. After stints with RW Erfurt, Hallescher FC, Torgelower FC Greif and Germania Halberstadt, Beck found himself a home with Magdeburg when he joined them in 2012. Since joining, Beck has made 204 appearances in all competitions in Magdeburg for 107 goals. That’s at least a goal every two games. Yes, it’s in the third and fourth tiers of German football yet it’s still a very impressive feat. This season, Beck found the back of the net 13 times as he helped Magdeburg reach 2. Bundesliga for the first time.
#20 Stefan Kutschke (FC Ingolstadt 04)
Stefan Kutschke doesn’t have a glistening goal scoring record, he has down the rounds playing for seven clubs throughout his professional career. Babelsburg, RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg, Paderborn, Nürnberg, Dynamo Dresden and now applying his trade Ingolstadt. Yet in the 2016/17 season, Stefan Kutschke finally exploded onto the with his hometown club Dynamo Dresden where he scored 18 goals from 34 appearances in all competitions giving the newly promoted side a very respectable fifth place in the standings.
One would’ve hoped he’d carry on that form when he joined Ingolstadt last season however, that wasn’t the case. Only the seven strikes for Die Schanzer in 31 appearances. Kutschke is very much a feast or famine type of player, he can go long stretches without a goal and then turn it on and never look like missing.
There are a variety of ways the squad of 23 can line-up but in my opinion this is the best side to put on paper. A 4-3-3 formation going forward with Leonardo Bittencourt and Steven Skrzybski providing the width whilst Nils Petersen leads the line. Without possession, the attacking wide players will drop alongside Möhwald to make it a 4-5-1. Toni Kroos and Maximilian Arnold are the pivots in midfield whilst Möhwald plays a free roaming role. The defensive four was a tricky but I’ve gone with Chris Löwe ahead of Marcel Schmelzer at left back and Tony Jantschke lines up on the right. Centrally, Ohis Felix Uduokhai was very solid last season and is the best defender for East Germany. His partner is the efficient tackling and iron hammer Toni Leistner from Union Berlin. Ralf Fährmann is the obvious choice to start between the sticks ahead of Kevin Müller and Martin Männel.
This squad is certainly strong and could’ve made headways in Russia. I’m convinced that this side has plenty of potential and at the very least, would’ve made its way out of the group stage and if the draw was favourable perhaps a quarter-finals birth.
Like East Germany nowadays, we will never know.
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