|Injuries are part of the game, and it's statistically inevitable that a certain number of players will find their seasons ended prematurely. Still, as a Bundesliga fan, you couldn’t help cursing the football gods, when the news broke that Hoffenheim's Vedad Ibisevic had hurt his knee in a winter-break friendly and would have to sit out the remainder of 2008-9.
Ibisevic – accent on the second syllable – was the league's hands down MVP (most valuable player) in the first half of the season and had led the first-division debutantes as they usurped Bayern Munich's place at the top of the table.
So good was the Bosnian striker (18 goals, 7 assists), many were beginning to believe he could break Gerd Mueller first division record of 40 goals in a single season.
Now, the proverbial ice bag on Ibisevic's knee has put that scenario into cold storage – together, most likely, with any hopes Hoffenheim had of claiming the title. In a recent poll carried out by Germany's leading football magazine Kicker, two out every three readers thought that Hoffenheim's chances of besting Bayern were over.
I agree. Last season Arsenal were leading the English Premiership until a horrific injury to striker Eduardo. They subsequently fell out of the hunt, and Ibisevic was far more valuable to Hoffenheim than Eduardo was to the Gunners.
So Hoffenheim and Bundesliga fans hoping for an exciting title race will probably lose out, while the only winners are Bayern.
Detractors claim that Munich enjoy more than their fair share of Lady Luck, while supporters claim they make their own good fortune.
But with their main title rivals having suffered such a serious blow, in a meaningless training match at that, the men in Munich's Saebener Street have to believe that some higher power is smiling down upon them.
|Apart from the love of the game, most footballers do what they do to be successful and win things. Okay, some also do it so they can marry supermodels, drive Bentleys and set fire to a million euros if the urge takes them. But aside from monetary gain, players want medals. They want to look back over their short careers and see their names in the history books as winners of this cup or that league.
To achieve this, you have to get yourself into a good team. If you're a good - or even great - player, this isn't usually a problem because clubs normally have the same objectives as ambitious players and that is to be the best. To be the best, it helps to have the best.
Lukas Podolski is a good player. Maybe one day he will even be a great player. He was such a good player back in 2006 that the likes of Real Madrid were interested in taking him away from FC Köln. The Spanish giants wanted to make him rich and successful, and to enter his name into the annals of one of the world's greatest clubs. Germany's premier team Bayern Munich offered him the same thing. In the end, Poldi chose the Bavarians over Los Blancos.
Maybe Poldi wasn't ready to leave Germany. Maybe he thought his chances of getting into the first team were higher at Bayern. Maybe he saw Bayern as the next logical step in a well thought-out career plan which would see him at the Bernabeu or Camp Nou or even the San Siro in a few years down the line.
Or maybe he could see glittering prizes ahead of him at the Allianz Arena. If so, his crystal ball didn't let him down. In his first season at Bayern, he collected a championship winners medal and a DFB Cup winners medal. A career full of those coveted gongs looked set to follow.
While this may have given Poldi a taste of the glory to come, that first desire I mentioned - that of footballers wanting to play the game they love - wasn't being satisfied nearly enough. Podolski was more likely to get splinters in his backside from sitting on the bench than getting time on the pitch. And so, he made it clear that he would look elsewhere for a game if Bayern weren't going to play him. Reluctantly, but eventually, the bosses at Bayern agreed that Poldi could go.
Now, our story could have taken our hero to Spain, Italy or England at this point with interested parties from Europe's top leagues all ready to give Poldi playing time and the prospect of more glory. Instead, we go back to the start.
Podolski looks set to rejoin FC Köln in the summer. He could still end up at a big continental club if someone offers the Bayern chiefs more money but his heart, if not his boots as yet, lies in Cologne.
Now, with all due respect to FC Köln, this seems - on the surface at least - to be a rather confounding choice. Just as in the summer of 2006, top clubs with great traditions and trophy-winning prospects are looking to employ the Germany striker. And again, Poldi chooses to stay in Germany - but as he already plays for the biggest club in the land, he can only really go down the ladder, reducing his prospects of medals and glory by joining a currently mid-table club which has a long-standing on-off affair with the second division.
Why, if a footballer's motivation is glory and success, would Podolski do this?
Footballers are just people (albeit people who can ping a ball fifty yards to the feet of a sprinting colleague or curl shots into the top corner from mathematical angles). People need to feel loved. There is only really one place in the football world where Lukas Podolski really feels the love and that's in Cologne. So what if it means that one of Germany's potentially great talents never gets to add to his medal collection? So what if he can only afford one Ferrari on his Cologne wages? Maybe for Podolski it much more important for him to look back over his career and see that he was happy and that he played for a club and supporters who really appreciated his worth.
If these are the reasons for Podolski's potential return to Cologne then he deserves the title his faithful give him: The Prince.
|Uli Hoeness claims that David Beckham has turned AC Milan into a Hollywood film set after the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder played his first game for the Italian giants since his loan move from LA Galaxy began at the turn of the year.
Hoeness and Bayern Munich shared training facilities with Milan in Dubai as the Italians prepared for their Dubai Football Challenge match against SV Hamburg and said that the furor surrounding Beckham before, during and after Milan's 4-3 win on penalties was like a "Hollywood production".
Hoeness said the game had made him think that "the difference between Bayern and Milan is that one team plays football and the other makes a film as in Hollywood," adding that the game before a 30,000 crowd at The Sevens stadium, was "not a football match but a production."
The gruff Bayern general manager said he would not be involved in anything similar. "I am employed as a football manager and not to see that Mrs. Beckham has a large apartment in a hotel, which corresponds to her wishes," he said.
Hoeness, however sour his grapes may be, may have a point but it must be said that the Italians have always been a bit Hollywood, even before the Beckham travelling circus rolled into town.
Veteran defender Paulo Maldini has the smoldering looks which would have made him a star, while the boyish charm of Kaka would certainly be put to good use by producers of romantic comedies (but with a body double employed to protect the evangelical Brazilian from having to film sex scenes). Rino Gattuso was born to play a silent movie villain while Andrea Pirlo could give Antonio Banderas a run for his money should the Zorro gig become available. Even Ronaldinho, bless him, could grace the silver screen, even if it is in the live-action adaptation of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'
Who do Bayern have? Well, poor old Franck Ribery* could live up to his cruel nickname of Quasimodo in a remake of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', Bastian Schweinsteiger may scrape a living along the lines of Johnny Drama in 'Entourage' playing random thugs and accident victims in made-for-cable dramas while I suppose Hoeness himself could feature as Uncle Fester in the next 'Addams Family' movie. Lil' Phil 'Home Alone' Lahm may have missed his calling as a perennial child star (or perhaps an Ewok in the Star Wars movies) while Miro Klose's phone would only ring if someone was looking to cast him as an android.
Funnily enough, the only member of the current Bayern squad with real Tinseltown quality is Luca Toni– and he's Italian.
(Hoeness also failed to mention in his derisive comments that Bayern have their own LA loan star in their ranks, the most popular US soccer player of all-time, Landon Donovan. And even he can't raise the Blockbuster rating in the Bayern camp. Food for thought, Uli?)
*Before anyone complains: Yes, I know Ribery was involved in a car crash in his childhood and no, I am not an unfeeling *******.
|In America, they call it the hot stove league -- those mid-winter BS sessions in which baseball fans sit around cast-iron sources of warmth and let their fantasies run wild.
Well, Germany also has both hot stoves -- we need 'em, too, considering the current cold -- and no end to mid-season speculation about who's headed where. This winter's main topic has been Lukas Podolski.
With Bayern having signed Hamburg striker Ivica Olic for next season, there are rumors that Hamburg might offer cash and permission for Olic to play in Munich immediately in return for the right to snatch the faltering Prince away from Cologne.
That would kind be a shame since Poldi clearly wants to play for his hometown club. And Bayern might want to think twice about strengthening a big-money rival like Hamburg.
The problem is that although Cologne have offered 7 million euros for their prodigal son, Bayern's commercial manager Uli Hoeness flatly rejected that sum as an "insult."
Seven million probably accurately reflects Poldi's market value right now. But if he were sold for that amount, Munich's managers would have to admit they overpaid for the prodigy when they brought him in for 10 million in 2006.
But in best hot-stove fashion, I've come up with a solution -- the sort of three-way deal that happens all the time in American sports. Here's how it works.
Hertha Berlin want to be rid of striker Marco Pantelic, whose estimated value is 2-3 million and who is to coach Lucien Favre what a cobra is to a mongoose.
Berlin deal Pantelic plus 7 million to Bayern for Poldi and then put him on the next plane to Cologne in return for, say, 5 million -- plus Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic.
WTF is Milivoje Novakovic, you ask. Well, the Slovenian has knocked in 10 goals in 16 games this year for a mediocre side. And at 1.95 meters, he would be a welcome big target for a Hertha side that's unexpectedly learned to cross the ball this year.
Cologne would miss his services, of course, but they would get their hometown hero back for less than they offered. And could Bayern save face and add a proven goalscorer for their title campaign this season and, if they so chose, beyond.
So, everyone's happy. And now that that's settled, I'm going to put another log on the fire.