Samrin Hasib

Lukas Podolski is a nightmare for any defender or keeper on the international stage. With talent apparent at a tender age – he was just 10 when he joined FC Köln – he made his debut at 18-years-old in 2003, scoring 10 goals in 19 games. Despite not managing to help Köln avoid the drop, his tally of 10 goals still stands as the highest number scored by a player that age in the Bundesliga.

If those stats weren't enough to convince doubters of Podolski's talent then he has a tranche more. He is the only player from the 2.Bundesliga to represent the German national side since 1975, and won the award for Best Young Player at the World Cup in 2006, ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

His career recently though has taken an unexpected turn, and after so much promise, and a big money transfer, he is again at Köln, and struggling to find his scoring boots.

In the 2004/05 season Podolski, with 24 goals, helped his club return to the top flight. There he scored 12 goals, but once again was unable to help Köln avoid the drop. The Polish-born striker then decided not to follow the club to the 2.Bundesliga for a second time, but to seek pastures new.

Naturally there were a whole host of clubs interested in the striker's services, including Bayern Munich, Hamburg, Real Madrid and Werder Bremen. It was in the end Bayern who won the race, and in June 2006 Podolski agreed to the move, costing the Bavarians an estimated €10M.

“Prinz Poldi” as Podolski soon became known, started off well in Munich, scoring his first goal after just 26 seconds in a cup game against St. Pauli. However, in October 2006, Mark van Bommel injured Podolski's right ankle in a club training session and that's where everything began to go wrong.

In 2007, strikers Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose joined Bayern and pushed Podolski down the pecking order. Soon the youngster was spending more time on the bench than the pitch. Whilst his undoubted talent was there for all to see, a perception grew that he perhaps lacked the ethic of hard work. This was seemingly confirmed by current club president Uli Hoeness, who stated on Podolski's exit that “at the smallest sign of resistance he gave up. He never tried to overcome the opposition.”

As the 2008/09 season rolled around Jurgen Klinsmann, Podolski's former national team coach took the reigns. The striker expected this would work in his favour, but he was soon disappointed. Klinsmann did just what previous coach Ottmar Hitzfeld did, and played Toni and Klose ahead of the youngster.

Podolski later told the press of his frustration. “Klinsmann never took me seriously. If anybody else was out of action, I suddenly became important and had my spirits lifted, but you need to feel this faith all the time. He [Klinsmann] said that it would be a process which would last one or two years before I could get past Toni and Klose. That was a punch in the face for me.”

It therefore came as little surprise that the striker decided upon his exit, and, to head back to his roots at Köln.

Bayern wouldn't allow Podolski to leave with ease though and Köln had to set about raising money to bring him home. The Bundesliga giants demanded €10M for their young forward, but Köln were €1M short. The Rhineland club finally raised the €1M by creating a site where they sold the individual pixels of an image of Podolski.

The young striker got his wish and returned to Köln this summer, and just to show there were no hard feelings even thanked Hoeness for his role in the move. Köln were delighted to welcome their hero back and supporters hoped Podolski could rediscover his past form.

Podolski himself was understandably delighted. “I can hardly wait to get onto the training pitch. Köln is simply the best place for my heart. This is my club and I want to go places with them. Maybe I will stay with Köln until the end of my career.”

Köln fans were right to be optimistic about their prospects for avoiding the drop this season, but where many would have thought Podolski would be their driving force, it has instead been a miserly defence which has conceded just 15 goals at the time of writing. It is this that has been the catalyst for mid-table security and not a forward line which has found the net on a mere 10 occasions. Podolski himself can claim just one of those as his own.

The Köln poster-boy has been inconsistent. Despite turning in a performance of note in the German Cup win over Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg (3-2), this stands as his only outstanding display so far. Some team-mates have even gone as far as to hint at laziness.

The Rhineland club might not be Bayern, but still no player is bigger than the club: Podolski included. The striker can no longer warm the bench, watch his team-mates do the hard work and collect silverware. Now at Köln every match holds importance as crucial for survival in the Bundesliga.

The two standout youngsters – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – that Podolski pipped to Best Young Player at the World Cup in 2006 have both gone on to become superstars, reaching the pinnacle of the game. Podolski has been left behind. And whilst Bayern Munich must take some of the blame for his stunted progression, the youngster must also take some responsibility.

Sometimes, talent itself is just not enough in football. One needs mental strength and despite all his talents, this is perhaps the magic ingredient Lukas Podolski lacks. He surely deserves a bigger club, and perhaps one day he will return to the ranks of the elite and live up to his potential. For now though, if Köln are to survive in the Bundesliga, Podolski needs to find his scoring boots, and fast.


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