Home > Football > What next for Lukas Podolski?

What next for Lukas Podolski?

One story currently dominates the German sports pages: Lukas Podolski’s future. The striker turns 27 this year (in June) and now faces what will arguably be the most important decision of his career, if not his life: stay at his beloved 1. FC Köln or seek silverware in a foreign land? To understand why this is such big news, one must first understand Podolski’s standing in German football and popular culture, and in particular in Cologne.

Lukas Podolski is Germany's most popular footballer (This image is the property of AP)

Strictly speaking, Podolski is not German. He is however, the country’s most popular and most talked-about footballer. Born in Gliwice, Poland to two professional athletes (his father was a footballer and his mother represented Poland at handball) he arrived in the Cologne suburb of Bergheim as a two year old. Podolski has even described himself as Polish and was noticeably subdued when scoring both goals in a 2-0 win for Germany over the country of his birth at Euro 2008. The young striker initially wished to play for Poland and it was recommended in 2003 to then national manager Pawel Janas to call up the young talent. Janas refused stating: we have much better strikers in Poland and I don’t see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga. He’s not even a regular starter at his club.’ Podolski however quickly established himself in a struggling Köln side, scoring 10 goals in 19 Bundesliga games. Whilst this was not enough to keep the club in the top flight, it attracted the attention of the German media and, more importantly, then national coach Rudi Völler. The media saw the youngster as the future of German football and quickly dubbed him ‘Prinz Poldi’ (Prince Poldi). Poland’s loss was Germany’s gain and Podolski made his debut for Germany in June 2004 before going on to make one substitute appearance at that summer’s European Championships. He has not looked back since, representing Germany in two World Cups and another European Championship. As at the time of writing, he had amassed 95 caps and scored 43 goals, making him Germany’s sixth highest scorer of all time. Not bad for a 26 year old.

As a result of his stellar performances for the national team and his affable, approachable manner, the boy from Gliwice has become a national hero across the border in Germany and so the speculation over his future dominates the sports pages. Nowhere is this more the case than in his adopted hometown of Cologne. To say that Podolski is a superstar in Cologne is a gross understatement. His status is akin to that of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar in India; demigod. He is the face of 1. FC Köln. If there is an advert for the club in a train station or newspaper, you can bet it has Prinz Poldi’s face on it. If a Köln match is advertised on TV, you can bet his image will be used. If someone is walking around the city in a replica shirt, you can bet it has a number 10 on the back. Numerous bands from the area have made songs dedicated to the striker, most notably when trying to lure him back from Bayern Munich, and this year, he was even invited to ride in the so called ‘Präsidenten-Wagen’ at the front of the Carnival parade (this is a huge honour). In short, he is indispensable to 1. FC Köln, not only as a player, but also as a money spinner and marketing tool. This is why Podolski’s reluctance to commit to a contract extension is so worrying for the club.

Will Podolski remain a 1.FC Köln player? (This image is the property of AP)

Poldi’s contract with Die Geißböcke expires next summer (2013) and the club has made no secret of its desire to tie him to a longer deal. Such is the club’s desperation to hold on to its star player, that it is considering trimming its squad in order to accommodate Podolski’s presumed increased financial demands. However, to suggest that the striker’s reluctance to commit to an extension at this stage is financially driven is to do him a disservice. The very fact that Podolski returned to Cologne in 2009 after his unimpressive spell at Bayern Munich shows that money is a secondary consideration as better offers were available elsewhere, but as he approaches his 27th birthday, Podolski is seemingly getting the urge to prove himself at a bigger club.

This is driven in part by his unhappy three year spell at the Allianz Arena. During his time in Munich, Poldi struggled to hold down a first team place and mustered only 26 goals in 106 games. This led to criticism of Podolski, with some claiming he is unable to shine for a team in which he is not the focal point and others claiming that he lacks a so-called ‘big time mentality’. Podolski naturally refutes the claims and has said in recent interviews that he feels he is capable of playing for a big club in England, Spain or Italy and of making an impression there. Perhaps in the back of his mind he feels a need to prove this to himself as well as his detractors. Such comments will do little to allay the fears of the Köln faithful and the reputed attention of several big clubs must surely turn the striker’s head to some extent.

Podolski’s form in the current season has been the best of his career and has certainly attracted scouts from some of Europe’s top clubs. He has netted 14 goals in 17 league games and also chipped in with four assists, form which has seen him linked with moves to AC Milan, Arsenal, Lazio, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Tottenham and, most recently, Lokomotiv Moscow. A switch to a number of these teams would give Podolski the opportunity to shine on club football’s biggest stage, the Champions League, and also to compete seriously for silverware. This will be a key consideration for him. Although Podolski has talent to rival almost anybody in the world, his trophy cabinet is not exactly bulging. A move in summer at the age of 27 would give the striker four or five years at a top club to prove himself as a genuine world-class operator and to win trophies, something which will appeal. Importantly, it will allow him to do so during the years that are typically seen as a footballer’s peak. For their part, the clubs in question know that Podolski represents excellent value at £10-15 million.

Podolski has publically stated that he is more than happy to speak to Köln about a contract extension describing them as the ‘erster Ansprechpartner’ (the first point of contact) and seems to remain relaxed about the speculation. Köln’s Sporting Director Volker Finke met with Poldi over the winter break only to be told by the striker that he wanted time to consider his future. He said that he does not wish to leave the RheinEnergie Stadion in the January transfer window as he does not want to jeopardise his place in Jogi Löw’s squad for Euro 2012, a tournament being co-hosted of course in Poland.

Whilst he has not stated that he wishes to further his career by leaving Die Geißböcke, Podolski has certainly dropped hints that his future may lie outside of Germany. Köln may of course decide not to cash in on their prized asset and keep him until his contract runs out should he refuse to sign an extension and so the story may not develop at all this summer.

What is certain, however, is the fact that the issue will continue to dominate the German sporting press until it is resolved, but whilst for fans it represents little more than exciting speculation, for Podolski it is the biggest decision he will face as a footballer. Whether he makes it with his heart or his head remains to be seen.

Name: Łukasz Podolski

Place of Birth: Gliwice, Poland

Nationality: German

Date of Birth: 4th June 1985

Career League Appearances: 228

Career League Goals: 90

Total Career Appearances: 273

Total Career Goals: 108

International Caps: 95

International Goals: 43

Categories: Football
  1. January 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Hi Rich. He definitely has the talent to succeed elsewhere and from the interviews I have seen, I do believe he will leave the RheinEnergie this summer. I agree that he should be looking to Italy or England and the strongest links in the press do seem to be with Arsenal and Lazio. Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow have been mentioned but i reckon they are outsiders for his signature. Schalke has also been mentioned but he has pretty much ruled out a move within the Bundesliga. I think a move to one of Europe’s other three big leagues makes sense on a number of levels and it is where I see him next year. I wouldn’t put money on a specific club at this point though.

  2. January 25, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Nice article mate, we discussed this briefly the other day, i think my own assessment of him comes in the games i’ve seen him most play in, which is at international level. I don’t doubt his ability, he’s obviously is a top marksman. What does concern me is that during his stint for Bayern Munich in that he struggled. Any player moving abroad or moving even to a new club in the same country is never a cast iron guarantee they will do well and continue.

    I think if he truely believes that he’s capable of winning trophies, lets be honest he wont do it at FC Koln. I think for him to be still playing there has helped him rejuvenate his career and will give them a much needed financial boost, their best bet is that they cash in on him before his contract runs out. He’ll be relaxed about it of course because its not due to run out until 2013.

    I hope that he actually makes a solid move though, no discredit really intended but if Koln sell him to a 2nd rate Turkish or Russian side i wouldn’t be impressed, i’d rather see him play for a club in Spain or England and test himself fully at a higher level. Playing for Liverpool or someone of that calibre in Italy/Spain would be a better challenge for him.

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