Thursday, March 08, 2012

Exclusive Scouting Report: Lukas Podolski's Performance for Koln Against Hoffenheim

Hi everyone. Regular readers of the blog should remember 'Bobby' and the marvellous piece he wrote about the North London Derby a few weeks back. Well, Bobby gets to go to a fair amount of Bundesliga matches, and he recently attended the Koln vs. Hoffenheim match in which Lukas Podolski took part.

Given that Podolski has reportedly agreed to join Arsenal, Bobby's report on the German striker's performance should interest all Gooners. Enjoy:

To watch Lukas Podoloski play football for Köln is to watch a man who clearly does not enjoy playing football for Köln, or at least doesn’t like playing with the players of Köln.

He first joined Köln in 1995, and with the exception of a rather unimpressive three year stint at FC Bayern, has been there ever since. He is a truly active member of the Köln community and enjoys a close relationship with the local community – in particular during the February Carnival season where he annually dresses up to the hilt and is usually as drunk as the average German party-goer. Given this close relationship with the fans, his fondness for his adopted club, and his incredible goalscoring ratio (he has now scored 50% of all Köln’s goals this season) I was expecting to watch someone who was content, happy, and enjoying his football.

Instead, the most memorable aspect of his performance was his desperate swearing, moaning, and cajoling of his colleagues, the manager, the opposition, the referee – in fact just about anyone.

Prior to last Sunday’s visit to the Rhine Neckar Arena, I remembered Podolski as a livewire winger, starting wide on the left or right for the German national team, and with short bursts of pace and thrust finding himself in goalscoring positions at major tournaments. With a wand of a left foot, he was named the 2006 World Cup Best Young Player, and went on to score at the 2008 Euros and 2010 World Cup. I remembered him as being skillful, deadly in front of goal, and quick. In short, I remembered him being a great potential addition to the Arsenal squad.

(A quick note on the price: Having spoken with members of the German public the majority believe that EUR 20 million is too high, most place his worth at between EUR 12 - EUR 15 million.)

Against Hoffenheim on Sunday, Podolski played as a central striker in a classic 4-4-2 formation and was relieved of all defensive responsibilities: he hardly ever closed down defenders, he failed to provide any outlet for the away team by ‘running channels’, and he rarely dropped into midfield when Köln didn’t have the ball (which in the opening 60minutes was almost all the time).

When Köln did have the ball his starting position was that of a classic number 9. He then often dropped deep to collect the ball (moving into a number 10 position) before using his vision and technique to bring colleagues into the game. However, with Hoffenheim deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, the room that he was attempting to exploit (i.e. just in front of the Hoffenheim back four) was being protected by two Hoffenheim holding midfield players. This meant that he was often quickly disposed or found he had very little time on the ball. During the opening 80 minutes, Hoffenheim did a pretty good job in keeping him quiet.

When he did have the ball his touch and skill were clearly evident, but so was his larger frame. He has definitely lost any pace which he may have had, and appears far less explosive. He links play up nicely and his vision has not deserted him.

But, worryingly, at 26 years of age he plays more like a 36 year old. Following neat passes and good distribution, he now fails to “catch the play up”, and by the time the ball is delivered into the box he is often at least 10 yards behind the play. In fact, the only time he found himself in a goal-scoring position when the ball was out wide, was for his equalising goal in the 80th minute, a deft glancing header into the far post following an excellent Köln move, and a good run from the far post to get in front of his marker and display once again his intelligent footballing brain.

If reports are true and a deal has been done between Arsenal and Köln for Podolski it will be extremely interesting to see how he fits into the Arsenal team, and indeed the Arsenal squad. Arsene Wenger has unearthed gems such as Henry, Anelka, and van Persie but he has also bought duds including Jeffers, Chamakh and Park.

Podolski is clearly an intelligent player but he struck me as very much enveloped in the Team Podolski mentality at Köln. He wears the number 10, he moans to referees, he moans to players, he kicks the ball at a camera man in frustration, he is the fulcrum of the team, he is in the centre of all the players during warm up, he is consoled by players following the match (no idea what made him so upset), he took all the free kicks, and his team mates were constantly looking to pass to him. At Arsenal, as with at FC Bayern 5 years ago, Podolski will not be the most talented player in the squad and it will be interesting to see how his personality deals with this. We are told that he has matured and that he is ready for the step up again: for sure he has the talent but I have big question marks surrounding his temperament and physicality. At 26 he is no longer an explosive winger and the player he most closely resembles is Robin van Persie… only slower and not as good.

If he does move to Arsenal it will probably be under the following, potentially problematic conditions:

· He is shunted wide left: his mobility, fitness, and defensive abilities will be open to question

· Used as back up for RvP: I cannot imagine a player who has enjoyed 3 years of being the star man will enjoy keeping a bench warm

· Used to replace RVP: if Arsenal are preparing for life after RVP and have identified Podolski as the man to fill the mantle they are buying an identikit – only heavier, less destructive, who moans more, and who is slower.

Podolski will score goals in the Premier League and he will add further quality and experience to the Arsenal squad, but I was distinctly underwhelmed by numerous aspects of his game. That said, he scored an important goal towards the end of the match, and I wont mind too much if he does that for Arsenal.


So, there you have it. A potentially exciting player, but doubts about his ability are clearly evident in Bobby's report.


Goonerboy said...

I should also give a shout-out to the superb blog that Bobby regularly contributes to:

Great chat on there about sport and politics.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read.

But this is based on watching him in one match? Arsenal would have been watching/monitoring him for a while and the deal has been 'completed' EARLY.

It's not as if they rushed it at the last minute, they clearly want him and feel he could be a great addition to the team.

But still, potentially a redundant post considering it hasn't been properly confirmed yet.

Anonymous said...

Interesting read, but concluding all of these after watching him in ONE match is hardly fair, isn't it?

Dom said...

His problem at Koln is that he is the only one that truly seems to care.

Imagine RVP playing in a team the quality of Wolves. Without Lukas Koln would be bottom of the league. After being promised upon rejoining that they would be in champs league it has got to feel like a waste of time in a short career.

I can see him at Arsenal playing with RVP sat just behind him.

Anonymous said...

Arsenal tend to watch a player over 25 times, makes it better to judge than just off one game. Also the transfer fee seems to be about €13m so your suggestion of €20m being paid seems rather high. Add the fact his buy out is less if köln are relegated I'm sure arsenal have taken that into account

Anonymous said...

Agree with Dom. I'd like to see RVP play behind him. Imagine having two high scoring strikers on the pitch. I think RVP is more than capably of scoring and providing in a deeper role. Just depends on whether Podolski is as clinical as we know he can be at Arsenal.

Bobby said...

Regarding the comments of Podolski playing in front of RVP my worry would be that we would not have a player that would stretch the central defenders in anyway. Podolski plays with his back to goal and often drops deep. he is certainly not the type of striker that is often in the box, or threatens defences by latching on to a through ball etc. my fear would be that RVP and Podol would basically be wanting to play in the same spaces which would rather "clog up" the play. that said, they are both clearly intelligent players so maybe it would work. i am unsure why people are claiming that Podol is the out and out striker and RVP the player to drop deep? RVP has a more impressive goalscoring record than Podol and if a chance fell to either one of them in the box I would rather it fell to RVP.

Dom: I agree with your sentiments but the general feeling in Germany is that as soon as he left TEAM PODOLSKI a few years ago to join FC Bayern his ego just couldnt cope with playing with better players. he has a reputation as something of a prima donna and whinging when things dont go his way etc. A couple of months ago when Arsenal were in a slump RVP never moaned, he kept his class, he worked harder than anyone else, he scored goals etc etc you just wont get that commitment from Podol im afraid.

Bobby said...

for Podolski Chat go to roughly the 10minute mark. sums up many of my thoughts. Ralph Honigstein is a good German football journalist who really sums up the general mood: