Lukas Podolski: The Arsenal striker who fluffed his lines at FC Hollywood
Lukas Podolski had three seasons at Bayern, who he will face tonight with Arsenal, but failed to cut it and went back to his hometown club
Monday 18 February 2013
Whenever he was asked how he allowed himself to be signed up for films like Jaws the Revenge, Michael Caine would reply: "I have never seen it and, by all accounts, it is terrible but I've seen the house it built and it's terrific."
Lukas Podolski might say the same about his three years with the club that in Germany they call FC Hollywood; the club that bars Arsenal's way to a Champions League quarter-final, the club he never came to terms with.
When he is asked about Bayern Munich, Podolski, now scoring and creating goals for Arsenal from the left wing, mentions the summer barbeques in Bavaria, swimming in the lakes and the fact that his son, Louis, was born there. The money they paid him would make his family financially secure for life.
He will add that he won the Double, although he was a very peripheral member of Ottmar Hitzfeld's squad and when he first came to the Allianz Arena after the delirious World Cup summer of 2006 that made his name, Podolski was anything but peripheral.
He was 21 and a central member of Jürgen Klinsmann's young side that began the great revival of German football. They nicknamed him "The Prince" and Munich was to be his kingdom. Three years later, he returned to Cologne, older, wiser and considerably richer.
If you want to imagine Bavaria, think of a region with economic wealth of Surrey and the attitudes of Yorkshire. Bayern Munich is a place where big egos such as Oliver Kahn's or Michael Ballack's thrive. Podolski grew to loathe Ballack to the extent that while playing for Germany in Cardiff, he tried to slap him in the midst of a game.
Ballack left Bayern for Chelsea in the summer Podolski arrived, but the midfielder frequently made the German press with his observations about Podolski's low work rate and lack of impact, and there were accusations he briefed against him in private. "I don't worry about it," said Podolski. "What others say is all the same shit to me. And what the newspapers print – well, that's shit, too." He was never the most eloquent of footballers.
Podolski's girlfriend, now wife, Monika Puchalski, was, like her man, someone who shied away from media launches and what in that summer of 2006 had become known as the "Wag lifestyle." To a degree it isolated them.
They had met while Lukas was growing up in the tower blocks of Bergheim, near Cologne, where his parents settled after leaving their native Poland. "I am a family person, we are a big family and I need my friends around me," Podolski said in an interview in which he added that he still did not feel settled at the Allianz Arena. He was then two years into his contract. Bayern Munich offered to pay for his parents to move to Bavaria to be with their son but they chose to remain in Bergheim 300 miles away.
Even had Waldemar and Krystyna Podolski moved next door to Bayern's training ground in Sabener Strasse, it would not have changed the fact that their son's first manager was Felix Magath; a caricature of a German football manager.
At Wolfsburg, where he won the Bundesliga title in 2009, he would send his charges on shattering long-distance runs through the woods and, when they dragged their bodies back to the start, Magath would have emptied their water bottles. He informed Podolski that fitness would be his only guarantee of starting.
Not until the Bayern players were pulling on their lederhosen for the annual visit to the Oktoberfest did Podolski find the net and then he promptly injured himself in a training ground collision with Mark van Bommel.
Podolski did not subscribe to the theory that it was a squad game: "If I come on for 10 minutes and play well, I can't go home and tell everyone: 'I played a great 10 minutes'. I have to play the full 90," he said. Bayern Munich were to offer him an awful lot of 10-minute spells.
At Cologne, his first and greatest footballing love, Podolski always played. His role there was akin to Matt Le Tissier's at Southampton. He was their one truly international-class player and their best insurance against relegation.
At The Dell, Le Tissier's guarantee was good. At the Müngersdorfer Stadium, Podolski was seldom able to prevent Cologne going down. They were relegated just before he agreed his transfer to Munich and they were relegated, with the stands hidden by smoke bombs and flares, just before he joined Arsenal. The team that sent down the club whose tattoo Podolski wears on his arm was Bayern Munich.
While Podolski was at the Allianz Arena, Bayern simply had too many strikers – Roy Makaay, Claudio Pizarro and Roque Santa Cruz. When they failed to qualify for the Champions League in 2007, they responded by signing more in Luca Toni and Podolski's strike partner for the national side and fellow ethnic Pole, Miroslav Klose. He was seldom able to force his way in.
Remarkably, throughout all this, Podolski not only kept his place in the German national side, he flourished, especially at Euro 2008. In the words of his agent, Kon Schramm: "Lukas always repays those who have faith in him." Joachim Löw repeatedly and publicly backed him, beginning the experiment of playing him on the left side of midfield.
Nobody at the Allianz Arena really believed in Podolski. Bayern Munich's chairman, Uli Hoeness, told him he should not be: "crying in the corner and moaning about his situation. We have three players who perform well for the national side and for Bayern – Lahm, Klose and Schweinsteiger." Then there was Prince Poldi.
Cologne had, however, never forgotten him and even in the Second Division, when their fans travelled to play 1860 Munich, who shared the Allianz with Bayern, they carried with them banners proclaiming: "We want our Poldi back". There was a mass public appeal to raise the money to bring him home that contributed much of the £8m fee. Michael Schumacher, who grew up a few minutes from Podolski's tower block in what the footballer describes as "a much bigger house", contributed €875. Cologne financed the deal by selling individual pixels on their website to fans for €25 each. Schumacher left a message on the website: "Well, boy, you followed your heart – that's always good."
And so in 2009 he returned to the Rhine. "If I had known then how it was going to turn out, I would never have signed up for it," he said. "It has been like a Ferris wheel." And now it is coming full circle.
Podolski power: goals per game
Apps Goals GPG
2002-2006 85 51 0.6
2006-2009 106 26 0.24
2009-2012 96 35 0.36
2012-present 31 12 0.38
2004-present 107 44 0.41
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