Anyone seen Marko Marin lately? Never easy, I know, once you let the daisies grow. But even if the Stamford Bridge turf were trimmed down to a bowling green, you’d do well ever to glimpse this semi-mythical, elfin figure – so rarely does he tread it.
You may be sure that the arrival of a compatriot, André Schürrle, will not be making Marin feel any more at home. But it will certainly heighten concern, back in Germany, about the predations that could yet introduce a pyrrhic quality to the great triumph of the Bundesliga at Wembley last month.
It would be ludicrous, plainly, to expect individual footballers to look at the bigger picture when a Premier League salary lets you hang a Canaletto picture in the corridor of your fridge. But the vogue for Bundesliga stars which was prompted by that unequivocal power shift in the Champions League raises a massive question – both for the German game, and for those seeking a bail-out for their own, underperforming football economies.
Was the collective humiliation of the champions of Spain, Italy and England about a particular set of players and managers – or was it sooner about the model that had enabled them to flourish?
The Bundesliga has no choice but to pin its faith in the latter. After all, the two big names the Dortmund manager, Jürgen Klopp, lost from Dortmund after back-to-back titles were Nuri Sahin and Shinji Kagawa. Sahin returned on loan, tail between his legs. Klopp meanwhile despaired to see Sir Alex Ferguson grant Kagawa only the odd cameo, out of position. And while Dortmund lacked the depth to sustain a title challenge, their best XI duly proved the second best in Europe.
But a troubling paradox undermines the league now being hailed as the perfect template. With prudent financial controls, the Bundesliga offers both top-class football and affordable seating to sell-out crowds. But it also gave them a tedious procession last season, when Bayern won by 25 points while conceding just 18 goals, and already guarantees the same next time round. For while their new manager, Pep Guardiola, blushingly scrabbles for some hidden imperfection, Mario Götze’s defection from Dortmund to Bayern means that domestic affairs can be safely entrusted to a second XI while the elite corps concentrate on Europe.
Little wonder, then, if Dortmund are so anxious to prevent Robert Lewandowski following Götze to Munich. How sad that either should be prepared to kill off not just the title ambitions of Klopp, but the competitive credibility of the entire league – precisely when the rest of Europe expects some more worth-while evangelism than is implied by the pursuit of a fat salary. The result, of course, may well be that Lewandowski winds up in the Premier League.
And now Schürrle has left Germany’s third best team to be a squad player at Chelsea. Like Marin, he has been pursued during the stewardship of an interim manager. But whereas Marin always seemed a fairly eccentric signing, after badly losing his form at Bremen, Schürrle imports the class, versatility and industry to find some kind of role even in a squad that already contains no less a player than Eden Hazard in his preferred position.
Schürrle does like to cut in from the left, but tends to shoot with his right – often outside the box, and to spectacular effect. He has a suitably Teutonic work-rate, defensive awareness, pace and athleticism. These are all flexible assets and he also has the height and alertness to play centre-forward.
He will not be as deft as Hazard or Juan Mata, but will certainly offer a fresh, counter-attacking dimension. Who knows? Perhaps Roman Abramovich is already repenting of the Barcelona prototype, against which Marin might have been commended at least for a low centre of gravity. At 22, Schürrle has plenty of elite experience and many of us were aghast when he and Marco Reus were replaced with Lukas Podolski and Toni Kroos for the European Championship semi-final against Italy last summer. But it causes still greater dismay that Bayer Leverkusen, despite securing Champions League football, cannot hold on to one of the top young players in a league that is now supposed to light a path for all Europe.
And what is Stefan Kiessling supposed to make of that? At 29, you would imagine he has one big move left. His 25 league goals for Leverkusen last year surpassed Lewandowski and Mario Mandzukic, essentially from a lesser platform. Kiessling and Schürrle, indeed, contributed to Bayern’s only league defeat – and their own team’s first win in Munich since 1989.
Leverkusen have now recruited Heung Min Son, the dynamic South Korean who orchestrated Hamburg’s 4-1 win at Dortmund in February, to replace Schürrle. Son is still only 20. If things go well, doubtless his agent will in turn be urging a lucrative move to the Premier League.
In the meantime, however, Son should keep an eye on his predecessor against Stoke and West Ham. And ask which has been most diluted, in quality, by his departure: the Bundesliga itself, or just Schürrle’s own working environment?