Chris McGrath: Who are you calling Teutonic? How Podolski became the face of melting-pot Germany

World Cup Lives: Born in Silesia, he is the outsider who became a truly local hero

Even if they do not go on and win it, they have already succeeded – changing not just the way the world views their nation, but also how Germany looks at itself. A week ago, there were still aggrieved Englishmen incorrigibly proposing that the Germans owed their progress merely to Teutonic superiority in discipline and teamwork. After the performance against Argentina, however, even the Spanish must fear the dynamism of their opponents tonight.

As and when England discovers a young playmaker in the image of Mesut Ozil – but raised, say, from Pakistani stock in Dewsbury – perhaps then the team will find a path to the final stages of a World Cup. In the meantime Ozil, representing a third generation of Turkish immigrants, weaves together a German squad that famously includes players of Bosnian, Tunisian, Ghanaian, Brazilian, Nigerian, Spanish and Polish blood.

Make no mistake, ethnic integration in Germany has been an anguished affair. It has stoked residual fires of extremism. Even milder conservatives are outraged that Ozil murmurs verses from the Koran as they line up for the national anthem. In all this, however, there have been pathfinders – not least the prolific attacking partnership between Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, both born in Poland.

Podolski is the outsider who became a truly local hero. Still only 25, he seems to have been around for a long time already, in every major championship since 2004. Born in industrial Silesia, he was two when his parents left for Bergheim, near Cologne. With a left foot that could break a dam from 50 yards, he was fast-tracked to a Bundesliga debut for Cologne in 2003, aged 18. The club was doomed to relegation, but Podolski scored 10 goals in 19 starts, and then spurred an immediate return to the elite with 24 the following season.

Cologne were promptly relegated again, however, and three World Cup goals on home soil in 2006 persuaded Bayern Munich that he was too good for the Second Division. The idea was to replicate his telepathy with Klose, but Podolski found himself increasingly on the margins after the arrival of Luca Toni. He continued to flourish in the national colours, admittedly, scoring both goals against Poland at Euro 2008 (and respectfully refusing to celebrate). But he betrayed his unhappiness when insolently slapping his captain, Michael Ballack, during a World Cup qualifier against Wales.

Back in Cologne, the campaign began to bring "Prinz Poldi" home. No German city has a more enduring sense of its own identity. Nowadays, however, 17 per cent of Cologne's population is of foreign extraction. As an immigrant himself, but a proud symbol of his adopted hometown, Podolski was an irresistible poster boy.

When it became clear that Bayern would end his purgatory, in return for the €10m (£8.3m) they had given for him, Cologne set up a 40,000-pixel image of Podolski on their website. Fans could buy a pixel for €25 apiece. Corporate sponsors bought up blocks to display their brands. Michael Schumacher bought €875 worth, writing: "Well, boy, you have followed your heart, and that's always good. Now you can show the fans what the club means to you."

And, so you would think, they all lived happily after. Unfortunately, the fairy-tale return has turned into a nightmare. Marooned in a flimsy team, Podolski gave an impression of culpable indolence and scored just three goals all season. Many were astonished when Joachim Löw persevered with Podolski in his World Cup squad – never mind in the starting XI. But while he compounded their fears by missing a penalty against Serbia, he had scored in the opener against Australia and then salvaged a maladroit first touch to do the same against England.

Against Argentina, he again had inept moments, but also made critical contributions to two goals. His own international tally is now 40 in 78 starts, a ratio that surely implies it cannot be too late for Podolski, in his athletic prime, to revive his club career. It is certainly conceivable his pace and power could, for instance, flourish in the sainted Premier League.

It would be a terrible shame if Podolski could not redress the disaster of his "homecoming". At the same time, equally, his story represents two sides of the same coin. No human owes his identity solely to his roots. And if Podolski discovers fulfilment somewhere other than Cologne, that would itself be a tribute to the demographic fluidities animating the great, unexpected adventure of Germany in South Africa.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific