When I first started watching football as a child in the mid-1980’s FC Cologne (1. FC Köln) was one of the traditional powerful clubs of the Bundesliga. Cologne was the first champion of the Bundesliga in 1963/64 and in 1978 won the “double,” which to this day is the pinnacle of success in the Rhein city. During the first three decades of the Bundesliga, Cologne produced many of the best German football stars. Stars that included the likes of Wolfgang Overath, Toni Schumacher, Bodo Illgner, Bernd Schuster, Pierre Littbarski, and Thomas Häßler, all of which won World- and/or European Cups with Germany.
Following this tradition, Cologne produced its greatest star of the modern era; a Polish born speedster with a canon for a left foot named Lukas Podolski. Back in 2003, during a season that saw Cologne relegated to the 2nd Bundesliga, the then 18 year-old Podolski made his first team debut. Less than three years later he was named “Best Young Player” during the 2006 World Cup and transferred to Bayern Munich. His three seasons at Bayern were a tortuous affair for the young star who, despite great performances for Germany, rarely saw first team action for the Bavarians. So when the prodigal son, affectionately known as “Prince Poldi” returned to Cologne in 2009 for the sum of around 10 million Euros, the euphoria was great and so were the expectations. Equally great was the disappointment when the team and the Prince sputtered during his first season back, largely due to a cast of teammates far below his quality standards and a manager, Zvonimir Soldo who never really had much of a plan. The following season went better, but Cologne still was not producing the quality of football that the fans expected. During this season, where Podolski was named captain, the Prince expressed his frustration with the club and the fact that management had led him astray with false promises of squad investments to both compliment his quality and achieve past club success.
After a rocky start to this season, where another new manager, Stale Solbakken, controversially removed the captaincy from him to free up his play, Lukas Podolski has proven what a vital asset he truly is. Cologne currently sits in 10th spot and Podolski has been involved in 19 of the clubs 27 goals, scoring 14 of them himself. With regular center forward Milivoje Novakovic out injured since match day 8, even more of the team’s fortunes rest on Podolski’s shoulders. Prior to Novakovic’s injury, Podolski was mainly playing behind the lone striker and had scored 4 goals and given 4 of his 5 assists. Since becoming the main target he has been on a tear, scoring 10 goals in 9 matches. Lukas Podolski truly is the main reason why Cologne is not in the heat of the relegation debate at this time.
The dilemma facing Cologne and Podolski is not the here and now, but rather what to do this next summer. The star’s contract ends in 2013 and with the club’s financial constraints they cannot afford to keep Podolski unless he is willing to take less money. Therefore, before letting him go on a free transfer selling him after this season might be there only shot at getting a good transfer fee for him. Some rumors have him moving on this January, but that seems highly unlikely since Cologne desperately need him to have a chance of steering clear of relegation and finding a few adequate replacements in January is more than difficult. The question many people are asking is where he might go. Out of the Bundesliga, Schalke has expressed some interest in the attacker. There is also strong interest coming out of Italy from the likes of Lazio and AC Milan, as well as from Russia and Turkey. I personally think Podolski would also be a great fit in England, thanks to his pace, rocket shot and physical toughness.
The greatest hope most Cologne supporters have is that Podolski will elect to take less money and stay at the Rhein club. Though nobody can be sure that he will take this route, there are some grounds for hope. Podolski is a player that thrives in atmospheres where the manager and fans believe in- and support him. He is not the same 21 year-old that made the money move to Bayern. That bad experience helped him mature and prioritize his life, a big reason why he chose to come back to his beloved, yet struggling Cologne. Moving to another mega-club where he would be one among many stars might not seem as lucrative, regardless of money, when he can stay where his heart is and where he is adored as “Prince Poldi.” Cologne undoubtedly need him and if they wish to resign their Prince, they need to show some investments in other quality players. This would be the only way that Podolski might entertain taking less money, but achieving success and happiness both on and off the pitch.