Live football is returning to our screens this weekend as the Bundesliga becomes the first top-flight league to spring back into action following the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s time for all of us to adopt a German team as we wait for the Premier League to decide if Liverpool will actually be crowned champions.
In anticipation of the weekend’s restart, let’s shamefully jump on the bandwagon and take a look at the best German players to have played on these shores.
The goalkeeping position is an easy starting point with Arsenal invincible and occasional loose cannon Jens Lehman getting the vote. The custodian spent five years with The Gunners collecting three trophies along the way. Although he may have had the capacity to drive opposition players and supporters round the twist with his play acting, the North London side have not really had anyone at his level between the sticks since (including Petr Cech). He is probably best remembered for getting sent-off in the 2006 Champions League Final and taking a leak behind one of the advertising hoardings during a Champions League game for Stuttgart in 2009.
Babbel is a former German international right-back, not the founder of the world’s most popular language learning app, who spent four years with Liverpool from 2000-2004. A versatile performer, Babbel was adept at playing as a full-back or centre-back and he helped the Merseyside club win the UEFA Cup in 2001. He also broke English hearts at Euro 96 when he was part of the successful German team that lifted the trophy. The only real blemish on his career is a season spent on-loan at Blackburn as he became surplus to requirements at Anfield.
Over on the left side of defence we have Christian Ziege who spent five years in England representing Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Despite having a skin complexion that made Stephen Hendry look like the face of L’Oreal, Ziege made over 90 appearances in the Premier League helping Liverpool to lift the League Cup in 2001. It’s safe to say the best years of his career were spent back home in Germany where he won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich and Serie A, were he lifted the Scudetto with Milan in 1999. He is currently Head-Coach of Austrian side FC Pinzgau (no, I’ve not heard of them either).
If you want to add brutality to your back-line then Robert Huth’s your man. Now 35, this no-nonsense centre-half has now been in England for so long many people forget that he’s even German. Two Premier League gongs with Chelsea and one with Leicester City has made the transition to blighty worthwhile. He’s also currently the record Premier League appearance maker by a German player. Huth seems destined to become the manager of a struggling League 2 side.
Alongside Huth, in the centre of defence, we have current Arsenal Academy boss Per Mertesacker. The six-foot five stopper spent seven years on the playing staff in North London making over 156 appearances for The Gunners. While not the most elegant player to watch, Mertesacker’s reading of the game was second to none and had he not decided to remain at The Emirates, then surely he would have won a league title somewhere in Europe. As it is, the 2014 World Cup winner won three FA Cups under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger and even stepped up to interim Assistant Manager when Unai Emery was told to vacate his position and was temporarily replaced by Freddy Ljungberg.
After arriving at Newcastle in 1998, midfielder Dietmar Hamann made over 250 appearances in English football’s top-flight during stints at The Magpies as well as Liverpool and Manchester City. Hamann’s introduction at half-time in the 2005 Champions League Final against Milan, was an integral part of the Anfield club’s astonishing second-half turnaround and he even managed to convert the opening penalty in the shoot-out despite having a broken toe. While at Liverpool he also collected a UEFA Cup, two FA Cup and two League Cup winners’ medals before moving to Manchester City in 2006. Before retiring he was player-coach at the MK Dons and he now has a career in the media.
People will say we never saw the best of Michael Ballack during his four-year spell at Chelsea, but even so he picked up a Premier League title 2010 to go with his two FA Cup winners medals and a Champions League runners-up medal. The midfielder was voted German Footballer of the Year three times and twice made it into the World Cup All-star team in 2002 and 2006. He played 105 times for The Blues scoring 16 goals and only left Stamford Bridge after falling out with owner Roman Abramovich over a contract extension. His international boss Joachim Low described him as a player who “exudes authority and calm on the pitch” despite having to constantly look at the boy-band-wannabee picking bogeys from his nose – now that’s quality!
He’s like Marmite, but on his day there’s no doubting that Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil can be a world-beater. About this time of year we would be normally talking about whether he’ll be staying in North London or finally moving on, but Covid-19 has delayed that for the time being and it will be interesting to see if new boss Mikel Arteta can get the best out of a player who lifted the World Cup back in 2014. Yes, he may be the spitting image of Marty Feldman; but he makes this list because he is a brilliantly gifted footballer.
Jurgen Klinsmann was viewed in England as a diving, cheating German **** before his arrival at Spurs in 1994. Within a few weeks of the start of the new season, the striker was the darling of the White Hart Lane crowd, while being secretly admired by supporters up and down the country. His goal celebration which took the piss out if himself on the opening day at Hillsborough, remains etched in Premier League folklore and when he revealed to the press that he preferred driving around the capital in his battered old VW Beetle rather than a new Ferrari, we recognised we had a unique talent on these shores. In 41 games for Spurs he smashed in 21 goals before heading back home and the game in England was all the more better for the season of great memories he left behind.
In 2012, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger finally persuaded striker Lukas Podolski to head to the Premier League. The French tactician had made no secret of his admiration for a player who had been in devastating form for FC Koln. His first season at The Emirates was undoubtedly his best as he scored 16 times in 34 appearances, but things took a steady decline from then on which were not helped by a ten-week injury lay-off during the following campaign. After winning the World Cup with Germany in 2014, Podolski returned to England to find out he’d been frozen out of the starting XI, so he did what many overseas players do when they want to influence a move away and started telling his own country’s press how desperately unhappy he was.
In 2016, Manchester City spent £37m on German winger Leroy Sane who was tipped at the time as being the hottest property to come out of his country. By the end of his first season in the Premier League however, many City fans were wondering what all the fuss was about after a less than enthralling start to life at The Etihad. During that summer Sane revealed the reason for his lacklustre performances, was the fact that he couldn’t breathe properly as he suffered from chronic nasal congestion. He promptly went under the knife to clear his airway and was rewarded the following season by helping City win the title whilst at the same time picking up the PFA Young Player of the Year prize. A debilitating ACL injury has curtailed this season, but there’s no doubt that a fit and healthy Sane is one of the most gifted players in Europe.
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* All odds correct at time of posting and may be subject to change.