Wednesday 08 August 2012

Overseas arrivals #2: Bundesliga's best

Bundesliga expert Andy James analyses the Premier League's latest landings from Germany

  • Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa lit up the Bundesliga last season

  • Marko Marin had an injury-plagued season at Werder Bremen before joining Chelsea

  • Arsenal arrival Lukas Podolski returned to form with 18 Bundesliga goals last season

  • Fulham fans can expect to see some spectacular goals from Mladen Petric (left) next season

  • In Markus Rosenberg (right) West Brom have acquired a foil for Peter Odemwingie

After covering Ligue 1's latest arrivals last time around, this week we take a look at those players who have been plucked from the Bundesliga to play in the Barclays Premier League.

Munich-based football writer and commentator Andy James casts his critical eye over some of the players who have swapped Germany for England.

Shinji Kagawa

What do you make of Manchester United’s summer signing Shinji Kagawa?
Andy James:
He is absolutely awesome and I really hope he makes it in the Premier League. He's certainly been the Bundesliga's most spectacular, if not best, player, mainly because no one was expecting it. The first time I saw him play I was commentating a pre-season friendly between Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City and Dortmund had just signed him from Cerezo Osaka, of the Japanese second division. He was a 20-year-old unknown at the time. I think City won 2-1 but Kagawa was amazing, tearing City’s defence apart: it was the perfect debut.

What was it about him that set him apart?
James:
He was the ideal playmaker, he was ghosting past three or four players at a time, like Lionel Messi, and hitting killer passes. I thought, 'hang on a minute, this guy's really good. How come they only got him for €350,000?' So I immediately earmarked him as a decent player. But what happened next is well-known, he took the Bundesliga by storm.

So did he settle quickly in Germany?
James:
In his first season he was brilliant up until Christmas, scoring eight goals – and Dortmund were flying at the top of the table. They went on to win it, but he actually broke his foot while playing in the Asian Cup which ruled him out for the rest of the season. Everyone thought the game was up for Dortmund at that point because he had been so influential in their amazing run that had left Bayern in their wake. But then Mario Gotze got his chance, and he blossomed in his place.

"Kagawa's certainly been the Bundesliga's most spectacular, if not best, player"
- Andy James

Was he as good last season?
James:
He scored 11 goals and made nine assists in the Bundesliga. He was probably Dortmund's liveliest and most attacking players and everyone wanted him to stay but he made it quite clear that a move to Man Utd would tempt him and it worked out quite well for them because they sold him for a huge profit. So it wasn't a bad deal, even though in today's market and given his quality he’s probably worth a bit more.

Where does he play?
James:
Kagawa sits behind the front men, in the centre of a midfield three and he's very nippy and skilful. He looks very slight, like Messi. He's obviously not as good but he can skip past players and he's got a brilliant eye for the pass. He's one of these players that looks like he's about to get knocked over but with that last touch he'll flick it past someone and it'll be that perfectly weighted through ball for a team-mate.

Do you think he will be a Premier League hit?
James:
I hope so, but looking back through history, Japanese players haven't really hit it off in the Premier League. Junichi Inamoto was quite good but I don't think Asian players have fared so well because the game is more physical. In England it's all about power and pace and strength but in Germany, any brush and players go down and it's very tightly refereed. There is a place in United's team for an attacking playmaker of his ilk and I think he'll get a chance to prove himself.

He has the quality then?
James:
It just comes down to whether he can adapt to the hustle and bustle, but his touch, his passing, vision and his quick-thinking in tight spaces are all great attributes of his. He will also be well- liked in the dressing room, because he's nice and approachable.

Marko Marin (Chelsea)

What can you tell us about Marko Marin?
James:
His signing surprised everybody because he didn't have the best of seasons last year. He burst onto the scene to great acclaim and he was very good at Borussia Monchengladbach where he was a predecessor to Marco Reus. He managed 10 assists in his final season at Gladbach, then Werder Bremen snapped him up. In his first two seasons at Bremen he was quite good. He's very skilful and quick. For a while they called him 'the German Messi'.

So what happened next?
James:
He was very good while Mesut Ozil was still there and when Ozil went to Real Madrid, Marin was earmarked as his natural successor, but he never quite settled in that role. Last season he didn't fare very well partly because he was hampered by injuries. Bremen have struggled anyway and have relied on Claudio Pizarro to get them out of a hole.

"For a while they called Marko Marin 'the German Messi'"
- Andy James

What sort of player is he?
James:
He's very much a winger. They were hoping to mould him into the Ozil role behind the strikers but his final ball is not as good as Ozil's. In his first two seasons at Bremen he got 11 assists and four goals; then nine assists and 3 goals. In 2010/11 he played 34 games but last season he managed only 21, scoring one and setting up five.

Why have Chelsea bought him?
James:
He's played 16 times for Germany, is quick and tricky and he's one of these players who could be a hit if it works out for him. He's not the best crosser or finisher but they've obviously seen something they like in him. The reports are that he’s been playing quite well in pre-season, he's scored two goals already and he's looked lively on the flank.

Mladen Petric (Fulham)

What do you think of Mladen Petric?
James:
He's a player I really like. It was he and Ivica Olic who sunk England together for Croatia and stopped them from qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008. I covered Hamburg's Europa League run in 2008/09 and he and Olic dovetailed really well. He'll knock in between 10 and 15 goals a season normally.

What sort of player is he?
James:
He's the sort of player you can imagine having a long career, like Teddy Sheringham, because he’s very intelligent. He's quite a cool character, unfazed, sure of himself on and off the pitch. He scores spectacular goals, he's technically very good, he can shape himself in the right way to shoot in difficult situations or play in his team-mates. He's also very quick and incredibly hardworking.

"Of all of the Bundesliga imports he'll be among those who fare the best"
- Andy James

How do you think he will suit Fulham?
James:
I think he's a really good player and a good fit for Fulham. He's not a 30-goals-a-season man, he's more a player who will drop off and pick up the ball, play in his team mates as he used to do with Olic as the main striker at Hamburg. He likes to come short to pick up the ball in the way Wayne Rooney might. He won't run past 10 players but he's very spatially aware and can shoot from distance. He's not so good in the air but he's a good player and of all of the Bundesliga imports he'll be among those who fare the best.

So, Fulham have managed some shrewd business there then?
James: They got him on a free transfer so it's a good deal. He's a loyal player, he was at Hamburg for four years and the fans really liked him. I was surprised they let him go but sporting director Frank Arnesen is having a massive clear-out and they've got rid of all of their top strikers. Hamburg will feel his loss and, for Fuham, Petric is definitely a good signing.

Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)

Arsenal's German signing seems to have been something of an enigma. What’s his story?
James:
He's one of the best players Cologne have ever produced, the fans love him. He was brilliant up until the FIFA 2006 World Cup, banging the goals in in the second division that took them up into the Bundesliga. Then he was signed by Bayern in 2006 for €12m after the World Cup; he was there for three years and spent most of the time on the bench because Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose kept him out.

So he went back to Cologne?
James:
Yes, after a few years Mario Gomez came in and Podolski went back having scored very few goals for Bayern. He was poor in his first season back at Cologne – he scored one goal and everyone was wondering what on earth had happened. Then last season he was absolutely superb. Cologne were relegated but he scored 18 goals.

"Of the 18 goals he scored last season, 17 were scored with his left foot"
- Andy James

What are his strengths?
James: His lethal left foot. Of the 18 goals he scored last season, 17 were scored with his left foot, the other was a rare header. He's very one-sided, if defenders keep him on his right foot they'll have worked him out, but he has a thunderous left-foot shot. Most of his goals are the same; left side of the penalty area, thumping drive past the keeper; if he catches it right, he's scored. He never uses his right foot.

He's got an incredible appearance record for Germany?
James: He's always played well for the national team. He's got 101 appearances and 44 goals. He's always played off the striker on the left, as an attacking midfielder/forward. Now they have Muller on the right, Ozil in the centre and Podolski on the left, and Podolski has been there for the best part of a decade. He links up well with Klose, they were hoping he would do that at Bayern but it never happened. I think the real reason he has played well for Germany is because he has better players around him, as he will have at Arsenal.

Which Premier League player would you liken him to?
James: What's funny is that his demeanour and the way that he plays is very similar to Robin van Persie but while the Dutchman has been converted from a winger into a forward, Podolski has moved from being an out-and-out striker to a left midfielder with both Cologne and Germany. If they sell Van Persie I can see Wenger putting Podolski up front because they look very similar, they are both lean, left-footed players. The best thing would be if they could keep Van Persie and have Podolski on the left, dropping off. He's not a winger. He won't take on players and cross it, he'll arrive late on the left side of the area, pick up a lay-off and smash it.

Do you think he will take to the Barclays Premier League?
James:
I'm torn between whether or not he'll settle in. He's probably better at English than most Germans think because Germans tend to pick up English quite quickly. I was speaking to the former Bayern Munich striker Giovane Elber yesterday and he was telling me how important it was to learn the language. He made a huge effort to learn German because he knew he'd be miserable in Germany if he didn't. That will be key: if Wenger or Per Mertesacker, who he's good pals with, can make him feel at home then he'll be okay.

What will it take for him to succeed?
James:
He said when he went to Bayern he was too young and wasn't ready to handle the pressure and now he believes he has a lot more experience. He's played at the Euros and at World Cups and feels that he's proven himself in the Bundesliga again and says he's ready for the challenge. With him it will come down to goals.

Markus Rosenberg (West Bromwich Albion)

What can you tell us about West Brom's new signing?
He was pretty good when he first arrived at Bremen from Ajax in 2007. He scored quite a few goals and made a good start. His career stalled a little until he scored a vital last-minute goal in the UEFA Champions League play-off second leg that forced extra time against Sampdoria and helped Bremen reach the group stage.

So he has UEFA Champions League experience?
He has played in the Champions League although he didn't that year because two matches after the Sampdoria win he went to Racing Santander on loan and it was in Spain where his career picked up again. He scored a few goals there.

How did he play last season?
When he came back from Spain last year he looked to have come on and he had a good season at Bremen, scoring 10 goals, in a team that struggled. He played 33 out of 34 matches alongside Claudio Pizarro, so he was very much a first-team regular. He's moved on for a new challenge and Bremen look pretty thin up front as a result.

"He's an aerial threat, because he's strong and tall and he's quite skilful"
- Andy James

What sort of player is he?
He's a Swedish international who played at the UEFA EURO 2012 this summer. He's an aerial threat, because he's strong and tall and he's quite skilful. They call him 'Sillen' in his homeland, which is Swedish for herring, because he has quite a leap on him. I think Peter Odemwingie will still be the main man in terms of goalscoring but Rosenberg will be a good foil for him. He'll make a nuisance of himself and will do a lot of tireless running off the ball that will pull defenders around and create space for Odemwingie.

So he's well-suited to the Premier League?
I'd say he will play and will be a decent signing for West Brom. Most Scandinavians tend to fare well in the Premier League. He's got the build for it, he's fairly robust, has the right mentality and being Swedish his English will be good. Rosenberg is also good friends with the West Brom defender Jonas Olsson which will obviously help him settle. If he has a good season I expect him to score around 10 goals.

Which of these players will make your Fantasy Premier League team? To register your team click here.

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Key Points

  • German football expert Andy James highly rates Shinji Kagawa
  • Fulham's Mladen Petric tipped as the pick of the crop
  • Lukas Podolski's lethal left foot needs to fire for him to succeed at Arsenal