This week saw a retirement that officially ended an era. Yet something about Lukas Podolski’s retirement seems slightly anti climactic. Perhaps his indifferent club form with clubs from across Europe has overshadowed his rather remarkable record with die Mannschaft. Or maybe, his quasi mascot portrayal has earned him more detractors than plaudits.
What is certain though, is that the 31-year-old’s announcement has officially ended an extremely salient period of German football. After Germany’s humiliating group-stage exit at Euro 2004, the likes of Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Podolski himself began to form a core of younger players to supplement the likes of the already established Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose.
The Galatasaray forward partnered Klose at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, scoring three goals in the competition and being nominated at the ‘Best Young Player’ of the tournament ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
This was just one of Podolski’s numerous feats with the national team, the most impressive of which being die Mannschaft’s third-highest goalscorer of all time, with 48 goals in 129 games. Only Klose and Gerd Müller have scored more. Just before the disastrous Euro 2004 campaign, Podolski had become the first second-division player since 1975 to break into the Germany squad.
Euro 2008 was arguably his finest tournament, contributing this time from a wide left position. However, Podolski maybe feel victim to his initial success out wide at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. With Joachim Löw trying to accommodate Klose and Mario Gómez, Podolski’s goals against Poland and Croatia, in addition to his assist for Schweinsteiger against Portugal, in the Euros perhaps unnecessarily, his role both at club and international level. Couple that with similar success two years later and Podolski had somehow cemented his place as an accommodating winger.
Nevertheless, the day of industrious wingers was on the horizon and suddenly the best aspects of Podolski’s game were no longer accentuated. The Polish-born striker was always supposed to be that, a striker. With an astonishingly powerful left foot and one of the most clinical finishers the country has ever seen, most would be confounded as to why he was moved out wide in the first place.
However, the likes of Marco Reus, Julian Draxler and André Schürrle, the new breed of German talent, who themselves were naturally wide players, reinvented Podolski’s position within the game. This time though, his position was not so much on the pitch but rather on the touchlines, with that beaming smile and lack of playing time earning him a somewhat undeserved mascot status.
Having heeded Lothar Matthäus’ in the aftermath of Germany’s Euro 2016 defeat, his fans are left with an unsatisfactory feeling. Cologne and the national team environment must feel like home to him. The Allianz Arena and the Emirates Stadium less so. However, modern football may have been Podolski’s most uncomfortable framework, his biggest nemesis. No longer was being one-footed and deadly in the penalty box enough. As everything evolves, demand increases. Sadly it seems, Podolski was a victim of it.