FEATURE | European Player of the Season, 12th: Anthony Modeste

This article is part of Get Football’s European Player and Coach of the Season series, as we countdown our top 12 in both categories each day before naming our winner ahead of the Champions League final on May 28. You can read all the profiles and view the ranking here

If you rewind to 2019/20, things were very much different for Anthony Modeste. Playing under Markus Gisdol, the Frenchman scored just four goals in 27 Bundesliga games for FC Köln. He didn’t suit Gisdol’s philosophy and so after 215 league minutes and failing to score the following season, he was shipped to Saint-Étienne on loan in January 2021 for six-months. Köln would finish in the relegation play-off in 2021, beating Holstein Kiel comfortably, but across both the Bundesliga and Ligue 1, Modeste failed to register a single league goal last season last year.

The Frenchman endured a difficult 24 months prior to the 2021/22 campaign but what Modeste has achieved this season is nothing short of extraordinary. Steffen Baumgart arrived as head coach from Paderborn with new ideas which gave the now 34-year-old a new lease of life. On the opening day of the season, Modeste would equalise against Hertha Berlin with his first headed goal of the season before assisting Florian Kainz. Köln ran out 3-1 winners and for once, things started looking up.

Modeste scored four goals in five games to kickstart the 2021/22 Bundesliga campaign. Köln would lose just one of those games to eventual champions Bayern Munich, albeit a narrow 3-2 defeat. He would then go three games without scoring but his double against local rivals Bayer Leverkusen would secure a point for Köln. Just two weeks later on Karneval weekend, Modeste then scored a brace against Union Berlin, securing another important point with just four minutes remaining. This prompted the now infamous celebration. Modeste ran over to Baumgart, stole his iconic flat cap – which sold out on the club’s store – and proceeded to dance in front of an unimpressed Baumgart.

The relationship between the pair has blossomed and Baumgart has done something that his predecessor Gisdol failed to do, and that’s getting the best out of Modeste. Baumgart revealed a discussion he had with the Frenchman, telling media: “We talked about what he wants to achieve. Whether he wants to relax for the next two years or step on the gas, be successful and have fun.” Modeste is crucial to Köln’s setup, and he’s risen to the challenge set by Baumgart. Praised for his philosophy during his time at Paderborn, Baumgart’s high-octane counter-attacking football saw his former side take a 3-0 lead against Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion in 2019.

On a limited budget due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve slowly seen Köln transition from possession-based football under Gisdol to relentless attacking under Baumgart. A style that the fans adore. And a large part of that is down to Modeste, the focal point of Baumgart’s attacking play. Leading the line, the Frenchman instigates the press whilst commanding others to follow, giving opposing defenders fewer passing options, resulting in Köln either winning the ball back high up the pitch or the opposition playing a long ball, which tends to end with Baumgart’s side in possession.

Outperforming his xG by 2.7, what you see with Modeste is what you get. Averaging 1.49 shots on target per 90, Modeste is only behind Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Bayer Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick in this category. The Frenchman likes to test the opposing goalkeeper – often making him work. Modeste also scored the most headed goals in the 2021/22 Bundesliga season, and the most in a single season. With 107 shots leading to 20 goals, Modeste likes to be in and around the penalty area with his average shot distance 11.5 yards from goal. 40% of his shots find the target and he’s scored 38% of the club’s 52 league goals in 2021/22. 

One thing Köln fans are known for is getting excited easily. Several times Baumgart had downplayed their chances of European football but with the dream becoming a reality with every passing game, the Billy Goats secured a place in the Europa Conference League, at the very least, with two games remaining despite their 1-0 defeat against Wolfsburg. A large part of this was down to the form of Modeste. Ending the season with 20 Bundesliga goals at 34, the Frenchman has a coach that adores him and fans that love him. Baumgart has instilled confidence back in the prolific striker, who has 64 goals in 135 games for Die Geißbock.

Modeste has certainly suffered a difficult time form wise of late and at 34, it’s just unclear as to how much more we’ll see of the Frenchman. Failure to make an impact at Blackburn Rovers and a less than impressive record in France, excluding his time at SC Bastia, Modeste possesses a prolific record in the Bundesliga and has found a home at FC Köln, a place where he is worshipped by supporters and is often labelled a Fußballgott. There’s been murmurs that he could leave with just one-year remaining on his current deal but with a coach and fanbase that loves him, he must be playing for Köln in Europe next season.

Daniel Pinder

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