FEATURE | Germans in England – Millwall’s Andreas Voglsammer amongst former Bundesliga players in action this weekend

Former Arminia Bielefeld and Union Berlin striker Andreas Voglsammer is amongst the Bundesliga’s ‘unsung heroes’ in action in the English game this weekend.

With the Bundesliga on ‘Winterpause’ until the January 20, all eyes are on the other big leagues including the Premier League once again this weekend. A name which many fans will not have considered until now is Voglsammer. The 30-year-old German forward appeared on the radar of many English football fans for the first time on Boxing Day. The former Arminia Bielefeld striker opened the scoring for Millwall in their 2-0 victory at Watford.

Whilst followers of the Premier League are aware of Bundesliga household names like Manchester City’s İlkay Gündoğan, West Ham’s Thlio Kehrer, Newcastle United’s Loris Karius and Chelsea’s Kai Havertz, there are German players at all levels in the English game, many of which are not even major household names in Germany, such as Pascal Groß, Jordan Amissah and Marcel Hilßner.

Casting an eye through The Guardian’s top 100 players of 2022, only 6 German players can be found: Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer, Serge Gnabry, Antonio Rüdiger, Gündoğan and Havertz, the latter two plying their trade in the Premier League. Transfers from the English game to the Bundesliga have been a fruitful path in recent years. Academy players like Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham chose the path to the Bundesliga and have developed into world-class players. Whilst the reverse direction has not always been as effective with players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Ballack and more recently, Leroy Sané and Timo Werner amongst the German players to return to the Bundesliga without having made their mark in the English pyramid.  

The English game however continues to be fruitful for some German players who are less known in the Bundesliga, many of which have though gone on to fulfil their potential in England. Players like Millwall’s Voglsammer, a product of the Bayern Munich academy, and capped at both U16 and U18 levels for the DFB between 2008-2010, much of the 1.77m striker’s career has been spent in relative obscurity.

Voglsammer spent most of his career moving between clubs in the second and third tier, teams like Karlsruher SC, SpVgg Unterhaching and 1. FC Heidenheim. It was only when Arminia Bielefeld came knocking in the 2015/16 season that the Rosenheim-born striker’s career started to gain real momentum and a chance to experience the Bundesliga.

Six seasons at the Schuco-Arena followed, in which the Bavarian striker racked up 156 appearances, scoring 48 goals in the process. The 19/20 2. Bundesliga title with Arminia was followed by relegation from Germany’s top tier at the end of the 20/21 season, before joining Union Berlin on a free transfer. The move to Millwall’s New Den stadium is an opportunity to rekindle the 30-year-old’s career which, as recent performances suggest, might be making a comeback in South London.

In terms of why fewer German players are currently playing in England, Brexit might be one reason. The UK’s exit in 2020 from the European Union resulted in new rules making it harder for players with EU passports to be signed. There is now a need to apply for work permits for EU players, which could be part of the reason for the limited number of signings from Germany. However, as The Guardian’s list of the world’s best players shows there are just fewer German players amongst the world’s best. This a fact which will come as no surprise based on the performance of the DFB team at the last three tournaments, which included two group stages and a last-sixteen exit.

Despite the relative decline in Bundesliga influence in the Premier League, there are plenty of German players and some promising talent to watch out for in the English game, many of which could newly be featured in the DFB team in the year ahead.

Amongst Southampton’s top three signings this summer is 21-year-old Armel Bella-Kotchap. An €11m transfer, the Ghanaian-German has been a regular starter at centre-back for the Saints. Bella-Kotchap was one of the mainstays of the VfL Bochum team that won the 2. Bundesliga title and promotion to the Bundesliga in 2021. With the South Coast-based club, the Germany international has managed to replicate that success so far. Bella-Kotchap is starting to look like the signing of the season partnering well alongside Mohammed Salisu in a back four, featuring in 17 matches this season so far.

A dislocated shoulder in a 1-1 draw against West Ham United in October kept him out for a month and that was compounded by the sacking of mentor, former RB Leipzig coach, Ralph Hasenhüttl at St Mary’s in November. Kotchap however has been rewarded for his strong performances in the Premier League and was included in the Germany squad at the Qatar World Cup. Kotchap has a contract at Southampton until 2026 and is a player which could well go on, in the mould of Virgil van Dijk, to bigger things in the English game.

Elsewhere, Pascal Groß was a relative unknown when he was signed by Chris Hughton for Brighton Hove & Albion in 2017 from then-second-tier FC Ingolstadt. Groß has gone on to become an indispensable part of the American Express stadium-based team since then. The Mannheim-born player has featured in most of the club’s games over the last six seasons and has scored 22 goals in his 170 appearances. The central midfielder impresses with his versatility and ability to also play on the wing. In his debut season, the former Hoffenheim academy player won the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ but was unfortunate to sustain two major injuries in 18/19 which held him back that season. Despite Groß going from strength to strength, he has largely been overlooked by the DFB, earning only 4 caps at U20 level, all friendlies in 2010/11.  

Since gaining promotion to the top tier, after a 75-year absence, in 2021, Thomas Frank’s Brentford have surprised many. Chalked up for relegation in 21/22, the team finished 13th and is currently in 10th, having lost only four games this season. A German player who has made his mark in the team is Vitaly Janelt. Since joining in 2020 from then 2. Bundesliga side VfL Bochum, the defensive midfielder has been first-choice for ‘The Bees’. The former Hamburger SV academy player was a key contributor to the 2021 promotion-winning side. Standing at 1.84m, the left-footed 24-year-old is valued for his composure and ability to win one-on-ones and outstanding ball distribution. The West London-based club paid just €600,000, making Janelt one of the best buys in the last years in the Premier League. Despite the quality, Janelt has so far made only 10 appearances for the DFB, all at U21 level.

Highly rated centre-back Robin Koch was one of Leeds United’s key signings in 2020, LUFC paid SC Freiburg €13m to win his signature. The 1.91m towering defender, who has a contract until 2024, has been unfortunate with injuries, missing three months of the season in 20/21 due to a knee injury, and was absent a further three months in 21/22. This season he has featured in all but one game for United. The 26-year-old, who was a strong performer with SC Freiburg, can be expected to add to his 9 international appearances for Germany.

Bayer Leverkusen lost a great keeper when Bernd Leno made the move to North London. The Arsenal shot-stopper has been on the march again, this time to West London joining Fulham who bounced straight back to the Premier League after being relegated in 21/22. After 4 years with Premier League leaders Arsenal, in which he made 101 appearances, Leno was part of the team that reached the final of the Europa League in 2019. Now 30, the 1.90m tall keeper, who joined ‘The Cottagers’ in a €4m deal, has quickly advanced to the number 1 spot ahead of Slovak Marek Rodák. The Bietigheim-Bissingen-born player has featured in all but 2 matches this season for the 2022 Championship title winners.

A player who gained great recognition in the Belgian league is Werder Bremen academy graduate, Brighton Hove and Albion’s Turkish-German striker Deniz Undav. Scoring 25 goals in his first season with Royale Union Gilloise, Undav gained the Belgian First Division B (second tier), top scorer, with 17 goals in 20/21, which was followed by the same again in the top tier when he scored 18 goals. Kurdish-German Undav was voted the league’s Professional of the year in 2022. The Achim-born striker has only featured in 8 games this season and has yet to score but he is highly rated by coach Roberto De Zerbi and has been given a contract until 2026. Undav scored his maiden goal in the second round of the League Cup and is a German player who could be making waves on the South Coast in the coming seasons.    

Second-placed in the Championship, Sheffield United are among the favourites for promotion to the Premier League this season but Ghanaian-German goalkeeper Jordan Amissah, who hails from the Borussia Dortmund academy, is unlikely to make a big impact in the title race. Amissah is currently on loan with National League North side Spennymoor Town of the sixth tier. The Herne-born 21-year-old, who includes Schalke 04 and VfL Bochum among his former clubs, has a contract until 2024 with but faces fierce competition at Bramall Lane with Wales international Adam Davies and former Rangers keeper Wes Fotheringham, who is higher up in the pecking order.

A player who is making his mark at Sheffield United, however, is well known to fans of the Borussia Dortmund U23s attacking midfielder Reda Khadra. Khadra was part of the BVB team that won both the U17 and U19 titles between 2017-19. The Lebanese-German joined Brighton and Hove Albion in 2020 and made his first-team debut against Manchester City in 2021. Later that season he went on loan to Blackburn Rovers with which he scored 4 goals in 27 matches. The Germany U21 international is currently on loan at the red and white side of Sheffield.

Two-time English champions Preston North End have to go to 1890 for the last time they won the English title, but ‘The Lilywhites’ are having an outstanding season under coach Ryan Lowe and are currently in 10th place, just two points of a play-off place. A former Bundesliga player who is making his mark at the club is 30-old defender Patrick Bauer. Capped by Germany at all levels from U17-U20, Bauer hails from Backnang in South-West Germany and is a regular in the first team. The former VfB Stuttgart academy player has made 88 appearances, scoring 7 goals since joining Charlton Athletic in 2019. Bauer’s career took him to Portugal’s Maritimo, where he made 45 appearances between 2012- 2015 before joining South-London-based Charlton where he scored 8 goals in 124 appearances.

Swansea City keeper Steven Benda has made himself indispensable at the Liberty stadium featuring in 17 games this season. This is his fifth season in English football, having previously played on loan for Swindon Town, with which he won the title and promotion from the League Two in 2020. In 2021/22, he also played for Peterborough United before returning to ‘The Swans’. Benda is a product of the VfB Stuttgart academy, who are the Rekordmeister at the U19 level.

Former Hamburg centre-Back Vincent Kompany took over managing Burnley earlier this season, a team which features defender Jordan Beyer, who is a current Germany U21 international player. Currently, on loan from Borussia Mönchengladbach with Burnley, the 1.87m Kempen-born player opened his account for the Championship leaders against Middlesbrough in mid-December and has featured regularly with the Lancashire-based club this season. Beyer has been capped at all levels for the DFB from U16 to U21, and is one to watch.

Union Berlin has been a team to watch for the last two years in the Bundesliga and the Urs Fischer managed side has many good players in their squad including Kosovan-German Leon Dajaku. The 6-time Germany U20 international winger is currently on loan from Union with Championship side Sunderland. The 1.80 player, who can also play on the wing, is also a product of the VfB Stuttgart academy which he joined at the age of 14. Making his first team debut for the Red & Whites against ‘Gladbach in 2018/19, he joined Bayern Munich in 2019/20 but only played 2 games for ‘The Reds’ before being assigned to the reserve team in the fourth tier. Since joining the Stadium of Light-based club Dajaku has featured in 8 games for 6-time English champions this season.  

At 30, Stefan Ortega’s transfer from 2. Bundesliga Arminia Bielefeld surprised many. The former 1860 Munich player became something of an institution at the Bielefelder Schuco-Arena stadium in his five seasons with the club. Ortega made his debut against BVB in the Champions League in October and has also played in the League cup. With Brazilian Ederson first in the pecking order, Ortega has not made an appearance for the ‘Cityzens’ in the league.

Paul Glatzel is Liverpool-born but of German parents on both sides. He is a product of Melwood, Liverpool FC’s academy, which he joined in 2009. In 2021 Glatzel left the ‘Reds’ on loan to Tranmere Rovers of League two. He has scored 4 goals in 16 matches so far in the fourth tier. Glatzel, who is highly regarded by first-team coach Klopp, made his national team debut in October for Germany U18s in a 3-0 win against France but had previously represented England at U15 and U16 levels.  

Bassala Sambou of League Two side Crewe Alexandra pursued his football with Coventry City and Everton. The 25-year-old has made 85 appearances so far at a professional level.  

An absolute veteran of the English game is Frankfurt-born 30-year-old defender Max Ehmer. Ehmer joined Gillingham of the fourth tier in 2021 and is a first-team regular. Having emanated from the QPR academy, he has totted up 368 games scoring 13 goals with Yeovil, Preston North End, Stevenage and Bristol Rovers in the last 13 years. Ehmer has never looked back.

Two English-based German players who are on loan in Germany are winger Kwadwo Baah of Watford who is on loan with 2. Bundesliga club Fortuna Düsseldorf. Baah was called up by Germany to play for the U19 team against Slovakia in October. The 19-year-old Ghanaian-German is a product of the Crystal Palace academy. He played for fourth-tier Rochdale between 2019-2022 scoring 3 goals in 37 appearances. Coventry winger Marcel Hilßner, who joined the Championship club in 2020, spent time on loan at Oldham Athletic and 3. Liga club FSV Zwickau.

Amongst the German-born academy players of the top four league clubs are midfielders Melkamu Frauendorf (Liverpool) and Coby Ebere (Everton), winger Farid Alpha-Ruprecht (Manchester City), defender Harmony Okwumo (Charlton Athletic), striker Favour Okeke (Oldham Athletic), midfielder Junior Gyamfi (MK Dons) and goalkeeper Michael Zeitzen (Arsenal), who are starting to be noticed.

Whilst Kehrer, Karius, Gündoğan and Havertz are amongst the most-well known German players in England, for every multi-million pound star, there are many German-born talents and journeyman players in the English game who are not yet gaining that level of recognition. Players like Max Ehmer at Gillingham who have been plying their trade for aeons in England’s football pyramid but have yet to find recognition in the DFB system.

With all eyes on the English game, here are the games with German participation this weekend: (All times UK)

Premier League:
Tonight 1945: West Ham United vs Brentford
Saturday 1500: Newcastle United vs Leeds United
Saturday 1500: Fulham vs Southampton
Saturday 1500: Brighton Hove & Albion vs Arsenal
Saturday 1500: Manchester City vs Everton
Sunday 1630: Nottingham Forest vs Chelsea  

Tonight 1945: Swansea City vs Watford  
Tonight 1945: Stoke City vs Burnley  

League 1:
Sunday 1500: Blackpool vs Sunderland.

League 2:
Sunday 1500: Tranmere Rovers vs Crewe Alexandra

GGFN | Ben McFadyean

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