German clubs largely sheathed their wallets during the winter transfer window, with most major signings temporary loan deals. An unusually large number of top Bundesliga performers are on borrowed time at second homes.
Former Brazilian international Heurelho Gomes could do no wrong on his Hoffenheim debut at the Rhein-Neckar Arena. Home fans were able to celebrate their first win - 2-1 against Freiburg - since tail-spinning Schalke came to town on November 3.
The Tottenham Hotspurs outsider - also the first Brazilian ever to keep goal in the Bundesliga - was cheered for dealing with even the simplest cross in a backs-to-the-wall second half against Freiburg.
After a Freiburg corner petered out, one season ticket holder turned and excitedly asked me: "Did you see what he did there?"
Gomes himself hadn't done all that much; he had taken striker Eren Derdiyok by the shoulders and positioned him at the near post before the set piece. When Derdiyok rose to head a rather poor Max Kruse delivery to safety, a group of beleaguered fans who are used to conceding in such situations whooped.
Similarly, the outfield players took turns bear-hugging the 31-year-old after the final whistle, with captain and defender Andreas Beck first in line.
Club manager Andreas Möller said after the game that he was "convinced" that Gomes "will play his part in ensuring that Hoffenheim stay in the Bundesliga."
Unlike the oft-maligned Tim Wiese, Hoffenheim have only signed Gomes on a temporary basis from Tottenham. Fellow weekend debutante Igor de Camargo - struggling to get a game up front for Borussia Mönchengladbach - and Japanese regular Takashi Usami on the left wing are also at Hoffenheim on loan.
They're by no means alone.
Lender culture bringing results
To the north in Hamburg, moments after the final whistle in Sinsheim, Srdjan Lakic took to the pitch for Eintracht Frankfurt for the first time.
Lakic had spent a miserable season bouncing between a bloated Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim, playing 25 matches and 1,083 Bundesliga minutes without scoring.
But at the sharp end of Frankfurt's stellar midfield, the former Croatian international hit both goals for his new club in a 2-0 win over Hamburg. A move that was initially greeted with skepticism owing to recent form suddenly looked like a stroke of genius from Armin Veh.
Frankfurt could certainly use a serviceable striker, seeing as the core midfielders have banged in 30 Bundesliga goals compared to previous frontman Olivier Occean's one so far this season.
"It was perhaps a little bit too perfect," Lakic told local radio station Hessischer Rundfunk after the game, acknowledging that he was bound to have a tough day at the office from time to time. "But I will of course continue to try my best."
Lakic has a loan deal through the summer of 2014, but the 29-year-old also said he "could imagine staying for a long time" after Saturday's victory.
Petersen on target consistently
While the jury's still out on new deals like Lakic and Gomes, other borrowed stars have been lighting up the league on a regular basis.
"This loan deal has really hit the bullseye," mass-circulation paper Bild exclaimed in a recent article on the Bayern Munich reject turned Werder Bremen leader, Nils Petersen.
Petersen has hit nine Bundesliga goals in his first 20 matches for Werder, setting up another four. That puts him equal third in the club's list of all-time fast-starters. Only German international legends Rudi Völler (13 goals) and Miroslav Klose (12) had more explosive starts at the club.
"I still need to work on my efficiency," the 24-year-old German modestly told Bild, "I could have scored quite a few more."
Behind Petersen, Belgium's 21-year-old Kevin de Bruyne is a regular fixture in the Bremen midfield. He's started all 20 league games, scored four, assisted five, and only been subbed out once.
Whether Bremen can corral together the cash to turn these valuable loans into assets of their own is another question - especially when it comes to the highly-touted de Bruyne on loan from moneybags Chelsea.
Crucial Koo, Schalke's makeshift midfield
It's not easy to look good at relegation-threatened Augsburg, but Wolfsburg's midfielder Ja-Cheol Koo comes as close as anybody. Football magazine Kicker only rates the somewhat inconsistent Koo among Augsburg's top four performers for the season - but when he's at his best, the South Korean makes Augsburg look like they have half a chance of dodging the drop.
Augsburg's playmaker was on target in his side's last win - 3-2 over Düsseldorf - and he set up January signing Jan Moravek for the equalizer against Wolfsburg last weekend.
Czech midfielder Moravek was not a loan signing. He moved for a bargain basement fee from Schalke, where an army of borrowed gunslingers were keeping him out of the running for a first-team spot.
Schalke might eventually miss Moravek, considering that Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona), Raffael (Dynamo Kyiv) and Michel Bastos (Olympique Lyon) have all been deposited in the underfunded club's begging cup on a temporary basis. Schalke's management has secured options to buy all three of them when the loans expire, but whether they can find the funds is an entirely different question.
Deals like these show the dangers of borrowing key players, even on a long term basis. Eventually, the borrower is liable to have to buy – and without a pre-arranged fee, every good performance pushes the asking price higher.
Still, if Schalke's trio can help salvage a stuttering season, if Gomes can stave off relegation for Hoffenheim, and if strikers like Lakic or Petersen can help Frankfurt or Bremen into Europe, then longer-term headaches will be forgotten in favor of immediate gains.
And who knows what the Bundesliga's most famous loan signing, Borussia Dortmund returnee Nuri Sahin, might manage if he can break back into the defending champions' well-staffed midfield. It's possible, considering Ilkay Gündogan's midweek appearance for Germany while Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp recalled Mario Götze and Marco Reus with those notorious international friendly "injuries," that his first proper chance is just around the corner.
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