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Werder Bremen battles to keep top stars under threat of mediocrity

One has to wonder how Werder Bremen will remain competitive this season if all the transfer rumors circulating about their players come true. A number of top stars could leave while few new signings are on the horizon.

Bremen's Mesut Oezil, right, celebrates his goal during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between FC Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Saturday, May 1, 2010.

Oezil is Bremen's crown jewel - but he has his price

With more column inches being devoted to the players most likely to leave than those most likely to join, Werder Bremen - which prides itself on its exciting, attacking soccer - could be digging deep into their reserves should the summer sales deplete their squad and few replacements are found.

It is unlikely that the club's sporting director Klaus Allofs will allow anyone to leave without having new players lined up to take their place. But as the silly season gets into full swing and all manner of names and inflated sums of money start flying around, Werder Bremen's Weserstadion is being portrayed as a department store with its doors flung open and signs screaming 'bargains galore' adorning the walls.

Standing on a pedestal surrounded by slogans explaining how owning him will change your life, is Mesut Oezil. The youngster is the club's most valuable asset right now and that fact is slowly dawning on the Bremen hierarchy. After a period of indecision and a rash of conflicting messages, the 21-year-old Germany international is now apparently up for sale as Werder bid to cash in before the midfield sensation of the 2010 World Cup leaves for nothing at the end of his contract next season.

Bremen fears departure of creative midfielders

Oezil, who only a couple of weeks ago said he would honor his contract with Bremen, could find himself at the center of one of the most frenzied bidding wars of the summer. The fact that clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid haven't started biting lumps out of each other yet is all down to the uncertainty surrounding Oezil's availability. Once Werder finally go public with a price - which could be as low as 15 million euros ($19.5 million) - expect a bunch of sweaty 50-year olds in shiny suits to embark on a free-for-all. It won't be pretty.

Bremen's Marko Marin, left, and teammate Mesut Oezil, right, react after he scored his side's first goal during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Werder Bremen and Hertha BSC Berlin in Bremen, Germany, Friday, Feb. 5, 2010

Bremen would certainly miss Marin and Oezil

Should Oezil leave, and Allofs decides against leaving a Mesut-shaped hole at the creative heart of the Bremen side, Werder will be looking for a tricky youngster to pull the attacking strings. Instead of hitting the market themselves, they might just turn to the one they already have in reserve.

However, that man in question - Marko Marin - plays on the wing rather than in the middle and could be picked up on the cheap as a Mesut substitute by those clubs who lost out on the authentic version. Manchester United are already said to have cast a beady eye over the young man branded the German Messi, just in case deep Spanish pockets beat them to the real thing.

So if Bremen somehow find themselves missing two nippy creative midfielders, they will certainly have to find at least one replacement. One which could add the zip they need would be Hatem Ben Arfa, who is one of the few players that the Werder hierarchy have admitted to being interested in.

The Marseille winger, who won the French title last season following his transfer to the Stade Velodrome from Lyon in 2008, is also being tracked by English Premiership club Newcastle and Turkish giants Galatasaray. Whether England or Turkey will appeal ahead of Germany remains to be seen.

International defender Mertesacker targeted by Arsenal

Once Bremen find a replacement for one or both of their creative flair players, should they leave, they might then have to start looking for a tall, lumbering center-half that can take over from the potentially Arsenal-bound Per Mertesacker.

Schalke's Kevin Kuranyi, left, and Bremen's Per Mertesacker challenge for the ball during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, Saturday, May 1, 2010.

Mertesacker could be towering over attackers in London

The Gunners have been watching developments with interest ever since Mertesacker put in some solid, yet typically unspectacular performances in South Africa this summer. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger usually asks little else from his central defenders so Mertesacker could fit the role at the heart of the Gunners' defense to a tee.

While nervously scanning the back pages for news of the latest raids on their biggest stars, Werder Bremen have forgotten to keep an eye on what striker Markus Rosenberg has been up to.

The 27-year-old Swede has just one year of his current Bremen contract to go and a host of French, Greek and Spanish clubs are hoping to sign him up. Covetous glances from Scotland have also been recorded with both Glasgow Rangers and Celtic aware of his situation. While not a regular last season - or a prolific goal scorer - Rosenberg's departure would leave a gap in Werder's attacking options.

Additions to squad barely quicken the pulse

With some of the team's most well-known players on the verge of leaving, Werder Bremen fans may be a little concerned at the caliber of the players who have agreed to join the club for the new season.

Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic may have arrived from Inter Milan claiming to be a Serie A and Champions League winner but the 21-year-old really only managed three games in his one and only season with Internazionale and so is only a champion by association.

However, his scoring exploits with FC Twente Enschede in the Netherlands were sufficient to convince Jose Mourinho to buy him for Inter and he may prove to be just as prolific in the Bundesliga, a league closer to his cultural and footballing roots than Italy. Werder will certainly be hoping so.

Another attacker joining the first team squad is Felix Kroos, an 18-year-old striker who has played in the regional and lower leagues of the Bundesliga for Hansa Rostock and, more recently, Werder's second string.

Jurica Vranjes

Vranjes returns to Bremen to add some experience

Joining Kroos in taking a step up is Kevin Schindler, a 22-year-old who joins the first team from Bremen's reserves with an impressive 10 goals to his name. Schindler actually featured for the first team in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, even winning the League Cup, before returning to the reserves and spending time at Rostock and Augsburg.

All-in-all, if Bremen can hang onto their big names then it could be a season like many others; a few barn-storming performances with goals a-plenty, a decent run in one of the cups, a courageous early tilt at the title followed by a winter collapse and disappointing run-in. If they lose players like Oezil, Mertesacker and Marin, they may do even worse.

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Turner

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