After a long injury battle, Hamburg's Rene Adler is back on top. After aiming high with new team Hoffenheim, Tim Wiese has hit rock bottom. You need to be philosophical if you want to survive as a Bundesliga goalkeeper.
"Inconstancy is my very essence; it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing circle, filled with joy as I bring the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top.”
When sixth-century Roman philosopher Boethius described life as a wheel of fortune he didn't have football in mind (The game wasn't invented until over 1,300 years later). But the image of eternal rotation certainly applies to the careers of two goalkeepers who were in the news last week. Ups don't come much higher, or lows much lower, than the ones experienced right now by Hamburg's Rene Adler and Hoffenheim's Tim Wiese respectively.
Adler learned last week that he will be starting for Germany when they face France in Wednesday's Paris friendly. The news capped the German footballing comeback of the 2012-13 season and nearly restored Adler to the status he last enjoyed in the spring of 2010.
Meanwhile, Wiese - a member of the Nationalelf from 2008 to 2012 - was not only losing his starting job at Hoffenheim, but being banished to the stands. And as if that indignity weren't enough, the move was made for Wiese's own "protection," as Hoffenheim's coach and its sports director both put it.
That begs the question: how much of goalkeepers' destiny is in their own hands, and how much depends on the whims of chance? And what sort of scars does riding this particular wheel of fortune leave behind?
Injury to insult
Adler's was one of the classic hard-luck stories in football. After being officially given the World Cup starting spot for Germany March, 2010, the then-25-year-old's tenure as number one barely lasted two months. A hairline rib fracture sidelined him just before the tournament, and he could only watch as understudy Manuel Neuer shone and took his job.
Normally players who work their way up the ranks and establish themselves enjoy limited loyalty from coaches, but the rules are different for goalkeepers. That's a lesson Adler had to learn, and in interview you can sense that the process hurt a fair amount.
"It's the trend developing in German football," Adler told DW. "There are a lot of good young players, in my case goalkeepers, who can come and do your job. And you can't defend your territory properly because you're injured. It was a hard but instructive time for me."
To add injury to insult, after leading his Leverkusen team to a second-place finish in the Bundesliga during the 2010-11 season, Adler had to have complicated patellar tendon surgery in the offseason. He was out for eight months, and when he was fit again, his starting job had been taken by another top German goaltending talent, then 19-year-old Bernd Leno.
In an interview, Adler talks about football being a "dirty" business whenever large sums of money are involved. He doesn't get more specific than that, but it would only be human if the talented keeper didn't feel somewhat resentful at twice being dropped from starting XIs through no fault of his own.
In any case, Adler turned down the chance to extend his contract with Leverkusen ahead of this season and moved to Hamburg. There he's thrived, being named the top Bundesliga goalkeeper of the first half of the season by the German football magazine Kicker. His performance earned him his first start in German national dress since November 2010 and numerous descriptions as a "phoenix from ashes" in German sports pages – not such a bad label for a man whose name means "eagle" in German.
Call me Icarus
If Adler does reestablish himself for Germany, the spot he'll be taking in the roster will be Wiese's. This August, in the wake of 2012 European Championship, Löw informed the 32-year-old that he was surplus to requirements, ending a four-year stint for the Nationalelf.
It was the beginning of a precipitous decline. After leaving Bremen for Hoffenheim this season, Wiese was installed as the vociferous captain of a squad whose loudly stated aim was to qualify for Europe. But the Hoff plummeted into the relegation zone, with its revamped defense conceding 44 goals in 20 games, worst in the Bundesliga.
Along the way, Wiese had more than one rocky moment, and the fans turned on him, prompting new coach Marco Kurz first to strip him of the captaincy and then to remove him for the line of fire. To make matters worse for the keeper, Hoffenheim won for the first time last weekend in nine matches with his replacement Heurelho Gomes between the sticks. Wiese tried to keep up a brave face.
"My situation is excellent, really relaxed," he told journalists after the match. "I've got a nice life in contrast to you guys."
It's hard to fault Wiese for getting testy. Part of goalkeepers' destiny is that their performance is generally graded as either pass or fail, whether that's fair or not.
The power of perception
If anyone can understand what Wiese is enduring right now, it's probably Adler.
"I try to distance myself from the sort of black-and-white thinking that's so extreme in football," the Hamburg keeper told DW. "I have trouble judging players on the basis of one week, to say that someone's a bad player because he just played badly, or a good player because he just played well once. Things change unbelievably fast in football."
To understand what Adler is talking about, consider three recent scenes. In Round 19 against Frankfurt, Wiese came off his line to snag a corner, which was headed over his arm inadvertently by one of his teammates, leading to a goal. Wiese made a few good saves in the match, but Hoffenheim lost 2-1 and he was demoted to spectator.
One day later in Hamburg's match against local rivals Bremen, defender Sokratis squeezed off a shot that went through a defender's legs and squirmed embarrassingly under Adler's body for a goal. Hamburg went on to win the game 3-2, though, so the scene was dismissed as an amusing curiosity, and the keeper got a pleasant phone call from Löw a few days later.
In Round 20, new Hoffenheim goalkeeper Gomes could only parry a hard shot by Freiburg's Max Kruse back into the center of the penalty area, whereupon Kruse swooped in and scored. Hoffenheim, however, won 2-1, and the otherwise basically solid Gomes was praised as a savior. The difference in each keeper's performance in these situations was marginal, but Wiese's "blunder" was considered far worse.
There's no denying that perceived likeability plays a role in how fans - and journalists - see players. The soft-spoken, introverted Adler makes for the perfect underdog hero, just as Wiese, who with his brash statements, twin earrings and oil-slick hair often comes off as arrogant and fits the stereotype of the bad guy. But the fact is that there's a lot of sheer luck involved in goalkeeping, and those who choose to make their living plying this strangest of sporting trades have to accept that they'll be riding the wheel of fate.
If you don't believe that, just ask Rene Adler, Tim Wiese... or Boethius.
Rene Adler was interviewed by Barbara Mohr for the DW TV program Bundesliga Kick Off! It airs Mondays and Tuesdays.