Aged 27, forward Lukas Podolski has already played 100 times for Germany. He is a legend in his hometown of Cologne, but rising young talent and a dip in form leave questions about his role with the German team.
German winger Lukas Podolski reached a milestone Sunday, becoming the youngest European ever to play 100 times for his country. Podolski added to his historic night by scoring his 44th career goal in Germany's 2-1 victory over Denmark. He is the seventh player to reach 100 caps for Germany.
Podolski has been a mainstay for the national side since his debut in 2004, playing in approximately 85 percent of all German international fixtures since then. Nonetheless, doubts remain over his continued place in the German team.
The beginnings of a star
Podolski was born in the Polish city of Gliwice in Upper Silesia. His paternal grandparents were German citizens before the Second World War, and he moved to Germany at the age of two, growing up just outside of Cologne in Bergheim.
He maintains a strong connection to his country of birth, holding both German and Polish citizenship. "I always say I have two hearts - one beats for Poland and the other for Germany," said Podolski in an interview with DW. "This won't change."
Podolski made his debut with Köln in 2003
The decision about which country to represent internationally was always going to be difficult, but in 2003 then Poland coach Pawel Janas made it easier. After being pressured to look at Podolski following his performances for Cologne, Janas responded, "we have much better strikers in Poland and I don't see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga."
Legend in Cologne
Podolski has become something of a legend in Cologne. He has always been passionate about his hometown team, and his 79 goals in 169 total Bundesliga games with the city's team shows that.
When FC Cologne were relegated in 2004, Podolski stayed with the team despite offers from bigger clubs. His league-high 24 goals helped Cologne earn immediate promotion back to the top division.
Many Cologne fans have no doubt relished seeing Podolski mature from the young talent, whose inarticulate interviews often became the butt of jokes around the region, to the veteran of today.
Former Cologne Mayor Fritz Gramma once said, "Poldi belongs to FC Cologne like the Cathedral belongs to Cologne."
Impressing for Germany
He began his national team career just before the start of the 2004 European Championship at age 19. An impressive debut season for FC Cologne earned him a place in Germany's squad for the tournament. He made only one appearance as Germany disappointingly crashed out in the group phase.
Podolski won the the Best Young Player Award at World Cup 2006
He broke onto the international stage with a standout performance at World Cup 2006. Then coach Jürgen Klinsmann completely revamped the style and practices of the German team, and it showed on the field. Partnering with Miroslav Klose, Podolski scored three goals at the tournament, helping Germany to a third-place finish and winning the tournament's Best Young Player Award.
The German media buzzed about Podolski and his young teammate, Bastian Schweinsteiger. "Poldi" and "Schweini", as they were known then, were as famous for their on the field success as they were for their off the field boyishness that seemed to defy the typical German player's mold.
His time with the German national team has not always gone smoothly, though. In a 2009 World Cup Qualifier in Wales, Podolski slapped then captain Michael Ballack in the face for yelling at him on the field.
Germany manager Oliver Bierhoff explained that Ballack was giving Podolski a tactical command. "He should accept that and is not allowed to get violent," he said. Podolski was later fined 5,000 euros for the incident.
Struggles at the club level
Just before the 2006 World Cup Podolski moved to German power Bayern Munich, but his form there was often inconsistent. In 71 league games - many of them cameo appearances off the bench - he scored only 15 goals.
He returned to Cologne in 2009, but again struggled to transfer his play at the international level to his club game. Scoring just two goals in his first year back at his hometown club, it took Podolski until this past season to truly return to form.
He scored 18 goals in 29 league games, despite dealing with injuries and an unsuccessful fight against relegation. He will be moving to English power Arsenal next season, making him the first high profile German player to make the switch to the Premier League since Ballack signed for Chelsea in 2006.
Place in the German team
Podolski often performs well at the international level, but the growing crop of talented young German players is making it harder to justify his place in the starting 11.
This has been more of a problem with Podolski's drop in international form following the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. His wasted chances and poor finishing were criticized after Germany's opening game against Portugal.
André Schürrle and Mario Götze (R) are both possibilites to unseat Podolski
Bayer Leverkusen's André Schürrle, who has seven goals in 16 games for Germany, has impressed critics every time he has replaced Podolski at this tournament so far. Even when Podolski scored against Denmark, Schürrle came on for him in the 64th minute and instantly energized the German offense.
Borussia Dortmund's Mario Götze and the champions' future signing Marco Reus are also talented options in attacking midfield; as the tournament progresses and Germany looks beyond the Euro 2012, Podolski's future is unclear.
Nonetheless Podolski, playing in his fifth international tournament, remains a fan favorite. He may have achieved history, but he is not quite satisfied. "We are still actually missing a title," he said.
Author: David Raish
Editor: Mark Hallam