There's no question that 21-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos is talented. The uncertainty that surrounds his future come as to where those talents can be best applied.
The midfielder had a disappointing campaign with Bayern last season, one that saw him score just once and tally five assists in 27 matches. Part of the reason his stats were so paltry is simple lack of opportunity.
Kroos stuck behind an even brighter young talent, Thomas Müller, in central attacking midfield; he has little chance of replacing either of Bayern's superstars, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, on the wings; and he is but one of a string of players vying to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger as a holding midfielder.
“I don't want a fixed position and I don't have to have one either,” Kroos said in a somewhat testy recent interview with the German soccer magazine kicker. “I think I can play one or two positions well. Only when I'm forced out right do I get worse.”
Kroos' breakthrough stretch came from 2009 to 2010, when he was loaned out to Bayer Leverkusen for a season-and-a-half. Given the chance to start, the youngster blossomed, scoring ten goals and setting up another 11 in 43 appearances, dictating play in a role that let him drift in to the middle of the park from the left side of midfield. That good run earned him a spot on Germany coach Joachim Löw's roster at the 2010 World Cup, if only minimal playing time.
But his move back to Bavaria last season was a case of one step forward, two steps back. On only one occasion did his performance earn a grade better than “satisfactory” from kicker, and twice he was substituted out at half-time - a bitter pill for any ambitious young player.
Next season, he'll be reunited with Jupp Heynckes, his former coach at Leverkusen, who's taken on the top job at Bayern. And the club seems to have faith in him. The two sides agreed a premature contract extension last spring.
But Löw will want Kroos start producing again if he is to be taken along to the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. With other promising young talents like Marco Reus and Mario Götze pressing for inclusion in the squad, Germany have more options in offensive midfield than perhaps any other position in the player pool.
Pocket rocket needs to sock it
Bremen winger Marko Marin can probably sympathize with a lot of Kroos' frustration. The 22-year-old managed to get into all of Bremen's Bundesliga matches in 2010-11, but he was often substituted out and had to endure a stretch where he started on the bench.
Werder were widely hailed as having got a bargain when they signed the diminutive speedster with the flashy ball skills from Mönchengladbach in 2009. The transfer fee was 8.5 million euros ($12 million), but thus far Marin has been worth well less.
At Werder, Marin has failed to take flight, with 7 goals in 64 matches compared with 8 in 68 for Gladbach. He's still capable of tying opponents in knots with his dribbling, but those twisting, turning runs too rarely lead to clear chances on goal. And as a thoroughly forward-looking player with a less than imposing frame frame (1.7 meters) he can also be a liability on defense.
Although Marin was a member of Germany's 2010 squad, playing two games as a substitute in South Africa, he fell out of favor during the tournament and was not nominated for recent matches in Germany's bid to qualify for Euro 2012.
Ironically, the player who looks lined up for his spot in Poland and Ukraine is the same Marco who replaced him, in a matter of speaking, at Mönchengladbach. Marco Reus boosts a much more powerful and direct shot, and at 180cm, he can mix it up far better than the pocket rocket.
To be fair, a lot of Marin's problems probably relate to the fact that departed players, injuries and bust signings have left Bremen in chaos the past two seasons. And he's probably still on Löw's short list. But he's going to have to become more effective in the Bundesliga if he wants an invitation to Poland and Ukraine next summer.
The eagle has crash landed
It's easy to forget, but only sixteen months ago, Leverkusen's René Adler was Germany's number one. In March 2010, Löw designated the Eagle (Adler means eagle in German) as his starting choice for South Africa.
Since then, he's plummeted. Adler was forced to miss the World Cup after picking up a rib injury. Manuel Neuer stepped in and has since developed into perhaps the best keeper in the world.
It would be a miracle if that bit of bad luck hadn't dented Adler's psyche, and his performances last season suggested it has. The 26-year-old, who'd been number one at every stage of his international youth career, was merely adequate. kicker ranked him only the eleventh best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga in its season-end review.
There were also signs that he'd slipped down to third behind Bremen's Tim Wiese in Löw's pecking order.
Adler, it seems, just can't catch a break these days. Ahead of what was for him a do-or-die 2011-12 season, he's had to undergo knee surgery and will be out of action as the new season begins.
To make matters worse, a host of bright young goalkeeping talents have appeared on the horizon – Hanover’s Ron-Robert Zieler, Gladbach's Marc-André ter Stegen and Hertha's Thomas Kraft to name just three.
It would be hard to blame Löw for picking a youngster as his number three, especially as it looks as though Adler won't challenge Neuer for the top spot anytime soon.
If Adler is to get a chance to play Jens Lehmann to Neuer's Ollie Kahn, he'll need to recover quickly and turn in some stellar saves, preferably on the international level. Otherwise he risks becoming one of those bright prospects that never lived up to the hype.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Matt Hermann