Kaiserslautern's Halil Altintop together with Bremen's Miroslav Klose, tops the Bundesliga in goalscoring. The "Red Devils" are floundering towards the bottom of the league but the German-born Turk has big plans.
Halil Altintop: Using his head for both soccer and business
Kaiserslautern managed to advance another round this week in the German Cup. They did it with a hard-fought 4-2 away victory on Tuesday against third division side Erfurt. Yet the win did nothing to relieve the pressure on coach Michael Henke. In the Bundesliga, Lautern are just a point away from the relegation zone. Dissension inside the team and from outside (the fans) is reaching a fevered pitch.
After the Cup match on Tuesday, Henke railed against the Erfurt squad by calling them "Scheiss-Ossis," or "crap Easterners" for not kicking the ball out of bounds towards the end of the game when a Lautern player lay injured on the ground.
It was indicative of the heat that Henke and the team have been feeling over the past few weeks as they counted one disappointing match after another.
Bundesliga goalkeepers have been at the mercy of Kaiserslautern's Halil Altintop (l) this season
One Lautern player, forward Halil Altintop, has been spared the misery -- at least directly. While his teammates in back, the defenders, resemble more a sieve than a solid wall by giving up 25 goals so far, Altintop has alone tallied 10 strikes, sharing the top slot in the Bundesliga with Bremen's Miroslav Klose.
"Whoever allows that many goals in ten games should have nothing to do with this league," was Altintop's reaction after last week's 4-1 shellacking by Mönchengladbach.
Dangerous strikers desired everywhere
The fans are resorting to anything and everything to express their frustration with the club that over the past few years has been making a steady, plunge to the bottom of the standings.
The joy of the 1997-98 title with coach Otto Rehhagel at the helm is long just a dream. Two weeks ago, the hard-core supporters vented their frustration by entering the stadium five minutes after the starting whistle -- and were promptly penalized when they entered the Fritz Walter Stadium as Dortmund went out on top in the seventh minute.
Twin brother Hamit Altintop (r) has found a spot on the Turkish national squad
It would be the game, though, that manager's heads in the league turned to the small city in the far west of Germany. Altintop would equal Dortmund's Ebi Smolarek's hat trick with one of his own to preserve at least one point for Kaiserslautern.
All of a sudden, Halil Altintop was a hot commodity. One club in particular would be a natural for the 22-year-old Turk who was born in Gelsenkirchen -- Schalke. His twin brother Hamit already plays for the "Royal Blues," so it would hardly be a surprise if Halil returned to his hometown.
"Since I've been with Lautern, there has always been speculation about Schalke," he told Sport-Bild magazine. One thing is certain, Altintop, who plays on the Turkish national squad and whose contract expires in June 2006, will leave Kaiserslautern at the end of the season. Lautern president Rene C. Jäggi understands Altintop's desire to depart the crisis-riddled club.
"He definitely wants to play in international competition and he could make much more money with any top European club," Jäggi said.
Aspirations for Turkey also
While the speculation is still swirling around Altintop, he not only is eyeing just whom he might play for in the Bundesliga. He wants to secure himself a spot with the Turkish national team that is still fighting to qualify for the World Cup in Germany and believes that only when he is playing against the top clubs in Europe will he have a chance of wearing Turkish red on the pitch and not just on the bench.
The life of a striker is not easy as Altintop (l) finds out against Dortmund
"A coach simply prefers a player who plays for a top club," he said in Sport-Bild after seeing no action in the country's World Cup qualifiers in September despite an impressive start in the Bundesliga. "You have to play against teams like Inter Milan."
England's Wayne Rooney found that out at Everton and moved to Manchester United. That won't be possible for Altintop if he stays at Kaiserslautern. Just as the "Red Devils" announced that it left the red and entered the black by making a small profit in the 2004-05 business year, they will have to find a replacement for the striker who could give the club a going-away president by shooting enough goals to keep Lautern in the top division.