For the past three or four major tournaments a recurrent theme has been the complaint, usually uttered by exasperated coaches but sometimes also by fans who felt they weren't getting what they had come for, that the biggest trophies were contested by knackered players.
'You are coming to a tournament and you are starting with tired players. The World Cup is a big party and it is sad you can't see the best players,' Sven-Göran Eriksson (older readers might remember him) grumbled during the 2002 showcase, a competition derided by many experts as a farce because hardly a star player looked like his true self.The way things are going right now, Germany could buck this trend of moaning about fixture congestion and tired legs prior to Euro 2008 - by worrying about players who haven't seen enough action. Jens Lehmann's current attempt at getting out of wherever Arsenal may be based now, has less to do with hurt pride at being benched than with his fear of losing his place in Germany's goal and missing out on Euro 2008. His prospects are still good, mind you, because his most dangerous rival for the number one shirt is doing only marginally better at the moment. Timo Hildebrand has started just 9 out of 17 league games for Valencia so far, and it got to the point that there were sighs of relief in Germany when Ronald Koeman dropped veteran goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares for reasons known only to the coach. (That is, until Koeman then played his third keeper, Jose Mora, in the next match.)
Speaking of Spain, two other members of Germany's World Cup squad are plying their trade in this country, though not as often as they'd like to. Christoph Metzelder didn't even make the 18-man squad for Real Madrid's last three matches, while David Odonkor was mainly used as a sub at Real Betis prior to the injury which is currently sidelining him.
Until recently, the German contingent in Spain was bolstered by Andreas Hinkel, not a member of the World Cup squad but a player who feels he might have a chance at going to Austria and Switzerland. If he's playing, that is. Which is why he left Seville, where he was warming the bench or even a seat in the stands, for Glasgow. 'I think if I show good form at Celtic and play well, then there is a good chance I can get back into the German side,' he said. 'The next few months are vital because I want to make the Euro 2008 squad. It is one of my dreams to play at this tournament.'Other internationals have seen their playing times curtailed by injuries. This goes for Bremen's Tim Borowski, who's made only nine league appearances, for Bayern's Marcell Jansen, who has eight, for Leverkusen's Bernd Schneider, who's got only six, and for Torsten Frings, who's made three. The same, of course, holds true for Germany's captain Michael Ballack, who missed the first four months of the Premier League season. And for Sebastian Kehl, another member of the 2006 team, who has seen action in just four Bundesliga games so far. Even Thomas Hitzlsperger and Philipp Lahm didn't manage to get a dozen league matches under their collective belt on account of a toe problem (Hitzlsperger) and a knee injury (Lahm). Oh, I almost forgot shooting star Mario Gomez, who says: 'I had big plans for the season and worked a lot during the first four weeks of preparation. But then a nagging muscle injury put me on hold for longer than expected. Then I came back and found my form quickly - until a pleurisy got in the way.' Gomez is only doing running exercises at the moment. Then there are Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger at Bayern. The former has started a grand total of two Bundesliga games despite being healthy, the latter rarely plays for the whole 90 minutes. As far as our projected first-choice line-up for the European Championships is concerned, that leaves ... well, let's see ... by and large only two players who've had a halfway normal and proper season so far: Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker.