Wednesday, September 19, 2012
A lot of money has changed hands in the Bundesliga these past months, for stars such as Rafael van der Vaart, Marco Reus or Javier Martinez. And quite a few clubs have set their sights high, from a Bayern Munich team eager to redeem itself to a Schalke side that is brimming with talent and should leave a mark on the Champions League again, an ambition they underlined with Tuesday's convincing win away at Olympiakos.
Yet you'd have to say that, after three rounds of games, the players of the moment are two veterans, a Hungarian and a Dane, both 29 years of age and both playing for the most exciting club at the moment: Hannover 96.
The Dane is Leon Andreasen, who was sidelined for no less than 28 months by recurring injury problems that necessitated numerous operations. Most observers considered his career as good as over and there must have been moments when the player himself had doubts. "I'd never had a serious injury before, and then this," he says. "It was mentally incredible difficult."
The fifth operation, last October, saved Andreasen's career. He made his comeback against St Patrick's Athletic in the Europa League qualifiers - and scored after six minutes. On Saturday, he was on target yet again, scoring his sixth goal in as many competitive games this season, against his old team and, Hannover's rivals, Werder Bremen.
If you think it can't get much better than this, wait for the man who took the free-kick that Andreasen headed home. His name is Szabolcs Huszti and he already played three seasons at Hannover before joining Zenit St Petersburg in 2009. "I'm sure he'll settle in quickly," coach Mirko Slomka said upon his return this summer, "because he'll meet many old friends here."
Two weeks ago, Huszti started his first Bundesliga game in three-and-a-half years and celebrated the occasion with the rare feat of setting up all four goals against Wolfsburg. On Saturday, against Werder, he opened the scoring himself, then made Andreasen's goal.
But a cracking match was far from over, as Bremen came back to tie the game and then came close to netting the winner a few times. And in stoppage time, Hannover's Konstantin Rausch crossed from the left and who was there to score the winner with a scissor kick? Yes, Huszti.
If the goal was spectacular, what happened next almost topped it in terms of memorableness. The understandably ecstatic Huszti, having scored the sort of goal you dream about as a kid, took off his shirt, then climbed the fence to celebrate with the Hannover fans. As he returned to the pitch, the referee booked him for taking off the shirt. And then he booked him again for climbing the fence.
What must rank among the most absurd dismissals in Bundesliga history was in accordance with the rules. However, that these rules leave something to be desired was made clear the very next day. On Sunday, during Freiburg's 5-3 win against a Hoffenheim team sinking ever deeper into crisis, the Senegalese defender Fallou Diagne scored a goal, then ran over to the television cameras, pulled a sheet of paper out of his pants and held it at the lens. The message, written in French, was simply that he loved his mum. But of course it could have been any kind of slogan. Yet while players will be booked for revealing messages on their undershirts, there is nothing in the rulebook about brandishing handwritten pieces of paper. Thus the referee could not show Diagne a yellow card.
This Freiburg game, incidentally, had at least one more noteworthy moment. On 76 minutes, Hoffenheim's young Japanese winger Takashi Usami, on loan from Bayern, scored a great goal to tie the match at 3-3. It happened one day after Nurnberg's Hiroshi Kiyotake was widely proclaimed the new Shinji Kagawa, after he set up two goals away at Monchengladbach and scored one himself - a beauty that won the match for Nurnberg, 3-2.
And about 75 minutes after Usami's goal, a player by the name of Takashi Inui opened the scoring as Frankfurt defeated Hamburg 3-2. (Two years ago, Inui and Kiyotake were team-mates at Cerezo Oskaja, the club that spawned Kagawa.) We're still waiting for stattos to delve into the archives, but it could very well be that this was the first Bundesliga matchday on which three different Japanese players were on target.
In fact, there were more interesting or noteworthy facts to mention than we can cram into these lines. There were two fairly drab scoreless draws, for example, but the remaining seven games more than made up for that, producing no less than 32 goals. And yet even the 0-0 between Stuttgart and Dusseldorf made for talking points. For one, promoted Fortuna still haven't conceded a goal in the top flight. And when Andreas Lambertz started the game, he completed his personal Fortuna grand slam by representing the club in four different divisions.
This doesn't seem to be a unique occurrence in England, where no less than four Hull City players took the club from the bottom division of the Football League to the top. But on Saturday, Lambertz became the first German professional to have covered four divisions with the same club.
Let's see, what else merits mention? Henry Kissinger, the USA's former Secretary of State, sat in the stands as Furth lost to Schalke. Kissinger was born in Furth and had made a vow to return if his beloved club should ever win promotion to the Bundesliga.
Finally, at every ground the players' shirts did not feature the name of their respective club's sponsors but the slogan "Go Your Way" in support of a government campaign for integration. It was the first time since 1992 - when the clubs protested against racism - that the league organised such a gesture of solidarity.
Wow, that was a lot. It's not going to be easy for the coming round of games to match the last weekend in terms of memorable moments. But who knows? On Friday, tradition-laden Nurnberg can climb into first place for the first time in living memory. On Saturday, the league's looking forward to the first clash of the titans when Schalke host Bayern. And team-of-the-moment Hannover will round it off on Sunday with a trip to Hoffenheim, who can't afford to lose again. Of course the suspended Huszti won't travel with the Hannover team. But Andreasen will.