x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Chelsea new boy Marko Marin a product of German efficiency

The London club can be the latest beneficiary of a concerted effort by Germany that has produced midfielders blessed with technique and skill, writes Ian Hawkey. Audio interview

Marko Marin will watch his new club, Chelsea, take on Bayern Munich in the Uefa Champions League final on May 19. Zuma Press
Marko Marin will watch his new club, Chelsea, take on Bayern Munich in the Uefa Champions League final on May 19. Zuma Press

One English newspaper hailed him as the "German Messi". Roberto Di Matteo was more circumspect about his description of the young man Chelsea have hoisted out of the Bundesliga ahead of the summer transfer window.

"He's technically very good, very skilful," says Chelsea's interim manager, though Di Matteo did emphasise that his own role in the recruitment had been limited by the caretaker status of his job.

"I can make recommendations," Di Matteo added, "but the decision rests with the club."

It was probably shrewd of Di Matteo to say so, because Marko Marin, 23, has not had his best season, and in Germany is seen as a much as a symptom of Werder Bremen's poor second half of the campaign as a bright spot within the clouds there.

Of his potential, there is no doubt. At his best, he is an exciting prospect, confident on the ball, a dazzling dribbler down the wings or a creative spark playing just off a main striker. But since German football first began to take notice of him as a starlet, his career has plateaued a little, not helped by injuries.

Di Matteo, by Marin's own account, consulted with Joachim Loew, the head coach of the German national team, while carrying out research on Chelsea's behalf. Loew probably explained why he has not called up Marin to a national squad for 18 months, perhaps politely and legitimately pointing out that when it came to creative young players in attacking midfield positions, competition seemed especially fierce within Germany's squad and the outskirts of it: There is Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil, and the now Borussia Dortmund pair, Mario Goetze and Marco Reus; there is Toni Kroos at Bayern Munich and Lukas Podolski, who plays outside left for Germany and will soon be joining Arsenal.

Even the celebrated prodigy of the last World Cup, Thomas Muller, struggles for a place in Bayern Munich's starting XI these days.

Marin may consider himself unfortunate to coincide with such players, but, like many of them, he is a beneficiary of a concerted, nationwide German youth coaching initiative, with an emphasis on technique, that followed a dismal showing at the European championship 12 years ago.

Its front line graduates are now highly exportable commodities and are in fashion among the heavyweight clubs of Europe: Ozil and Sami Khedira are at Real Madrid, while Bayern Munich's swoop last summer for Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng has helped turned them into Uefa Champions League finalists this season.

When Marin travels to Munich on May 19th to watch his future employer, Chelsea, take on Bayern for club football's most illustrious prize, he will know many of the players on the field well: Bayern's Muller, Neuer and Boateng were fellow squad members when Germany won the 2009 European Under 21 Championship, and colleagues in the senior World Cup squad that won bronze in South Africa a year later.

Like many of his successful contemporaries - Ozil has a Turkish background, Podolski was born in Poland, Boateng has a Ghanaian father - Marin is the son of immigrants. He was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina but moved to Frankfurt when was two years old. The Balkan conflict had made his native country a dangerous place to live.

He served an apprenticeship with Eintracht Frankfurt, and then joined Borussia Monchengladbach at 16, winning youth caps for his adopted country at various age group levels.

He made his senior Bundesliga debut just after his 18th birthday, and spent just over two years at Monchengladbach. Bremen offered them €8.5 million for him in 2009.

He was a full international by then, and had made the long-list squad for Euro 2008. At Bremen, he came into a team already featuring the brilliant Ozil, so Marin tended to play in wide positions, outside Ozil. Marin has said he prefers playing as a winger, with licence to roam, than as a traditional No 10, which is more like the role he assumed when Ozil left Bremen for Madrid in 2010.

Perhaps the burden of that succession was too heavy. Whatever the case, Marin is not quite as feted now as he was when he first joined Bremen.

The fee Chelsea agreed with them is some €2.5m less than Bremen paid Monchengladbach, and although some of his statistics are impressive - he has provided 30 assists for goals in 87 Bundesliga outings for Bremen, as well as eight goals - his productivity since January has slumped.

"Things have gone as well as we would have liked for the whole team," Marin told Sport Bild earlier this month.

"I have been injured quite a lot, then fought my way back then got injured again after two or three games."

He insists there is nothing chronic to his recent muscular complaints, just bad luck. Certainly they have not put off scouts from the Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur had also been tracking Marin, according to the player. "Spurs wanted me in the winter window," he recounts.

Where will he fit in at Chelsea? With Florent Malouda more and more marginal in Di Matteo's plans, and Salomon Kalou possibly on his way elsewhere, there will be openings on the flanks in next season's team.

In ten days' time, at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Marin - not quite yet the German Messi - will get a close-up look at how much he might be needed.

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