Jonas Hector & the Nature of Being a Middle Class Club

I don’t know whether there is anything to the idea or not, but with reporting today on a pair of potential replacements for Jonas Hector at left back in the event our national team member of a left back departs for a bigger club next summer, we are again reminded of our relative place in the football world.

The fact is that, in the world of professional sports, money is the boss. Talent is terrific, but once it’s realized you, as a less-moneyed club, are in possession of players wealthier clubs consider to be worth more money than what your club can budget for them, your roster becomes a menu for those bigger clubs.

It’s frustrating enough to know that the gap in finances between one’s own club and the elite of the league necessarily lengthens the odds of competing for the top prizes available through sporting competition, but what’s worse is when that money is used to also pluck away talent your club has identified and/or developed. Every purchase of a rising star extends the process of building a legitimate contender, while also assuring that you’re going to first have to worry about maintaining the status quo, so as to not lose more money by dropping down the table and/or into the second division.

Thus is the mixed blessing of the emergence of Jonas Hector.

Plucked away from a small club while Köln was in the second division at a relatively ripe age of 22 years for a newly identified talent, Hector has gone from back-up at defensive midfielder, to everyday player for a 2. Bundesliga champion, to everyday Bundesliga left back, to the German national team, to top performer for the German national team. That’s a fairly impressive career arc for a three-season span, and one that can’t help but draw looks from clubs who would rather reload their roster with proven talent than wait for their own to emerge from the youth ranks, so as to maintain their status near the top of the league as well as the financial rewards that come with it.

Some vicious cycles are at play here. The idea is that selling players like Hector at significant profit will eventually help move the club from the role of seller to buyer, but it takes a lot of smart maneuvering with how that money is spent to make that happen, while those with enough money are able to simply wallpaper over any mistakes.

As baseball fan who follows the Detroit Tigers, I remember listening in anger to a podcast in which a Boston Red Sox fan and a New York Yankees fan were matter-of-factly discussing how the Tigers would not be able to afford two top players — Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, if you are at all interested in the details — and would simply be forced to trade either or both of them to either of the two east-coast teams which had used their own financial advantages to maintain prominent position in the league for many years. It felt so dismissive of the Tigers as a legitimate competitor in the league, as if our sole reason for existence was to provide a regular-season opponent and the occasional improvement to the rosters of more-deserving clubs.

We see a lot of similar behavior in our Bundesliga existence, and we all know who the primary culprit is.

It didn’t take long after Hector made his national-team debut for FC Bayern fans to start talking about how Köln would never be able to keep him, even if it weren’t Bayern themselves who’d eventually purchase him. What you didn’t see from Bayern fans discussing Hector was any notion that his emergence might make the Billy Goats a more-dangerous opponent or help them compete when the two teams met. To a Bayern fan, a player like Hector has value almost exclusively as someone to be purchased away by the elite, rather than potentially help his current club maybe someday join the European party. It’s so utterly dismissive and disrespectful and completely exemplifies to those who are not fans of such clubs why such clubs are so unlikable.

Unfortunately, it’s also entirely realistic, which is probably why it evokes such a reaction from the rest of us. When Bayern fans see Marco Reus performing well against their club, they don’t worry about what it means for the competition between the two, and say just, “He’s going to look great in a Bayern kit.”

It’s completely douchebaggy . . . but they’re usually right on the nose.

Of course, a bigger Bundesliga problem these days than FC Buy’em is the English Premier League. Even as they continue to struggle in European competition, English teams maintain their prestige as destinations for the world’s best footballers. With their skyrocketing television revenues and team-ownership models in which incredibly wealthy men fund their teams as a very expensive hobby, even teams at the bottom of their table now have the dough to make offers that cannot be refused.

Tottenham Hotspur is not quite a bottom-feeder in England, but they’ve remained a bit outside the most-prestigious collection of English clubs, despite a tony London address. Even so, it seems insane that a guy like Kevin Wimmer, who had shown that he had the goods to be a top central defender in Germany and had leveraged his emergence into a spot in the Austrian national team, would be purchased away from a Bundesliga club for a reported €7 million to mostly sit in the stands and watch others play. Of the 180 minutes Wimmer has played so far this season, half were in the Europa League, which I’m certain was part of the allure of leaving the Rhine area for the English capitol. Wimmer got another full-game in a cup match and was on the bench for one game. Otherwise, the man who would likely be playing every minute in what is indisputably one of the top leagues in the world spends a lot more time sitting and watching the game than playing it.

Eventually, you’d hope stories like Wimmer’s will become cautionary tales for players looking for more-prestigious destinations. I am certain I don’t fully understand the mentality of the professional athlete, but I’d bet Wimmer never imagined he’d be an afterthought in Tottenham’s plans. Even now, he probably is expecting to become a top player for the club.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder why players are content to go to bigger clubs without certainty of full-time use. I understand confidence, but I also expect a certain amount of competitiveness from these players that would make being regularly left out of a team an unacceptable option.

I also like to think that such confidence would make some players want to help a club rise into glory rather than just becoming one of a collective, even if that does mean virtually assured team success.

Then again, that’s more a fan mentality than that of someone who does it for a living. Hey, at least I understand enough to know that these guys largely aren’t with their club only out of the sort of love of it that we, as fans and members, have.

All that said, I hope that we learn next summer that Hector is still that guy who stuck with SV Auersmacher because he wanted to help his club achieve something special before moving on. It would take a unique individual to make a similar decision at the career juncture Hector has reached.

And perhaps somewhat naively, I get a sense that Hector might well be that sort of guy, which makes it a good thing that it’s not my job to decide whether or not I should be scouting players in Denmark to eventually replace one of the best players on our roster.

Whatever happens next summer, we’re going to be tortured by transfer rumors all season and likely beyond. That’s what happens when clubs give their fans and media a sense of entitlement to things they don’t have. All we can do is enjoy players like Hector for as long as they stick around. We’ll just start with Sunday and hope that when the match is over, Schalke coach Andre Breitenreiter and sporting director Horst Heldt are left discussing how they can pry Hector away from the FC so as to not continue to lose at home to us.

So, for now, come on Jonas Hector Football God, and COME ON EFFZEH!

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