Much Ado About ‘a Zehn’



We aren’t really doing this, are we?

On Saturday, our beloved club released a list of jersey numbers with the names of the players who’d be wearing them. Such an item would generally be considered an utterly drama-free piece of news. My own personal mental capacity is such that I can scan such a list and almost immediately forget everyone’s number. I know Anthony Ujah’s number is “9,” but mostly because when he changed it from 13 upon being purchased last summer, I quickly registered “@Ujah_9” on Twitter so no Mönchendingleberry would snag it just to be a jerk. That Ujah always had his jersey number in his Twitter handle and that he is my elder son’s favorite athlete probably helps it stick in my head.

I also know Timo Horn wears the “1” because, at least in my head, the starting keeper is always the “number one.”  I might have Miso Brecko as “2” and maybe that Dominic Maroh is “5.” Beyond that, I can’t tell you who’s who, number-wise, unless I see the back of their heads floating above it during a match. THEN I know who’s wearing which number, because that’s all the numbers are for, in my head: player identification.

Except that I do know that, just as I was falling in love with the club, the number “10” was worn by Lukas Podolski. That a former player’s number is among the small handful I have committed to memory is a testament to the pull ‘Poldi’ still has with the vast majority of Effzeh fans two years after he high-tailed it out of the sinking ship that was 1. FC Köln at the end of the 2011-12 season. I even know that Poldi does not wear the number ten for current club Arsenal, rather wearing the “9,” though I don’t know enough about Arsenal to say why that might be.

But on this year’s list of jersey numbers, unlike those released for the two seasons in the second league, there is a listed name for number ten.

And this, apparently, is a big news item in Köln.

Almost immediately, headlines shouting about broken promises and insults toward the iconic player were being published, creating the first hot-button issue of the summer.

I’m too far removed from daily life in the Domstadt to truly know this for sure, but the entire thing reeks of newspapers wanting/needing to fill a relative void of interesting news around the club. The World Cup is no longer running matches every day, which leaves a lot of dead print space to fill when you’re publishing football news for a football-crazy city.

This is not to say that there was not some sort of promise made to Podolski by the club, as reported, to not re-issue the number for the immediate future while he plays his football in London. It is also not to say that there may not be some ill feelings about the matter on Podolski’s part, regardless of the intent of the club; there very well may be, as professional athletes have a capacity for over-dramatizing perceived slights in ways a layman such as myself cannot quite grasp.

It IS to say, though, that this story is a non-story almost anywhere else or at any other time. Trying to get back into writing about the club last week, I found it incredibly difficult to say much more than “I’m excited” and “they practiced.” There’s simply not much of interest happening, but especially when you compare stretching and conditioning to the melodrama that’s maybe a sports equivalent to the bickering between former lovers.

For all I know, the matter was handled fully to the satisfaction of both parties. And, honestly, that’s all I want to know, because it involves a jersey number and someone else’s left-wing. As I said, I arrived to the club somewhere during the relegation season, and while I was aware of Podolski’s stature, to a degree, I never developed the adoration for him carried by many. I follow him on social media, pull for him to do well with his current club, and get a kick out of him returning to see matches as a fan. His apparent passion for the club is definitely more where my own Podolski experience originates, rather than being able to appreciate whatever he was able to do for the Effzeh on the pitch.

But, really, I don’t care.

I don’t care if he’s upset about the number being given out. I don’t care if he doesn’t care. I just do . . . not  . . . care.

If I wanted to immerse myself in the created drama taking place behind the scenes, I could just have stuck with my American sports. We have multiple sports networks that seem to cover the actual games to fill the airtime between the soap opera-like off-field happenings. Even during the World Cup, the planet’s biggest sporting event, the network broadcasting it seems to be aching to break away from all the soccer ball happenings so guys in suits can sit around and over-analyze the latest utterances of LeBron James to discern where he might next play basketball in four months.

I am a bit annoyed with the way the media in Köln have handled it, though. I’ve often heard how they make everyone’s job at the club more difficult, and now I’m seeing a great illustration for how that might be. Then again, I suppose if I could boost my own readership to make a living doing this, I might also be tempted to go for the sensationalism.

Then again, how many words did I just dedicate to the matter? So, take my rantiness for what it’s worth (same price you paid to read this!).

Of course, there is the small matter of the player to whom the number was assigned, who also happens to have his own legacy among 1. FC Köln fans that predates my arrival to and knowledge of the club.

Patrick Helmes is not simply the guy who came to the club last summer to provide additional firepower, which is all I knew when the announcement hit my computer screen last year, quickly followed by a baffling amount of anger by many in my Twitter feed.

No, Helmes managed to make himself quite the pariah by leaving 1. FC Köln for Bayer Leverkusen the summer after helping the Billy Goats get back to the Bundesliga for the 2008-09 season with 17 goals. He went instantly from beloved savior to hated traitor. I think the only way he could have made it worse would have been to go to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Essentially, a lot of hate-filled words toward Patrick Helmes and even his mother.

Now, again, I wasn’t around for any of the prior Helmes drama, nor really for any surrounding Podolski, but I do know that Poldi has now left his beloved club twice: once for FC Bayern München and then for Arsenal. Yet, the way the two players are viewed by most could hardly be more contrasting. I’m certain the details would reveal some path to enlightenment on the matter, but, especially as long as Helmes is producing goals in the service of my club, I don’t really care!

I’m sure there shall come a time when some young up-and-comer decides to leave the Effzeh for another club and I’ll have some unreasonable reaction to it. I know there have been some such incidences in my American sports past that help predict such feelings. I think when Ben Wallace left the Detroit Pistons for the (hated) Chicago Bulls was the last time I really felt cheated by a player’s departure.

Then again, I was old enough by then to see the difference between how much Chicago was willing to pay and what Detroit was offering and at least be able to understand the reasoning. Ben Wallace did not grow up cheering the Detroit Pistons; they were simply his employer. Even though it was Detroit which gave him the opportunity to be come a niche star in a more-effort-than-talent light, I had to respect the man deciding to get paid.

But football is a bit different. There is no artificial salary-suppression tool like the NBA’s salary cap that means the more you pay one player the less there is available for the rest of the squad. Clubs need to manage their finances with regard to player salaries, rather than have a governing body assure their profitability through requiring a limit on spending on salaries.

Further, it’s that whole “club” thing, too, which makes it all seem much more personal. I am still new enough to the whole thing to still be somewhat excited at the idea that I am not just a merchandise-purchasing spectator of a team’s matches. Rather, I’m a card-carrying member of the club. As superficial as club membership may seem in some ways, it still gives me a greater sense of belonging than anything I’ve experienced here in the US.

So, I get how it can feel more personal than what I’m used to when a player opts to leave your club. Yet, I don’t think I have the capacity for the anger toward a player some have been carrying for Helmes over the years and even maintain to this day.

Even trying to see it from that point of view, however, I cannot imagine that Lukas Podolski was sitting in his home in Bavaria on a day off from his Bayern München duties reading about Helmes transferring to Leverkusen and getting self-righteously angry about it to where he’s be incredibly angry at any thought that Helmes would, someday, be wearing his number “10” on his back.

Yet, I can’t help but think the fact that it’s Helmes is playing a role in the hubbub, too.

It’s my detachment and intentional ignorance that maybe keeps me from really knowing all the moving pieces in this non-story. There seemed no likely return of Poldi to the club as a player, and that is probably a good thing. The club is working on a sustainable plan for long-term Bundesliga presence. Podolski, as a player, isn’t an obvious fit for the way the club has played successfully so far. Coach Peter Stöger should be credited with knowing to use his best players in the way most likely to yield the best results, so I’m certain he’d find a way to work Podolski into the team, but beyond the personal attachment, there is no reason to bring him back anytime soon. For all the good feelings surrounding Podolski’s love of club, there isn’t any footballing success that comes close to mirroring it.

So why are we talking about it?

I know I’m talking about it because others have been. But, if I’m honest, most of the talk among fans has been about how much a non-issue this is. I’ve seen some folks come out in defense of Podolski, saying the club was wrong to have broken a promise and I’ve seen some angry toward Podolski for his contribution to this distraction.

But it’s summer. We have little to do but be distracted while the team prepares itself for the season.

And if our biggest problem a few months from now is that Lukas Podolski is upset that Patrick Helmes is wearing the “10,” I’m going to be very, very happy about that.

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1 Comment on "Much Ado About ‘a Zehn’"

  1. Hi Randall,
    let me tell you as a long-time FC fan, that this kind of drama is quite normal in the local press. They all love the FC but drama sells their papers. There are newspapers who get mostly bought for their news about the FC.
    The Nummer is not as important as they make it, they just want a new scandal. Why else would the Bild write: “Why does the FC bully Podolski?”
    The FC is finally in good and serious hands for the first time in like forever so I don´t think this will have an impact on them.

    Being a FC-Fan is a hell of a ride, there is no other Club with as many up and down. We Rhinelanders are mostly between two varying moods: “himmelhochjauchzend” or “zu Tode betrübt” (Literally meaning: “heaven/sky high exulting” and “sorrowful to death”, i.e. on top of the world, or in the depths of despair) The newspapers help to maintain these two moods.

    I personally wasn´t angry with Helmes leaving back in the time, I was angry with the management, who did not give Helmes a halfway decent offer, because they thought he would stay anyway.

    Podolski leaving was different, because 1) he left when we went down a division and we needed the money 2) He had a contract so we got money for him each time 3) he did not go to an archenemy like Mönchengladbach. Leverkusen, Düsseldorf. 4) He left the club in a phase of in depths of despair

    So even if them leaving was different, both played with their hearts for our club and both achieved much for this club.

    The whole membership thing is rather newish, in the days of my beginnings there weren´t as much club members, but more fans. Being a fan does not disqualify you. It does not mean that you are inferior.

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