Adil Chihi had been playing well enough recently to establish himself among the group of 1. FC Köln players who should just be written into the line-up without hesitation or forethought to opponent or situation.
Apparently, the Football Gods took that to mean it was time to hit him with another injury needing months to overcome.
Last year, Chihi had potted a pair of goals early in the season while starting every game under head coach Stale Solbakken before going out for the season’s remainder in match day 10.
So, when Chihi went down along the sideline in the first half hour of play against FC Ingolstadt Sunday, my reaction (Oh no, are you SERIOUS?!) would have seemed to be a bit overwrought. There was no violent collision, nor did Chihi fall down entirely awkwardly where you’d imagine something got turned funny. He went down like a guy who suddenly had something in his body go horribly awry, and, having his injury history in mind, made me assume it was going to be bad news.
And, it mostly was.
Early reports are that Chihi will be out for four months. If there is any positive to this, it would be that a fair chunk of that time missed will happen over the winter break, reducing the number of matches the Geißböcke will have to play without him.
Unfortunately, it still complicates the issue of the team suffering from an inconsistent and often toothless attack, as Chihi has been arguably the most-dangerous player in the squad. While Anthony Ujah has certainly been the hot hand in the goal-scoring department, the overall play from Chihi has been much more of a catalyst for the offense, in general.
The player who needs a good bit of self-awareness right now would be Christian Clemens. After establishing himself as one of the few bright spots in the disastrous 2011-12 campaign, Clemens has been largely invisible on the pitch this season. Stani keeps putting him out there, knowing full-well that he has the potential to be a difference-maker for the team, and Clemens keeps disappointing. A happy Christmas gift for all of us would be for Clemens to step up, starting on Monday, and put all of our minds at east about whether the offense will take a step backwards in the absence of Chihi.
Timing-wise, with Thomas Bröker returning from injury, it will save Stani from criticism around any changes he makes to a line-up that has been churning along quite nicely. Bröker is the sort of player you want on the field, and now there is conveniently a spot available.
It would also seem like a sure bet that Daniel Royer will see a sharp increase in his playing time, potentially even starting regularly while Chihi is out. I’m guessing Stani is not loving the idea he’s been put in this position after Royer publicly whined about his playing time in an interview in his homeland of Austria.
I’ve been a bit of a Royer cheerleader for most of the season, believing (with no real basis for it) he would emerge as a key to a successful season. After reading his words of complaint, I lost a lot of the steam I had for him; I don’t like that sort of attitude from players.
Further, there was a moment during the match where Royer seemed to throw his arms up in frustration toward his teammates, as if they weren’t doing what they needed to do for him to be able to do what he wanted to do. Generally, I would like a guy who was willing to be a vocal leader on the field, especially if there were some lack-luster effort taking place. The problem is when it comes from a guy who’s recently been benched for being a bit of a malcontent. I have to wonder whether his teammates don’t really like him. My guess is that the club won’t look to extend his loan.
Which brings me to another issue: what do we have going forward? Ujah has emerged as a scorer and, other than Chihi, the only real goal-scorer on the squad, if you go by actual results (you know…goals?). Counting on penalty conversions by Bröker and headers from Kevin McKenna would be a good way to reverse course back toward the wrong end of the table.
Ujah, as we all know, is on loan from Mainz. The excellent debut of young talent Shawn Parker during the English week for Mainz could signal a roadblock for Ujah with him home club, which could also make him available for an outright transfer? His current agreement with Mainz runs through June of 2015. He’s become an instant fan favorite, thanks to an explosion of goal-scoring, a goofy dance, and a show of a bit of social-media savvy.
That is, he’s a good fit. It will be interesting to see how this situation develops. Should Mainz manage to sneak into European competition, they might want Ujah for depth, even if Parker and Szalai turn out to be the reason for their ascension.
And…I don’t really even want to yet get into the larger discussion of having an oft-injured player among your most-important men on the roster. Is this the injury that signals to the club that he’s too unreliable for a legitimate run at promotion and re-establishment as a Bundesliga side?
How Stani and the club react to the absence of Chihi will be very telling for the fortunes of this year’s campaign and could have ramifications for the extended future. A strong performance against Braunschweig would go a long way in helping the winter break pass in a relaxing manner, not to mention the necessity of grabbing three points in Sandhausen.
Otherwise, I feel an anxious Christmas time could be in the offing for all of us.