If you are an aging German professional footballer contemplating your future, you might want to add the words Major (Haupt) League (Liga) Soccer (Fussball) to your English vocabulary. Warum MLS? Thanks to the ‘Beckham rule’, all 18 professional teams (16 US, 2 Canadian) can bid for higher salaried internationals outside of preexisting salary caps. Add increasing league competitiveness, and a major push in fan support and league commitment (building soccer-specific stadiums), and even a spoiled German superstar might look twice at making the trip across the ‘big pond’.
Within the last 20 days, two big name German players, Torsten Frings (formerly of Werder Bremen) and Frank Rost (formerly of Hamburger SV) have joined MLS teams. Whether Juergen Klinsmann, German Fussball legend and Toronto FC soccer consultant, had any part in convincing Frings to head North; or to what extent Rost was influenced by other NY Red Bull internationals Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez ,who knows? What we do know is that German futbolers have been heading to Amerika for 33+ years starting with Franz Beckenbauer’s transfer to the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s. [Interested in more Germans-to-U.S. football migration history (or anything Bayern Munich), be sure to check out Tim Russell’s excellent history lesson posted on the equally impressive Bundesliga Fanatic site.]
So now that Frings and Rost have made the latest move stateside, what other German ‘Profis’ might want (or need) to consider migrating to the Land of Opportunity (and second chances):
Christoph Metzelder: ‘Metze’ is pushing 31 and has 2 years remaining on his 3 year FC Schalke 04 contract. The ex-German National Team (50 caps) central defender has lost a step in recent years but that could be a combination of not playing at all while with Real Madrid (2007-2009) and his many injury woes. Now that Felix Magath and his stifling strategies have once again departed for VW-city, Christoph, if he can stay healthy, should be able to really strengthen Schalke’s back-line and increase his future value. He’ll be available, transfer fee-free, after the 2012 campaign.
Arne Friedrich: Friedrich is another German defender with plenty of fight, currently playing his football with VFL Wolfsburg after joining the club last season (since his hometown team Hertha BSC was relegated to Germany’s 2nd division in 2010). Compared to Metzelder, Friedrich is a lot more versatile, and often plays fullback, center back and sometimes a midfield position. Even at age 32, he is still a national team regular and along with Werder Bremen’s Per Mertesacker is the heart of the German defense. His current contract also expires after the 2012 Bundesliga season. His website states his favorite vacation spot is the U.S., so maybe this will help sweeten any move west.
Gerald Asamoah: Best known for his 11 year-long club career at Schalke 04, the Ghanaian born forward spent the 2010/11 Bundesliga season with St. Pauli but left the club after relegation. Although his 32-year old legs are not as speedy as in the early and mid 2000s, he can still burst by many defenders and provides emotional and spirited leadership to any side. According to Kicker Online, Asamoah is actively looking for offers while working out and training in Schalke.
Thomas ‘Der Hammer’ Hitzlsberger: He’s unemployed (which in the UK apparently gives you the right to drive like a maniac) but I think still very employable as a midfielder for European teams as well as any MLS squad. He is a true journeyman and no stranger to playing overseas having made appearances for Aston villa, Lazio Rom and most recently West Ham United. It was while playing in the EPL that he garnered the name ‘Der Hammer’ for his viciously powerful and accurate kick. He also spent 5 quality years at Bundesliga club VFB Stuttgart playing alongside Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira and winning the German League Championship in 2006-07.
David Odonkor: He might be my sentimental/emotional pick, and teams looking for a speedy and creative right winger should consider the ex Borussia Dortmund and Real Betis (Spain) player. He’s one of the younger (27) picks of the litter and if healthy has another 4-5 years left. I mentioned sentiment primarily because of Odonkor’s inspiring ‘off the bench’ performances during Germany’s 2006 World cup run. He was released by Betis in June and has been linked with German 2nd division team Karlsruhe SC.
Leonardo de Deus Santos (Dede): Brazilian Dede ended his 13 year Borussia Dortmund career after last season. The left back was a valuable asset in Dortmund and a true ‘Publikumsliebling’ (fan favorite). The club’s 2010/11 Bundesliga Championship was in part dedicated to him. He is now 33 but still physically capable of playing at a high level. MLS teams looking to add some Brazilian Samba flair should consider him.
Note: Of our German ‘pick 6’, Dede is the only non-German national but so integrated into Borussia culture that we’ll give grant him honorary citizenship.