The German Bundesliga is jam packed with an array of the best soccer talent the world has to offer. Its regulations on ownership and wage distribution makes it the most relevant to American fans that understand the importance of an even competition, although Bayern Munich’s continual dominance overshadows whatever other clubs achieve.
Volkswagon’s share in Wolfsburg has given them the financial muscle to compete with any English Premier League rival. Despite selling Belgian star Kevin De Bruyne to Manchester City for $83 million this week, the Wolves took that cash to snap up German internationals Dante and Julian Draxler.
Efficiency is the aim of the game in Germany. Away fans are guaranteed 10% of the seats, standing zones are commissioned for those who want to sing and dance, and admission costs as little as $15. Consider how much value that price is worth given the volume of fans flocking through the gates at an average of 41,904 a game! Only the NFL can rival those numbers and those teams often know they’ll finish second at best to Bayern Munich year in, year out.
But Germany’s canny ability to produce a multitude of amazing young soccer stars works to their disadvantage. When Bayern Munich or the English Premier League eventually sucks up the best talent, Bundesliga clubs are left to fight over the scraps of what’s left over from the European dinner table.
Some of these scraps have proven to be a huge waste of time, space and money – proving that even the Germans can be inefficient given the right circumstances. Certain players came and went with big reputations in tatters while others tried to make that big move work despite all the doubts about their temperament in the pressure cooker of the Bundesliga. Let’s take a look at the worst players in Bundesliga history.
20 Lars Unnerstall
Sporting a hipster beard these days won’t disguise the fact poor old Lars has had a rough ride of his goalkeeping career to date. The young Schalke prodigy had to wait his time before stalwarts Timo Hildebrand and Ralf Fahrmann both fell out with injury, giving the third choice Unnerstall a time to shine or the 2012/13 season. The pressure proved too much, making a number of high profile mistakes which commentators lambasted him. This was followed by a string of injuries and he lost his place permanently. Lars now plies his trade for lower league outfit Fortuna Dusseldorf.
19 Mikael Silvestre
When the sporting director of your club comes out to the press to say that a recent signing is “error prone” and “slow”, you know you have problems. By the time the French center half moved from Arsenal to Werder Bremen, the decline from the man who was in defense for Manchester United was so stark, people would think he was an imposter. A very short stint with the Portland Timbers ended when he went to the Indian Premier League of all places until retiring at the age of 37. Manchester United released Mikael at the perfect time.
18 Julian Schieber
‘Underwhelming’ would best be the phrase that suits the Bundesliga career of German striker Julian Schieber. Borussia Dortmund’s attempts to fill the massive boots of Robert Lewandowski left a lot to be desired, replacing the Polish superstar with a string of subpar strikers who never quite fit the bill. After a promising start with the Germany Under 21s, Schieber’s dud spell with Dortmund linked him with the likes of English minnows Wigan Athletic before transferring to relegation threatened Hertha Berlin.
17 Simon Kjaer
So cocky was this blonde-haired Danish starlet that he turned down a move to Liverpool because he wanted to “win trophies.” Fast-forward a few years and the 26-year-old is playing out his days for Lille in France’s mid table. His three years with Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga amounted to 57 appearances, plagued by injury and dips in and out of form. The hype surrounding Kjaer as the next big thing in Europe never came to fruition and the Wolves quickly moved the part-time model along to other ventures.
16 Eljero Elia
The frustration of Eljero Elia should be written across the faces of all the coaches who have had to coach this lad. There is obvious talent there for the Dutch international, but at 28 his career has seemingly passed by without any memorable moments to look back on. His first stint in the Bundesliga with Hamburger SV returned a poultry seven goals in two seasons then four goals in three seasons for Werder Bremen. The pacey winger has never settled in his career and two spells in Germany that flattered to deceive makes him a worthy entrant to this list.
15 Jose Ernesto Sosa
Making the grade at Bayern Munich is a tough ask for any soccer player, but for a dynamic and versatile Argentine international midfielder, you are expected to make a healthy contribution. Alas for Jose Sosa, 35 appearances in three years included a loan spell back to his native club Estudiantes in 2010 to recapture some form and his love for the game again. Subsequent moves to Turkey and the Ukraine meant Sosa failed tragically in Germany for the biggest club of them all.
After Bayer Leverkusen’s experience with Brazilian playmaker Marquinhos, it would be fair to say most German clubs got in the habit of cross-checking their scouting reports from South America. The enigmatic midfielder moved to the Bundesliga club in 2000 for a fee of $5 million from the second division of Brazil. That should have been an omen, as the closest he came to making the top team was sitting on the bench and playing for Leverkusen’s Under 23s outfit. Money poorly spent.
13 Johan Djourou
To summarize Johan Djourou’s time in Hamburger SV, his best moment arrived in the tunnel at halftime when he took on his own teammate Valon Behrami at the end of last season. The pair came to blows during a 2-0 loss to Wolfsburg and it is the only time he looked like he cared about a performance. It would also be the only time he comprehensively beat an opponent, with Behrami moving to England with Watford soon after. Flattering to make an impact after 10 years at Arsenal, Hamburg reluctantly decided to exercise Djourou’s buy-out clause in his contract, struggling to bring in any other big name players due to their lowly position on the Bundesliga table.
12 Cristian Ledesma
Performing well for Argentina heavyweights River Plate made Cristian Ledesma’s price tag of $4.5 million a respectable one in 2002. If only Hamburger SV had the gift of hindsight. The diminutive midfielder struggled early to deal with the pace and physicality of the German league, but managed a run of six weeks in the side until he was emphatically dropped and frozen out. Four loan spells were to follow while he was still on Hamburger’s books, trying every which way to end his horror spell. Fortunately his contract ran out in 2006 meaning he could finally leave on a free transfer, to both parties delight.
11 Kevin-Prince Boateng
Modesty is not an attribute the Ghanaian box-to-box midfielder has in his locker. Best known for doing the moon walk after AC Milan last won the title as well as admitting to the press that he developed a groin injury from having too much sex with his model girlfriend. KPB’s time in Schalke has been nothing short of pitiful, coming to the once Champions League qualifiers with big fan fare, but has spent his time fighting with teammates and threatening to walk out. For Schalke’s sake and the Bundesliga’s, we hope he does!
10 Karim Ziani
The common consensus for champion soccer teams is this – spend big, especially when you have won the title. The reason for this? It helps freshen up the dressing room, provide competition to established stars and gives opponents something else to think about. When Wolfsburg snapped up Algerian winger Karim Ziani that is exactly what they would have expected in 2009. A fee of $11 million was forked out for a handful of appearances while the manager was fired and replaced with Englishman Steve McClaren. After 23 games and no goals, Ziani moved on to the Middle East.
9 Victor Ikpeba
The African footballer of the year in 1997 arrived at Borussia Dortmund in 1999 with big expectations despite his diminutive size of 5-foot-8. Ikpeba came after scoring for fun in Ligue One for Monaco, tallying 50 goals in just 108 games and the yellow and black army were licking their lips and the prospect of the Nigerian translating that form to the Bundesliga. In the end, Victor managed three goals in the league in two seasons, falling clearly short of what he was supposed to produce. To make matters worse, Ikpeba’s stock fell so bad they lost $5 million when he was sold to Al-Ittihad for $1.5 million.
8 Ji Dong-Won
Asian soccer players are beginning to make an impact in Europe, yet Dong-Won’s career in Germany to date has been nothing short of pitiful. The young South Korean’s move to Borussia Dortmund came with little fanfare, which was probably a good thing. Not only could Ji not score or play for the first team, but five games for the reserves returned nothing to bother the scorers either! A change to opposing Bundesliga side FC Augsburg was a relief for both this year.
7 Danijel Pranjic
The pressure of Bayern Munich can eat up the biggest of soccer stars. While Croatian Danijel Pranjic could never be considered more than a handy player, his time in Munich left a hell of a lot to be desired. His versatility between left back and midfield meant the coach utilized him as cover on the bench, coming on only 14 times in his first season. The emergence of German prodigy Holger Badstuber put an end to three years wasted, transferring to Portugal effective immediately in 2012.
6 Jon Dahl Tomasson
Eight goals for a striker in two seasons compares quite favorably against other compatriots for the worst Bundesliga player contenders, but Jon Dahl could have and should have been so much more for $8 million. Moving from the big boys of Italy in AC Milan for the 2005/06 season saw Tomasson compete with the talent of German internationals Mario Gomez and Cacau. An average first season that produced eight goals was followed by a mere four games the following year, unable to make the team let alone find the net. By our calculations Tomasson’s goals cost $1 million each, quite the investment for a team that didn’t compete for the title.
5 Nicklas Bendtner
Wolfsburg have made some dud choices down the years, and we have to wonder what they were thinking by picking up the ego with legs himself – Nicklas Bendtner. The Danish striker has married into royalty, but that has not translated across to his soccer career which has been marred by injury, ill discipline and a lazy acceptance to pick up his paycheck without putting in any effort. Bendtner sat out the remaining years of his big Arsenal contract while being spotted out in London’s nightlife on a daily basis. A switch to Wolfsburg last year has given the Champions League club a tiny return of two goals.
4 Carlos Alberto
Credit to Carlos Alberto Gomes de Jesus for coming up with a very unique excuse for flopping at Werder Bremen. His excuse? Insomnia from the difference in times zones! Although that was never completely verified by any medical professional, it could be compared with a 5th grader complaining that the dog ate his homework. Bremen’s record splash at the time of $8.7 million on Alberto meant they were expecting huge things from the Corinthians star, but all he managed was two starts and 195 minutes of action.
3 Marcus Berg
Every now and then the Dutch Eredivise competition pulls out a superstar from nowhere, think Luis Suarez or Ruud van Nistelrooy. However, proven goal scorers in Holland these days mean very little when we look at our next entrant – Swedish striker Marcus Berg. The front man smashed in 32 goals in 56 games for Groningen and Hamburger SV saw enough to put $11 million down to secure his services. Berg never regained his knack for finding the net, scoring just the six times in four years in Germany. His amazing return to form with Greek powerhouse Panathinkaikos (30 goals in 50 games) would make Hamburger wonder what the hell went wrong.
2 Ryan Babel
Ryan Babel’s decline has been so significant that he now spends his time arguing with people on Twitter over sexist remarks he made for no reason whatsoever. There was a time in 2011 when the Dutch international moved to Hoffenheim with healthy expectations following three years at Anfield with Liverpool.
While he never blew the roof off the stadium, he did enough to earn the switch to Germany for $8 million and at 25 he had enough time to develop. Besides one very short spell of goal scoring form at the start of 2012, Babel fizzled out badly and never recovered. Mid table German clubs rarely gamble with that much money and it’s down to people like Ryan Babel that we’ve seen little of it since.
Breno’s story is one of the saddest in modern sport, let alone German soccer history. The brilliantly gifted young Brazilian defender signed on with champions Bayern Munich for a big fee of $13.5 million from Sao Paulo. A short loan to Nurnberg followed once it became clear the hotheaded defender wasn’t settling into life in Germany, but a rupture of his knee ligament made his situation even more perilous.
In September 2011, Breno’s $2 million home went up in flames and the player was arrested on charges of arson. He went to jail for three years in his native Brazil when Bayern took him back as a trainer for their Under 23s. Undoubtedly a world class talent that never settled or fulfilled his potential.