On the eve of the new Bundesliga campaign, there are two players who in many ways symbolize the changing of the guard in terms of the leading talent that will now drive the German national game.
The World Cup often proves definitive in the careers of footballers, and considering the pedigree of German participation at the most prestigious tournament in global soccer, any progress is invariably watched by fans across the planet.
The experience of Michael Ballack and Mesut Ozil over the showcase in South Africa, however, could barely be more contrasting.
Ballack, prior to June, looked set for an awesome finals. The free-scoring captain of the side, coming up for his hundredth cap, was aiming to better his second and third finishes at previous World Cups by lifting the trophy in Soccer City.
Sadly, injury ended any such ambition. He missed the competition, lost his captaincy, and then was let go from newly crowned English Premier League champions Chelsea on a free transfer.
In the same short period, the fickleness of fate saw Mesut Ozil rise to international prominence with meteoric speed. Having been part of the youth side that claimed the Under 21 European Cup in 2009, he stepped up to the senior side and helped take Joachim Low's outfit to the semifinals, with a number of scintillating performances.
Such exposure saw the attacking midfielder pursued by the biggest clubs the game. But whose boots would you rather be in? I’m not sure the answer’s as clear cut as you’d think.
OK, Michael Ballack’s absence didn’t seem to pose Germany many problems at the World Cup. And not missed by his national side, he wasn't wanted by Chelsea either.
Consequently, Ballack has returned to the Bundesliga, where he made his name with Leverkusen. He knows the club, and he knows the league. At Chelsea , he became excess to requirements. At Leverkusen, the game will be built around him. Ballack will lead from the front. And he'll get all the pitch time his ageing legs allow. This could be his best chance to regain the captaincy he lost at the World Cup. It's a final chance to shine for a dimming star.
Ozil’s performances in South Africa led to interest from Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The will-he won’t-he dragged on for weeks after which he finally chose to sign for Jose Mourinho's Madrid. In my opinion – a season too soon.
Ozil is still young – both on the pitch and off it. Yes he was outstanding in South Africa , but he was up and down for Bremen. Now he’s waved goodbye to the peace, quiet and relative anonymity of the northern German club … to head to the European colossus that is Real.
And the competition, expectations and stardom could well swallow him up. An extra year at Werder, in a key role for the club, and he’d have been ripe for the picking. Harvested too soon, his crop of skills could go to waste.
No question about it, Ozil’s talent is a blessing. His rise to stardom though – in my opinion – was not.