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Will Timo Werner buck the trend of struggling ex-Bundesliga strikers abroad?

Will the German striker, set to join Chelsea, be the one to finally live up to his expectations elsewhere?

RB Leipzig v Hertha BSC - Bundesliga Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Yesterday morning news broke that Chelsea FC were moving to sign RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, who has been long linked to Bayern Munich and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Chelsea have their man at the rumored price of about €60 million, earning a wage of €200,000 per week.

Werner’s move to London looks like an amazing coup for Chelsea. He has scored 25 goals and 7 assists across 29 Bundesliga games, this season, and another 4 goals and 2 assists in the UEFA Champions League, for a total of 31 goals, 12 assists in 40 games, with plenty more still to come.

But the Bundesliga’s recent history of strikers moving to other top European leagues leaves much to be desired. Can Werner buck a trend of disappointing transfers from the Bundesliga abroad? Below, I will compare the recent struggles of the four most expensive strikers to leave the Bundesliga in the last two seasons: Joelinton, Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

All four have had struggles and failings for their new clubs, and, as a result, they’ve somewhat hurt the reputation of the Bundesliga’s offensive development capabilities.

Arsenal Training Session Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: joined Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund for over €70 million

I’m starting with Auba, because he hasn’t really failed the expectations of anyone on the international stage other than those of Arsenal fans themselves. This, therefore, makes little of his relative “failure” his fault.

So, you might be asking why I put him here in the first place. To me, I feel that fans of Arsenal and Chelsea are cut from the same cloth. Both support successful clubs who have the tendency to spend a lot, but throughout various times in their history (the 1980s-2000s for Chelsea, 2012-now for Arsenal) struggled to garner results.

Arsenal fans hoped their recent luck would change when they snatched the Gabon striker from Dortmund in a deadline-day transfer in January 2018 for over €70 million.

In Aubameyang’s previous two seasons with Dortmund, he grabbed 39 goals and 12 assists, including 25 goals in Bundesliga play, across 49 games in all competitions in the 2015/16 season. The following season, 2016/17, he was nearly a goal-per-game player in the German top flight, grabbing 31 goals and 2 assists in 32 games. He also managed 9 goals and 3 assists in Dortmund’s Pokal and UCL campaigns.

After he started the 2017/18 season hot (13 goals, 3 assists in 16 BuLi games), Arsenal decided to splurge on that world-beating magic and made the signing. Aubameyang made 14 appearances for the Gunners in the Premier League and the League Cup, grabbing 10 goals and four assists.

One can look at those numbers and see there was a significant drop. However, you have to consider the roles Auba had at Dortmund versus Arsenal. At Dortmund, he was a one-man machine up front. Of course he had help from players like Marco Reus, but he carried the bulk of the scoring opportunities. At Arsenal, he formed a strike partnership with another 2017/18 purchase: Alexandre Lacazette.

The pressure to score all the goals was off, and as a result his statistics dropped. In his first full season at Arsenal, he managed 31 goals and eight assists over 51 games, including a run to the Europa League final. This year, Arsenal as a whole have disappointed, with Auba “slumping” at 20 goals in 32 total appearances.

Many clubs would love to have the kind of offensive production that Aubameyang brings to the table. However, at a club like Arsenal, where fans are desperate to win trophies, his major failing lies with his lack of silverware production. To place all of the blame at Auba’s feet would be wrong and disingenuous. However, as he gets further into his 30s, Arsenal fans may be wondering if they will ever see Aubameyang reach those heights he did with Dortmund.

CA Osasuna v Real Madrid - Liga Photo by Pressinphoto/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Luka Jovic: joined Real Madrid from Eintracht Frankfurt for €66 million

The story of Luka Jovic’s time in the Bundesliga was something special. After struggling to break into the first team at Benfica, the Serbian was loaned out to Eintracht Frankfurt for the 2017/18 campaign. Under then boss Niko Kovac, Jovic performed pretty well for a loanee striker. He bagged nine goals and two assists across 27 games in the Bundesliga and the Pokal.

The following season, Jovic broke out in a permanent spot in the Frankfurt starting XI. His 17 Bundesliga goals led the team as they managed a 7th place finish and a spot in the Europa League qualifiers. But that season also saw Eintracht make it to the Europa League semi finals, and Jovic’s 10 goals in 14 UEL games showed that he had what it took to perform on the bigger stages.

As a result, Real Madrid bought Jovic from Frankfurt for €66 million, in the hopes that he would replace their aging striker Karim Benzema.

What they got instead was a striker with abysmal output and a penchant for defying authority. His star had already fallen in Serbia, and multiple fallings-out with the national team dented his popularity. His recent failure to comply with quarantine orders during the coronavirus outbreak has seen his standing fall from bad to worse in his home country.

Meanwhile, in Madrid, his paltry 2 goals in 15 games saw him relegated to a backup option as Benzema regained his form. While Jovic has time on his side to turn things around, being only 22 years old, the lack of immediate success hasn’t helped his reputation or the Bundesliga’s.

West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United - FA Cup Fifth Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Joelinton: joined Newcastle United from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim for €48.5 million

No, that’s not a typo. A player with an estimated market value of €38.5 million became Newcastle’s record signing in a massive overpay for his services.

Little of this is Joelinton’s fault. He’s a 23-year-old Brazilian striker who was thrust into the bright lights of the Premier League and was expected to be a world-renowned scorer for the Magpies.

There was just one small problem: Joelinton has never scored more than 15 goals in a season. Ever. The most goals he ever scored in a season came when he was starting for Rapid Vienna in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2016/17. Across 48 games in the OFB-Cup, the Ö. Liga, and the Europa League, he managed just 13 goals and 7 assists.

When he returned to his parent club, Hoffenheim, in the 2018/19, he managed 11 goals and 9 assists. That’s a great for a 22-year-old, but he still was only the third highest scorer on the team.

Just to reiterate, Newcastle United spent nearly €50 million on a young striker who managed only 11 goals in his one season in a top flight league, where he had a stronger supporting cast than at Newcastle, and was only the third-best scorer for his team last year.

Remind me why this is Joelinton’s fault?

A lot of anger has been thrown Joelinton’s way from Newcastle fans. On the surface, I’d also be angry if the club’s record signing managed just three goals and four assists across 34 appearances. But beneath the surface, I don’t know what Newcastle owner Mike Ashley was thinking when he thought he should spend that much money on an unproven striker and thrust him into the spotlight of his team. It’s poor management and poor decision-making on his part.

West Ham United Training Session Photo by Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images

Sébastien Haller: joined West Ham United from Eintracht Frankfurt for €44 million

Haller was the second-most productive striker on last year’s Frankfurt side. His move to East London was a bit shocking, considering the fact that Die Adler were already losing one big striker in the summer of 2019 (Jovic).

West Ham, desperate for some attacking firepower, were able to purchase Haller for a steep price of €44 million, also making him the club’s record signing.

Since joining the team, Haller hasn’t returned to his previous year’s form of 20 goals and 12 assists across 39 games. But I don’t know what’s sadder: the fact that he followed up a 32-point season with only 7 goals and 2 assists, or that he’s West Ham’s leading goal-scorer across all competitions.

I don’t exactly blame Haller for this move. If were he surrounded by a better team (obviously Eintracht), he’d be doing a lot better. And if I got that kind of pay day, I may have made the same move.

Timo Werner

That leaves us with Timo Werner. Whether the previous players like it or not, they represent the Bundesliga and what success in this league means around the world. Some players, like Aubameyang and Joelinton, have had unrealistic expectations placed upon them. Others, like Haller and Jovic, had awful starts to their first seasons out of Germany.

But their struggles have only given more fodder for the pundits and critics to continue to call the Bundesliga a farmer’s league, where success does not translate to the rest of the world, where hype is built up only for it to die magnificently. You hear it even in regard to players currently succeeding in the league. Sure, Robert Lewandowski can score over 30 goals in a season in the Bundesliga, but could he do it on a cold, rainy Tuesday night in Stoke?

I believe that Timo Werner has the potential to turn this narrative around. He’s the perfect kind of player to show the naysayers who’s boss and what the Bundesliga has to offer. He might be the first player at Chelsea (who’s not an American) who I will actively root for.

That’s because he has the chance to destroy the farmer’s league narrative once and for all. He could slay the dragon and finally turn more people on to the beauty of the Bundesliga. Maybe, with Werner, German football’s top flight can finally get the respect that it deserves.

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