Strikers, more than any other position (at least in my biased estimation), are victims of preference and circumstance when it comes to international football. Though the position itself is tasked with being a side’s main source of goal production, football has evolved in such a way that bags of goals no longer guarantees inclusion at the international level.
Gone are the days when being in the top echelon of goalscorers in Europe was enough to draw recognition as a viable option. But as stated previously, many national managers are often spoiled for choice or hold personal biases when it comes to team selection. Sometimes it pays off, while other times it has been to their teams’ detriments.
In the case of Germany and France, it could well be time to look at options through the middle. Here are three Bundesliga strikers who have yet to feature for the full national team, but deserve serious consideration:
Anthony Modeste (FC Cologne)
Perhaps one of the last of a dying breed when it comes to traditional target men, Modeste’s career didn’t actually bloom until he found joy in Germany. Though his goalscoring record started at a snail’s pace at OGC Nice (three goals in 42 appearances in Ligue 1), he exploded for twenty goals during a one-year spell for SCO Angers in Ligue 2.
Unfortunately for the big Frenchman, he would then move on to Girondins Bordeaux where his struggles would resume to the tune of thirteen goals in 51 appearances through two seasons.
His woes would continue during a brief spell at Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, but a somewhat triumphant return to France with SC Bastia saw him net fifteen goals in the French top flight in a single league campaign. It was at this point that the Bundesliga came calling when he swapped French wine for German beer when he moved to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim during the 2013-14 season.
His first season in Sinsheim showed a bit of promise after he scored twelve league goals in his debut Bundesliga season, but the second act was far less convincing when he only found the back of the net seven times. It was at this point that FC Cologne would take a chance on him, and it’s paid off in spades.
At current, the native of Cannes sits on 32 goals in 55 Bundesliga appearances for The Billy Goats, in what have been many throwback-esque appearances through the middle.
Standing at 6’1″ but weighing an imposing 185-pounds, Modeste (as well as another player who will feature later in this article) has rekindled his club career built around a classic approach. Physical on both sides of the ball, strong attacking instincts in the final third, efficient in and around the area when given a chance both on the ground and in the air, and even unafraid to get stuck in and find his way into the referee’s book, Modeste is a pragmatic striker in a footballing world that preaches mobility, agility, and flair; something that France could certainly use.
The striker issue for Les Blues is an interesting one. Karim Benzema has effectively ended his international career, Andre-Pierre Gignac’s goals in Mexico for Tigres UNAL are null and void when you consider his overall body of work at the national level, and Olivier Giroud now plays second fiddle to Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal.
France are genuinely crying out for a central striker figure that goes against the mold of Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, and Kevin Gameiro.
There is no use speaking against the ability of the aforementioned options—all are talented players, but are they the players France needs to lead the line? Griezmann is tactically flexible enough that he can feature in four different positions and still be a threat, Martial—in my estimation—is better on one of the flanks, and Gameiro’s so-called swan song at Atletico Madrid has been littered with inconsistency. At the very least, Modeste has been nothing but consistent in an attacking sense, while taking responsibility with his defensive duties as well.
With so much up-and-coming talent year on year in the French system, most of whom are of the new-breed of footballer who rely on technical ability and pace, Modeste’s Bundesliga success should be seen as more than enough evidence to—even though for maybe only a few years (he is already 28 years-old)—be given a chance to make an impact.
Sandro Wagner (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim)
Much like Anthony Modeste, Sandro Wagner is a striker from the by-gone era whose career did not take shape until his later twenties.
After coming through the youth ranks at Bayern Munich with some promise—during the 2005-06 campaign, he scored 15 goals in 19 appearances in A-Junioren Bundesliga Sud/Sudwest—Wager went on a whirlwind tour of German football, making stops at MSV Duisburg, SV Werder Bremen, 1.FC Kaiserslautern, and Hertha Berlin SC.
Unfortunately for the big front-man, none of those stops made along the Regional/InterCity Express bore fruit, with Wagner never breaking the seven goal mark. It wasn’t until German minnows SV Darmstadt 98 acquired his services in the summer of 2015 from Hertha did Wagner begin his resurgence.
After his free transfer move was completed to the newly promoted Darmstadt on July 1, Wagner went on to be a major catalyst behind The Lilies‘ successful campaign of securing a second season in the Bundesliga after finishing just two points clear of the drop zone. Wagner was central to their survival efforts, and his 14 goals in the league accounted for 35% of Darmstadt’s total goal production, placing him in eighth on the goalscoring chart by the end of the season.
Such were his key performances for a smaller club, that young Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann targeted him as one of many under-the-radar signatures this past summer. Despite endearing himself to the Darmstadt faithful, Wagner made what was perceived as a lateral move with regards to his career, but it could end up being one that will propel it further forward.
Fast track to today, and the Nagelsmann revolution in Sinsheim is still going strong, with Die Kraichgauer sitting tied for third in the table with giants Borussia Dortmund on 37 points, having only tasted defeat twice in 21 Bundesliga fixtures. And, just like at Darmstadt the season before, Wagner has led the charge from the front.
It hasn’t just been his valuable goals for the club (ten, which is sixth-best in the league) that have helped propel Hoffenheim on the pitch, but his leadership qualities and incredible work rate for a center forward that has seen many label him one of the best purchases in the summer.
The 6’3″, 202 lb center forward is as important as his size suggests. Brilliant in the air on both sides of the ball, a keen eye for goal when inside the area, and a physical presence in defense that has seen him get stuck in on more than a few occasions (as well as collect a few bookings, including a straight red), he’s very much an all-action forward, which is something you don’t see too often these days.
Much in the same light as Modeste, Wagner’s ability as a player and his physical presence could be just what his national team needs.
I covered this topic for Outside of the Boot over the summer, after Germany crashed out of Euro 2016 before their expected appearance (and predicted win) in the finals—Germany are in desperate need of a center forward to pick up the mantel left by Miroslav Klose. Though Mario Gomez was taken to France, and Germany were a bit better with him in the XI, there was still too much faith shown in the false-nine deployment with Mario Gotze featuring in the middle.
At their very best, Germany has always had a traditional central striker figure, something that dates back decades. At current, the likes of Kevin Volland, Mario Gomez (still), and Thomas Muller have featured in that role post-Euro 2016. Past that, in a pinch, you could perhaps argue for the inclusion of Andre Schurrle in that role. But other than Gomez, none of those players are the big framed center forward that is just so necessary—especially in the air, where Klose was so strong and Germany carved out bags of scoring opportunities.
Though he may already be 29 years of age, there is a very large case that Wagner is actually Joachim Low’s best option through the middle—no other German center forward has scored more Bundesliga goals than him over the period spanning back to last season. And if you were to ask him, he would certainly agree.
It stands to reason that Germany are very much at the forefront of youth development, and despite the fact that every year another German youngster throws his name into the hat for national team consideration, perhaps it’s the more seasoned Wagner that Germany should be willing to take a chance on.
Timo Werner (RasenBallsport Leipzig)
And speaking of German youngsters, it’s hard to imagine that Timo Werner is still just 20 years-old considering the length of which he’s been on the lips of German supporters (he turns twenty-one on the same day I turn thirty-three… woof).
The embodiment of homegrown, the Stuttgart native began his education at his hometown club just aged six, coming through the youth ranks in stunning fashion. After progressing up the ladder, Werner reached the U-17’s by age 15, and from the period of 2010-2013, he went on to score an incredible 57 goals and 12 assists in 61 combined appearances between the U-17’s and U-19’s.
He was just as prolific in the German youth set-up as well, banging in 30 goals in 38 combined appearances during the same period for the German U-15, U-16, U-17, and U-19 sides. In 2013-14 he would make his full debut for Stuttgart, pinging four goals and five assists in his first full season with the first-team.
But Stuttgart were very much a side in decline, and despite the mountain of promise Werner had shown for the entirety of his footballing career up to that point, he would only go on to score 16 goals in 95 appearances for the club he dedicated himself to.
After managerial changes and eventual relegation last season, Werner, still highly touted and respected, was snapped up by RasenBallsport Leipzig, a club who were making waves through the country with their controversial approach. Despite the flak they receive (and continue to) with regards to how they’re run upstairs, on the pitch they continue to turn heads, and Werner has become a crucial cog in the RBL wheel during his first season for Die Roten Bullen.
Blessed with an incredible turn of pace, tactical flexibility, strong understanding in running the channels, and a killer instinct in the final third that has improved leaps and bounds over the last 12-16 months, Werner has become the standout attacker in a Leipzig side that is blessed with gifted young players throughout their first-team.
At time of writing, Werner leads all RBL scorers with 12 goals (and three assists) in 20 Bundesliga appearances, which is good for fourth-best on the goalscoring charts—a monumental leap in production from his time at Stuttgart.
It is not a question of if Werner will get a call-up to the full national side, but when. Joachim Low recently commented “We certainly do not have one like Luis Suarez at the moment, but we must try to reach this level” when reflecting on Germany’s lack of a quick, instinctive finisher in that mold of striker.
His follow up comments about Werner, however, are a bit telling: “He has potential and [offers] good conditions. A striker like Werner is difficult to grasp. He brings disorder in an ordered way. He always goes deep, is very quick and very powerful in front of goal.”
With Germany on the prowl and looking to repeat their success in Russia two summers from now, Werner will be under the constant watchful eye of Low. Seeing as how Die Mannschaft are already five points clear and topping a straightforward qualification group, and with the inevitable international friendlies that will undoubtedly pop up over the coming year and a half, not only should Werner feature for his country in a full capacity down the line, but sooner rather than later.
At the very least, his continued progression and form in the current Bundesliga campaign justify such consideration.