Please welcome Chris McClintick, on the ground in Germany and offering his take on the goings on in the Bundesliga.
It is not the first time Theofanis Gekas could save a club from the perils of relegation to the second Bundesliga. It’s been three seasons since the Greek scored a league-topping 20 goals to secure the newly-promoted VFL Bochum another season in Germany’s top flight. History may repeat itself this season with Eintracht Frankfurt as they tinker just four points above Wolfsburg in the play-off relegation spot, and four points ahead of St. Pauli in the automatic relegation zone.
Three seasons ago the loudspeakers in Bochum were blaring Greek folk music with fans serenading Gekas as he danced the Sirtaki, a Greek folk dance, in front of 25,000 Bochum fans after scoring one of his 20 goals during the 2006-2007 Bundesliga season. The Bochum faithful rightfully dubbed him the “Greek God”, as he joined the squad on loan from Panathinaikos and single-handedly eradicated any fears of relegation from the first Bundesliga newcomers. Although Gekas would deny any divine status, he admits in an interview with BundesligaTV that ever since he was little, he had an innate ability to score goals as a striker, and he believes this talent to be god-given.
Not only have the three previous seasons been anything but fortuitous for Gekas’ former club Bochum, who now play in the second bundesliga after slipping further and further down the first Bundesliga’s table, but also for the 30-year-old Greek who struggled to find a starting role and produce goals since his outstanding season with Bochum. Gekas signed with Bayer Leverkusen in 2007, but was only able to find the net 13 times in 50 appearances, losing his starting position competing with the consistent Stefan Kießling and the emerging Eren Derdiyok. After a one-match loan spell at Portsmouth, and a more fruitful loan-spell at the relegated Hertha Berlin, Gekas signed for Frankfurt in May of 2010.
Despite his frustrations on the club level, Gekas’ quality shone through on the international stage as he proved to be an inimitable asset to the Greek national team. The striker scored five during the 2008 European finals qualification campaign, and was the leading scorer in the UEFA region for the FIFA 2010 World Cup qualifying scoring ten goals, edging Wayne Rooney with nine. Although it seems that dressing room problems inside of the Greek squad has ended any more hopes of international success, as Gekas officially announced his international retirement in September of 2010.
With sixteen goals so far this season, Theofanis Gekas is Frankfurt’s top goal scorer, with the second place shared between four players with two goals each. It is easy to say that Frankfurt are still alive in the race almost solely because of Gekas’ goal scoring. Three of his most important goals came during the second half of the season bookending a dismal run of eight scoreless matches that eventually led to the sacking of Michael Skibbe on March 22nd.
The first came against the imperial Borussia Dortmund at the Commerzbank-Arena: after 86 minutes of end-to-end play with chances coming from both sides, Mario Götze lost the ball after running into two Frankfurt defenders who immediately played the ball to Halil Altintop at half field. After a short sprint Altintop laid the ball off to Gekas standing at the edge of the circle, after only two touches on the ball Gekas played the ball wide to Sebastian Jung. Immediately after passing the ball, Gekas sprinted in a beeline towards Dortmund’s penalty area; meanwhile Jung dribbled closer to the edge of the box and found Benjamin Köhler on top of Dortmund’s penalty area. With a cheeky back-heel clip, Köhler slipped the ball through two defenders finding Gekas un-marked ten yards out. The Greek was always going to finish the play with a left-footed, cool finish into the top-right corner of Roman Weidenfeller’s net, never slowing down his run from half field that started the play seconds earlier.
Three months later, Frankfurt earned their first win since their unlikely feat over Dortmund in a relegation battle against St. Pauli, and it was Gekas again who proved to be the deciding factor between the two sides. After Gekas earned and finished a penalty in the 34th minute, St. Pauli were able to equalize eight minutes later bringing the two sides level at half. Then in the 77th minute Gekas ran onto a ball played from the half field circle, and with a one-touch trap towards the goal followed by a precise tap of the ball past the pursuing St. Pauli keeper, Frankfurt found themselves three points above the relegation zone.
All of these goals highlight Gekas’ greatest attribute, the constant awareness and willingness to get behind defenders in order to get on the end of crosses, long balls, or slip in just at the right second to tap in a rebound or ball sent in across the six-yard box. All of his goals this season are reflective of this, whether it’s getting in front of the keeper or defender to nod in a cross, sitting on top of the six yard box to smash in square ball, or wriggling through defenders and goalkeepers alike to finish a loose ball. It is this attribute that is often over-looked in a world of football that glorifies the long-range goal, dribbling through three defenders to get to the net, a bicycle kick, or diving header.
Frankfurt’s new boss, Christoph Daum, won’t be overlooking this attribute however. As it is the best weapon his Frankfurt side have going into the last six matches of the Bundesliga where every point and goal couldn’t be more valuable. It will be a stern test for Frankfurt, with only two of the remaining matches being played against teams joining them in the bottom half of the table in Werder Bremen and Cologne. The other four matches are against Hoffenheim, the always-powerful Bayern Munich, champions league contenders, Mainz, and closing the season at Signal Iduna Park, home of the likely champions, Borussia Dortmund.
Surely Frankfurt and their revival talisman forward, Theofanis Gekas, will be up for the challenge. Gekas will indubitably try to yet again carry a team on his back and save their hopes of Bundesliga survival. He will be searching for the gaps between opposing defenders, timing runs to reach the space behind the defense, getting into the box whenever possible, always lurking.
About the author:
Chris McClintick is Journalism a and International Studies junior at the University of Richmond.
This semester he’s studying in Münster, Germany at the Wilhelms-Westfälische Üniversität Münster or, as he puts it, at a place with easy access to Borussia Dortmund, Schalke in Gelsenkirchen, Leverkusen, Bremen, and other clubs.
Last summer Chris interned with our friend over at World Football Daily.