After having been knocked out of the DFB Pokal by Alemannia Aachen by 4-2 at the old Tivoli, in December 2006 Bayern Munich were officially in crisis. In due course they did what you’d expect Bayern Munich to do: sack the coach* and sign the player who scored against them. In this case the player was not Cristian Fiel who, scored a brace, but Jan Schlaudraff who scored a tremendous individual effort towards the end of the game to put it beyond their illustrious opponents.
At his peak Schlaudraff was something of a throwback to the great mavericks of yesteryear. His untucked shirt, balding hair and precocious talent made him an immensely watchable player. He was and extremely versatile attacker (I hesitate to use the term striker) who was dangerous on the right flank and through the middle. He was a good judge of an offside trap and was comfortable running at and indeed passed players. Like many mavericks, he blew hot and cold. One of his former team mates, Erik Meijer, once said of him to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung:
“There are always two Jans, the moody and the genius.”
Nominally a forward, Schlaudraff was quite capable in the midfield and he played in a deeper role for Borussia Mönchengladbach II which is where his professional career began. He was born in Waldbrol, near Cologne. His father was an athlete, his mother a fitness instructor and his grandfather, a football player. He joined ‘Gladbach in the summer of 2002. A decent stint in the second team followed before moving to second division Aachen in January 2005, initially on loan and then on a permanent basis the following summer. In the subsequent season Schlaudraff’s eleven goals and seven assists helped his team gain promotion to the 1. Bundesliga, albeit for only one season.
While Aachen were unsuccessful in their attempt to stay in the top flight, the performance of Schlaudraff in this team was was earning him admirers after scoring two of the sweetest goals of the Hinründe. The first was the aforementioned goal against Bayern in the Cup. But the better goal, at least in my eyes, was against Werder Bremen on Matchday 13 of the Bundesliga in the old Tivoli in Aachen.
With the score at 1-1, Schlaudraff picked up the ball danced across the edge of the penalty area, beating the Werder defence single-handed, leaving Per Mertesacker on his arse before lifting the ball over ‘keeper Tim Wiese and into the back of the net. Schlaudraff’s reaction to scoring was understated, as though this sort of thing was commonplace. The game ended 2-2 with a late equaliser from the for more prosaic but considerably more decorated Miroslav Klose.
Pretty soon Schlaudraff was a player in demand and it was pretty apparent that he would not be an Aachen player at the end of the season. Indeed, his coach expressed concerns about his attitude in the second half of the season and he was left out of the squad briefly as a consequence.
The front-runners for his signature were the two clubs that he had hit so hard in the Hinrunde: Werder and Bayern. Back then, Werder had a decent team. They were Bundesliga champions in 2004 and runners-up in 2006. However, Schlaudraff went for the car, so to speak, and opted for Bayern. This is a decision that some found puzzling but aside from the extra money the Bavarians offered him (which was substantial) Schlaudraff was confident that he would find a role in the Bayern first team whereas he was less confident about unseating the magnificent Diego in the number 10 slot at Werder. Bayern were in a transitional phase and for a young, talented and ambitious player, why not take the plunge?
The answer came in the shape of Franck Ribery, Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose who arrived in the summer and proceeded to help reinvigorate Bayern under new coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. Schlaudraff made only eight Bundesliga appearances in Bayern’s title winning 2007-08 season. While he was prolific in friendlies he never troubled the scorers in a competitive match.
Schlaudraff was gone from Bayern the following season and had a decent career at Hannover 96, despite disagreements with his coach Mirko Slomka. He went on to captain the side and help them qualify for the Europa League, scoring some cracking goals in the process including this beauty against Hamburg.
He was, perhaps unfairly, maligned for the team’s decline under Tayfun Korkut. When his contract expired at the end of the 2014-15 season it was not renewed and at the age of 32, Schlaudraff retired.
There is of course a sliding doors moment in Jan Schlaudraff’s career when he chose Bayern over Bremen. On reflection he may have enjoyed a more fruitful career by the River Weser had he chose differently. However, it is true that Diego could have been a big obstacle to his entry into the Werder side. The Brazilian did not leave Bremen until 2009 and it is not unrealistic to suggest that Werder coach may not have been able to attempt both Diego and Schlaudraff in the same team. It was unfortunate, for him, that Bayern made such dramatic interventions if the transfer market that summer. When you look back at some of the goals he scored you have to wonder, had he done his best work at Bayern or the mid-noughties Champions League playing Werder team, could we be remembering Jan Schlaudraff as a modern Bundesliga great? Would he have improved and become a consistently better player capable of great deeds more often?
That being said Jan Schlaudraff, much loved at Hannover, made a big difference to that decent side and also made a home and a family for himself. He now has the rest of his life ahead of him. Let’s hope it’s a good one.
*This is a somewhat truncated account of the sacking of Felix Magath used as a shortcut by the author. For a more rounded explanation as to why Magath left Bayern go here https://www.theguardian.com/football/2007/feb/01/europeanfootball.bayernmunich