By Kevin Hatchard.
There’s something delightfully absurd about the Bundesliga’s top scorer Alexander Meier. In an era of football where searing pace and mesmerising trickery are often to the fore, the 32-year-old is a curious anachronism, the footballing equivalent of playing a Nicki Minaj track on a gramophone. When the Eintracht Frankfurt forward slams a right-foot shot into the net, he sometimes looks like he’s burst free from the pages of ancient football comic Hot-Shot Hamish.
Meier is six feet five inches tall, and has a powerful 15-stone frame, but doesn’t play as a traditional target man. He doesn’t bemuse or bewitch defenders with a step-over or a drop of the shoulder. For most of a match it appears he’s ambling around the pitch with the intensity of a faded star at a beach football tournament. And then, just when you’ve forgotten he was even on the pitch, the big man explodes into life.
Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Augsburg was a classic example of Meier’s penchant for ruthless efficiency. Frankfurt were trailing 2-0 in Bavaria and Meier had made a negligible impact on the first half. On the stroke of half-time, the Eagles were controversially awarded a free-kick. Meier rose powerfully above his marker, and although his header was superbly parried by Augsburg keeper Alex Manninger, Stefan Aigner turned home the rebound.
That goal changed the entire complexion of the match, but there was still work to do. Meier seemed to have returned to the shadows, but with 20 minutes to go he struck again. A long punt downfield caught the Augsburg defence unawares, and in a flash, Meier had escaped the clutches of marker Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker. A short burst of acceleration and a show of strength created a one-on-one, and Meier coolly rolled the ball into the bottom corner to record his 14th league goal of the campaign.
Meier has outscored the leading lights of the German top flight, with Arjen Robben, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all below him in the charts. He scored more goals during the Hinrunde than his old club Hamburg managed as a team. It therefore seems extraordinary that Meier began the campaign with big doubts over his future at the Commerzbank Arena.
Meier has been with Eintracht Frankfurt since 2004, and for most of that spell, he has operated as either an attacking midfielder or a second striker. When new coach Thomas Schaaf arrived in the summer, he expressed concerns about whether Meier would fit into his system of play. The fans still regarded Meier as their “football god”, but the former Werder Bremen coach wasn’t so sure. When the captain’s armband was handed to keeper Kevin Trapp instead of Frankfurt’s longest-serving player, tongues really did start to wag.
Meier was left on the bench for the first competitive game of the season in the German Cup tie at Viktoria Berlin. He eventually entered the fray and scored in a 2-0 win, but was left out of the starting eleven in the first three Bundesliga games of the campaign. A long-term injury to Nelson Haedo Valdez opened the door for Meier, and he rumbled through it.
Meier scored in his first start – a 2-2 draw at Schalke – and he has started every match since. His strike partnership with Haris Seferovic has been a success (the Swiss forward has seven goals), although they still have work to do on their link-up play. Meier has been the driving force behind one of the league’s best attacks and Frankfurt have stayed clear of the relegation dogfight.
Given his height and strength, you’d think Meier would be an aerial powerhouse, but just three of his 14 league goals have come from headers. Most are from his trusty right foot and the key to his success is clever movement.
Germany legend Rudi Voller was a master of the forward’s craft, and he is a huge Meier fan. “He is phenomenal,” he told the Bundesliga’s official website. “He is the kind of player you can lose sight of for 15 minutes, but he has that rare gift of being able to find the right place at the right time to strike clinically. He is a constant threat.”
Schaaf seems to have been won over, admitting Meier “knows exactly where the ball is going to drop for him to score a goal”, and Frankfurt chairman Heribert Bruchhagen has described him as “a model professional, defined by performance rather than headlines”.
Bruchhagen makes a salient point: Meier’s not just different from most footballers in the way he plays, but also in how he conducts himself. He shies away from media attention, and despite his early-season predicament, he didn’t demand a move or leak negative stories about Schaaf. When Frankfurt were relegated in 2011, many players would’ve thought about switching clubs to stay in the Bundesliga; but Meier not only nailed his colours to the mast, he scored more than anyone else in the second division to help the Eagles regain their top-flight status.
Despite his goalscoring exploits, Meier wasn’t really linked with any clubs in January because potential suitors know what the answer would be. Meier has proven himself to his new coach and is, once again, one of the first names on the teamsheet. With no drama or fuss, Frankfurt’s Fussballgott can just get on with adding to his legend.
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