Lukas Podolski set for German goodbye tour before Arsenal move
Lukas Podolski could sign for Arsenal in the next few weeks, but before then his farewell tour of German football begins on Saturday with a Bundesliga relegation battle between his Cologne side and Hertha Berlin.
Podolski, affectionately known as "Prinz Poldi" at Cologne, missed training on Thursday with a stomach bug but is likely to recover in time for a game that has been widely billed as the opening leg of his goodbye tour.
Even in the absence of official confirmation, no one in Germany is left under any illusion that the 26-year-old might still feature for the "Goats" next season. "He's moving to Arsenal," local paper Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger wrote ruefully on Friday, "to the big, wide world."
PODOLSKI AT A GLANCE
- Born: Gliwice, Poland, 1985
- 1987: Family move to Germany
- 1995: Joins Cologne, first-team debut in 2003
- 2006: Joins Bayern Munich after scoring 51 goals in 84 games for Cologne
- 2009: Rejoins Cologne after scoring 26 goals in 106 games for Bayern
- 2010-12: Has scored 14 and 16 goals in last two seasons
- Germany: 91 caps, 43 goals
Since his return to his hometown club in 2009, after a less than successful spell at Bayern Munich, Podolski has experienced "a kind of quasi-religious admiration that's only comparable to the adulation heaped on Francesco Totti in Rome," [German football magazine] 11 Freunde editor Christoph Biermann told BBC Sport.
But this week's reports about his imminent departure have, remarkably, failed to result in a fierce backlash from disappointed fans. Cologne supporters have grudgingly realised that their favourite player has simply outgrown their team.
A little over a year ago, it looked as if the Poland-born forward, so successful in a Germany shirt with 43 goals from 95 caps, would remain an unfulfilled promise at club level.
Two seasons at the RheinEnergieStadion had only returned 15 league goals and his development - on and off the pitch - seemed to have stalled.
However, this season he has been in prolific goalscoring form. He has scored 16 goals out of Cologne's total of 31 - a sensational figure if you consider that his side spend most of their time defending deep in their own half.
"He's an extraordinary player, we need to keep him quiet," warned Hertha Berlin manager Otto Rehhagel ahead of the game at the Olympiastadion this weekend.
Tony Woodcock Former Arsenal striker
“He's at the best age and will find excellent conditions. Playing with better players will make him better, too”
The son of a football professional, Waldemar Podolski, and a handball player, Krystyna Podolska, has mostly operated as sole striker this season. He is happy to hold up the ball or use his pace to chase after quick vertical balls on the shoulder of the last defender.
Podolski loves being direct and taking shots early and from distance, but he is equally at home in deeper areas, linking up with midfield and looking to play in the wide players.
He is a playmaking forward, fairly similar to Robin van Persie - if not quite as skilful. Such versatility has enabled him to feature as a shadow striker-cum-number 10 behind a more orthodox centre forward in the past.
Wenger is renowned for scouting players extensively but the Frenchman himself will mostly have seen Podolski in action for Germany, where he has impressed wide on the left in the last two tournaments.
Joachim Loew has been able to instil a higher work-rate and tactical awareness, and it is perhaps no wonder that Podolski looks at his best when he is surrounded by the likes of Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller.
Podolski's experience as a winger would enable Wenger to play him in place of Gervinho or, perhaps, even try him as a wide player on the right, where he could cut in on to his splendid left foot.
Podolski, like many continental strikers before him, might need some time to adjust to the hurly burly nature of the Premier League.
But former England international Tony Woodcock, who had successful spells with both Cologne and Arsenal in the 1980s, is convinced "The Prince" can rule in London too.
"He's at the best age and will find excellent conditions. Playing with better players will make him better too," Woodcock told Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger on Friday.
"He can win titles and will live in a great city. I'm sure he will have a great time there."