2018 FIFA World Cup: Marco Reus, Germany’s lost boy, looks for redemption
Desperately unlucky with injuries, German forward Marco Reus will finally get the opportunity to play in a World Cup
When Borussia Dortmund announced the signing of Lucien Favre as their new manager for next season (2018-19), it would have been a moment of nostalgia for Marco Reus.
Soon after the two started working together for the first time in 2011, Reus was being celebrated as the next big thing in Germany, before a series of unfortunate events saw his career take a tragic turn, especially with Die Mannschaft.
It means that as another World Cup takes centre stage, all eyes will be on a player who has built such a reputation that all of Germany will be hoping that his tragic story finally takes a turn for the better. No one knows this better than Favre, who saw Reus come into the limelight at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
In 2010-11, Reus had scored a crucial goal that helped his side avoid relegation by a whisker. Once Favre took over at Mönchengladbach the following season, he transformed Reus into a goal-scoring machine, with 21 goals and 14 assists in 37 appearances.
Such was his prowess that term that it not only won him the Bundesliga Breakthrough of the Season and Player of the Season awards, but also the German Footballer of the Year. In the summer of 2012, he made a high-profile move back to Dortmund—league winners that season under manager Jürgen Klopp, who had told him his physique would hinder his progress when he was honing his skills at their youth academy. Yet, he was now the club’s second most expensive signing.
By May 2012, Reus had opened his account for Germany, having made his debut a year earlier, and was establishing himself as a regular part of coach Joachim Löw’s plans. The next month, he scored once during his two appearances at Euro 2012, where Germany were semi-finalists. This was a time when Germany’s golden generation was hungry to make its mark on the world stage and Reus held the promise of hitting the big league soon. He was only 23.
Two stunning seasons followed, where Dortmund first finished runners-up in the Champions League in 2012-13. In 2014, Reus won the Bundesliga Player of the Year award again after helping his club to second spot in the league (16 goals, 14 assists in 30 appearances).
During qualification for the 2014 World Cup, Reus found himself in the thick of things with five goals—second only to top-scorer Mesut Özil—as Germany remained unbeaten on the road to Brazil. It was then that the first of the tragedies struck him. The world watched in horror when Reus collapsed on the field with a torn ankle ligament during a warm-up tie against Armenia, just days before the opening fixture. From being in contention for a starting berth, he was reduced to watching the tournament on television, as Germany went on to lift the World Cup in Brazil.
Reus’ buddy and the lone scorer in the final against Argentina, Mario Götze, and Reus’ replacement at the tournament, Shkodran Mustafi, paid him a worthy tribute by flashing his jersey after the final.
“He deserved to be there as well. He’s a fantastic player and that’s why I didn’t want to forget him," Mustafi told the media.
Reus made a steady recovery and focused on the season ahead, in addition to the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Building on the previous season, Reus finished as Dortmund’s second highest scorer in 2014-15.
However, when it came to picking the final squad, Löw was forced to drop Reus yet again due to a groin injury, stating, “He has huge health problems and can only run straight at the moment."
Germany were beaten in the semi-final by France at the Euros. For Reus though, it was a double whammy, since he had picked up injuries just before two of the most crucial tournaments of his career. While the romance with Dortmund was becoming a permanent feature, donning national colours was turning out to be a curse that continued to haunt him.
His scoring touch continued for Dortmund, taking them to top-3 finishes in consecutive Bundesliga seasons (2015-17). Success also came in the form of his first trophy in a Dortmund jersey—the DFB Pokal triumph in May last year. However, yet another injury during that final would rule him out until early this year.
“As top players, we earn a lot of money, but sometimes we pay a hefty price with our health," Reus told the GQ magazine in October. “I would give away all the money to be healthy again, to be able to do my job. To do what I love: to play football."
It took close to nine months for Reus to get back on the pitch. This season, he managed just 15 appearances, but the seven goals he scored showed him in fine nick. During a key fixture against Bayer Leverkusen in April that I witnessed at the Signal Iduna Park—Dortmund’s home ground—Reus was omnipresent, discovering spaces to exploit in the final third and at ease with his movement on the ball. What still makes him the man for most attacking systems is his ability to fit into any forward position. It helps that he is blessed with the composure to finish with elegance.
“Marco is a special weapon, he has special gifts," Löw said of Reus in mid-May. “He has great intelligence in the game, and, in the second half of the season, he was in really good form. I expect quite a bit from him for the World Cup."
Löw knows what it means to have Reus fit, and, more importantly, to keep him fit, consequently dropping him for two friendlies in March—two years after he last played for Germany.
“With Marco, it’s important to be cautious and make sure we don’t put any unnecessary pressure on him," Löw says. “He needs to be playing regularly without any pain, so he can get into a rhythm."
On the cusp of another big tournament then, as Germany get ready to defend their title, just getting picked for the 23-man squad would have been a welcome relief for Reus. With the opportunity to play finally on hand, all of Germany will be praying that he leaves a mark and doesn’t join the list of precocious talents who have been there, but couldn’t achieve much. For, while there are always last national appearances associated with players, given their waning abilities and jaded legs, for Reus, this may be his final battle with morale and mindset.
Come next season, the reunion with Favre will be much sweeter if Reus finally has his moment in the sun with Germany.