Rick Joshua –
There have been many stories of young players, once touted as future superstars, who would later fade into nothingness and obscurity. Tales of the wandering footballing traveller, the journeyman, the one who might have been.
Not many stories have been as topsy-turvy as that of Marko Marin, a man once seen by many commentators as a potential world-beater. A player who had risen rapidly through the ranks, only to follow that remarkable rise with a fall that was inexplicable and at times even darkly comical.
In the summer of 2010, Marin would have the world at his feet. At the age of 21, the diminutive winger had made his way into the senior German team, winning a place in the World Cup squad that would head off to South Africa.
Eight years later, one would have expected the Yugoslav-born Marin to have collected many international caps for Die Nationalmannschaft. Instead, he had ended up gathering just as many passport stamps and work permits.
By the end of that World Cup year, Marko Marin had reached the premature end of his international career. Today, he can be best described as a footballing journeyman, a bright and promising young star who almost reached the very top, but was never quite able to make it to the summit.
Like many of those German players who would lift the golden trophy in Rio in the summer of 2014, Marko Marin was a product of the now well-established German football factory. Born in the then Yugoslav town of Bosanska Gradiška, he moved to Frankfurt with his family at the age of two. Spotted early as a potential footballing talent, he joined local outfit SG 01 Hoechst.
In the summer of 1996, the seven-year-old Marin joined big city club Eintracht Frankfurt as a junior. His development was textbook, and nine years later he was signed by the Borussia Mönchengladbach youth academy as a sixteen-year-old. The upward development continued. Marin made his professional debut for Die Fohlenin March 2007, and by this time had already established himself in the youth ranks of the German national team.
Gladbach’s relegation in 2006/07 could have been damaging to Marin’s international ambitions, but he decided to stick with the Rhineland outfit. It proved to be a wise decision. In 2007, he was part of the victorious German Under-21 squad that claimed the European Championship – the team that would provide the core of the senior squad for the following decade.
Marin had been expecting calls from both Bosnia and Serbia, but they never came. The talented young winger committed himself to Germany and was already being touted as a future star for Die Nationalmannschaft. Having progressed up to the Under-21 squad, Marin was surprisingly included in Jogi Löw’s provisional squad for Euro 2008. Gifted with both pace and versatility, the naturally right-footed player was at home both on the left and right of the midfield.
Gladbach had stormed back into the top flight at the first attempt, with Marin playing no small part in their success. His remaining part of Löw’s plans despite playing in second division football was, if anything, a clear and obvious endorsement of his long-term potential.
Debut for Germany
Selection for the final 23 for the Euros would have capped an astonishingly swift rise to the top, but Marin would have to wait a little longer for his first big tournament appearance. He did, however, make his senior debut for the German team in the pre-tournament warm-up matches, replacing Bastian Schweinsteiger in a 2:2 draw against Belarus in Kaiserslautern.
Marin’s second appearance in the Nationaltrikotwould come in the first friendly of the 2008/09 season, and it could not have gone any better. Replacing Thomas Hitzsperger after 70 minutes against Belgium in Nürnberg, it took just seven minutes for the nineteen-year-old Gladbacher to open his international account, sealing a comfortable 2:0 victory for Löw’s side.
Despite being a regular fixture in the squad, Marko Marin was still seen by the German coach as an off the bench option. But the general feeling was that his becoming a permanent fixture was a case of when, rather than if.
Having helped Gladbach maintain their status in the top flight, it was time for Marin to take the next step up in his burgeoning career. Having just passed his twentieth birthday, he sealed a move to Werder Bremen at the cost of just over €8 million.
It was all going perfectly. The 2009/10 season was an outstanding one for Werder, who finished in third place in the Bundesliga. In 32 outings for Die Grün-Weißenalongside fellow rising German talent Mesut Özil, Marin scored four goals and provided a staggering fourteen assists. The time was right for the twenty-one-year-old winger, who broke into a major tournament squad for the first time.
Having just missed out in 2008, Marin was given his ticket to South Africa as part of the World Cup squad. When he replaced Lukas Podolski in Germany’s 4:0 opening win over Australia, it would mark the highest point in his career. Surely, it was going to be one more stepping stone to further success.
Marin’s nine-minute cameo against the Socceroos was followed by a twenty minute off the bench stint against Serbia, but things were not so pretty. It was a poor game for Jogi Löw’s side. A red card for Miroslav Klose was followed by a Serbian goal, with Lukas Podolski’s miss from the penalty spot condemning the Germans to a surprise defeat. Not for want of trying, Marin was unable to make any impression.
The slide begins
The young winger could not be blamed for Germany’s defeat, but he would not feature for the rest of the tournament. The young German team would go on to claim third place, a result way beyond every pundit’s wildest prediction. While he did not play a part in the latter matches, nobody doubted that Marin’s bronze medal would be the first of many international honours.
It was not to be.
Marin would make his first start for Germany in the autumn 2010 friendly against Denmark, but he failed to fire again and was subbed off just eleven minutes into the second half. Three more appearances off the bench followed, before a second start against Sweden in Göteborg.
In a rather dull match at the Ullevi Stadium, Marin again failed to live up to his billing. The spark had clearly gone, and he was replaced on the hour mark by the twenty-year-old Toni Kroos. Neither he nor anybody else would know it at the time, but that would be the last of Marin’s sixteen appearances in the famous white jersey.
The 2011/12 season saw the Bremen winger suffer a number of injuries, meaning that he would only play a total of 21 matches. By this time, all that remained was his reputation and still valuable potential. This was enough for Werder to strike an eight million Euro deal with English Premier League club Chelsea.
Calamity at Chelsea
Despite his injury problems and obvious lack of form, Marin’s move was seen as a positive one – one that could potentially push him back into the international reckoning and onto Jogi Löw’s radar. Instead, it would turn into a complete disaster.
As soon as he arrived at Stamford Bridge at the start of his four-year contract, it was clear that Marin would have to fight hard to find a place in Roberto di Matteo’s starting lineup. It would take the Italian’s dismissal and his replacement with Rafael Benítez in November 2012, to finally see the German make his Premier League debut.
The arrival of Benítez, initially at least, was more positive for Marin. He would spend a lot of the time on the bench, but at least he was on the bench. Between the end of November 2012 and the beginning of February 2013 he had made half a dozen league appearances for the Blues, with four of those as a second-half substitute.
When Marin finally made his first start for Chelsea against QPR, it was almost over as quickly as it had begun. Just four minutes into the contest, he tore studs first into Rangers defender Stéphane Mbia with a dreadfully-timed lunge. In the world of video replays, it would have been an early bath. Instead, Marin was lucky to get away with just a booking.
It was little more than a stay of execution. Whether it was a case of trying too hard or simply not being good enough, Marin had a miserable match. Unable to produce any of the magic he was signed to provide, he was hauled off early in the second half. Chelsea fans must have wondered what they had been landed with.
Germany supporters, meanwhile, were not particularly perturbed. Marin was old news, and there were plenty of alternatives available. Marco Reus, André Schürrle and Mario Götze to name but three.
Marin’s one and only Premier League goal was curiously memorable. Having replaced Belgian Eden Hazard in additional time against Wigan Athletic, he managed to find the back of the net within a minute. His last appearance for Chelsea was away at Southampton at the end of March, where he was subbed off after an hour after yet another ordinary performance.
After that, it was a case of being shuffled in and out of the squad until his painful season came to an end. Like many others, Marin had been unfortunately burdened with the nickname “the German Messi” by some sections of the press. The result could best be described as such. But with a “y” instead of an “i”.
Sojourn in Seville for Marko Marin
It was clear that Marin had become surplus to requirements at Chelsea, with his contract proving to be something of an inconvenience. There were no obvious buyers, and the only workable option was a spell out on loan. Thus began Marin’s European odyssey, which would take him to six clubs in six different countries in as many years.
The first move saw Marko Marin join Spanish side, FC Sevilla. As at Chelsea, it was a struggle to find a spot in the starting line-up, but at least there was a healthy taste of first-team football. Marin would only make 18 league appearances for FCS but became something of a fixture in their Europa League squad.
In what was an epic season in Europe for the Andalusian outfit, Marin played in eleven of their seventeen matches, including the final itself.
Marin’s small part in the triumph over Portuguese side SL Benfica in Turin could best be described as the perfect snapshot of his career. Having come on after 78 minutes in a match that would go all the way to a penalty shootout, Marin was subbed out again at the end of the first half of injury time.
With his hopes of reviving his international career fast receding, Marin could be content with his involvement in his Sevilla’s trophy-winning club campaign. He had received a winner’s medal following Chelsea’s Europa League triumph the previous season (also over Benfica), but this time he could claim to have at least played a part in it.
Marko Marin – Failure at Fiorentina, abject at Anderlecht
The end of Marin’s year in Spain saw a nominal return to Chelsea if just to fill in the paperwork for his next spell abroad. Maintaining the Mediterranean theme, the destination was the Italian city of Florence and a loan spell with ACF Fiorentina.
If Marin’s time in Spain had been a relative success, his spell in Italy was a complete disaster. Again struggling with injury, he did not play a minute in Serie A. He did, however, manage to get four matches in the Europa League, contributing two goals in vain as the Viola tumbled out of the tournament at the group stage.
By the beginning of 2015, Marin’s time in Italy was already done. Another loan move was quickly arranged, this time to Belgian side RSC Anderlecht.
By now, Marko Marin was pretty much a bit-part player, a journeyman who was worth a couple of minutes here and there when things were desperate. His inability to complete a full ninety minutes continued in Belgium, where he managed to go the distance just once in half a dozen unproductive appearances. Anderlecht were as keen to let him go as Chelsea were to palm him off again.
A turkey in Turkey
In the late summer of 2015, Marin was off to the warmer climes of Turkey with a loan move to Trabzonspor. It was slightly harsh perhaps, but in joining a club with no grand title ambitions, he would at least give himself the opportunity of playing some football. Trabzonspor remained in a comfortable mid-table position, and Marin got plenty of time out on the pitch.
Apart from a couple of slight injury problems, Marin was pretty much a regular for the Black Sea outfit. He managed to rack up 24 appearances in the Süper Lig, scoring twice and providing four assists. By this time he was being employed in every attacking midfield position: out on the left, the right and in the middle of the park.
Even this was not good enough. In what was arguably the lowest point in Marin’s quickly sinking career, he and five other players were suspended by the Turkish club for poor performance levels. Having then pulled out of a match with a stomach bug with five weeks remaining in the season, he wore the Trabzonspor shirt again.
At the end of the 2015/16 season, Marin would have one year left on his Chelsea contract. This time, the London club managed to find a buyer. For the not so princely sum of three million Euro, the fading German star was off to Greece to join Olympiacos FC. For Marin, it was an opportunity for a fresh start. For Chelsea, it was a chance to finally cut their losses.
For both the player and his new club, it was yet another shot in the dark. At 27, there was still time left for Marin to settle down.
A Greek tragedy
It never really happened. Like everywhere else, Marko Marin found it hard to establish himself in Greece. He made a positive start, starring in a 6:1 opening win against PS Veria, where he supplied two assists. After that, he was benched for three games, before providing another assist in a 2:0 win at Panionios. Then, he did not even make the matchday squad seven games.
Things became a little easier for Marin at the start of 2017, but even so he remained a fringe figure. In the dozen games he played for the Red and Whites up until the end of the season, he managed to see out the full ninety minutes just once.
The 2017/18 season was a little better for Marko Marin, but there was a twist right at the end. By the end of 2017, there were signs that he might have turned the corner. He finally got some proper match time and even started to rediscover his scoring touch. At the turn of the year, he managed to find the back of the net in three successive matches.
It was a false dawn. As the sharp end of the season approached, things quickly started to dry up again. Olympiacos had always been a power in Greek football, but they were a considerable distance behind AEK and PAOK. The only saving grace was that their historical local rivals Panathinaikos were doing considerably worse.
For Marko Marin, his season once again came to a bizarre end. Away at relegation-threatened Apollon Smyrni, Olympiacos had fallen behind after just a minute. As they battled to draw level, the frustration started to boil over. As the clock ticked into additional time, there was a penalty claim for handball by the Olympiacos players.
In the ensuing melée, Marin took the gentlest of nudges from the referee and went down in a blaze of theatrical glory. It was utterly ridiculous; a Greek tragedy, but with a comedic twist.
On the pitch, Marin received the yellow card. Off it, and in the press for days afterwards, followed the expected mix of ridicule and opprobrium. The Greek side were probably too embarrassed to start him again. He was left on the bench the following week and was dropped from the squad completely for the remaining two matches of the season.
It was time to say “αντίο”.
What next for Marko Marin?
Time may have been running out anyway for Marin in Piraeus, but he had pretty much sealed his fate with his brazen act of stupidity in Smyrni. In the summer, he would once again be looking for a new club.
Surprisingly, there was a taker. For the cut-price fee of 700,000 Euro, the one-time future star of German football took the relatively short journey north to Serbia to sign for KK Crvena zvezda.
One can only wonder how long Marko Marin will last in Belgrade. Or how long Red Star will be prepared to put up with him. Will, he finally manage to make a home for himself so many moves, or will it be yet another case of the same old story? It is hard to tell. The bets will surely be on. As to where he will set sail to after that, the book is open there too. Austria? Russia? A return home to Germany?
At the age of 29, there is still time for Marko Marin to stretch out his career. One might argue that even he has no idea where he is heading.
Football writer, historian, critic, contrarian. A lifetime supporter of FC Bayern München and die deutsche Nationalmannschaft. Uli Hoeneß fan. Kartoffel. Author of Red Odyssey: An FC Bayern Fan Journey and creator of The Little Bundesliga Book. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.