The prince who would be king

Lukas Podolski is less familiar outside Germany. However, that should change this summer when his talents go on display at the World Cup. He could be challenging for the golden boot award, writes Ben Gladwell.

This summer, when Germany host the 2006 World Cup, their hopes of glory will be carried by two strikers who have devised a new tactic of confusing opponents — by speaking in their native tongue. Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were both born across the border in Poland, but are as keen as anybody to impress in their adopted home of Germany.

`A time to make friends' is the motto adopted by the 2006 World Cup chief organiser Franz Beckenbauer, a legend in his own right, and one man who has already made plenty of friends is Podolski, who celebrates his 21st birthday on June 4.

Podolski was probably one of the first names on Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann's squad list for the World Cup, despite the struggles of his club side Cologne. But since making a phenomenal start to his international career even Cologne's relegation to the second division this year was never going to block his path to stardom.

Seven goals in his first 13 international matches earned Podolski a well-deserved reputation as a finisher of the highest quality and he was quickly dubbed Prince Poldi by the German media. The prince has been the only beacon of light in two bleak Bundesliga years for Cologne.

In his debut season, his 10 goals in 19 games earned him a place in the national team for Euro 2004, but his efforts failed to prevent his club from finishing at the bottom of the Bundesliga and falling into the second division.

He resisted the overtures from some of Europe's top clubs, including Bayern Munich, to instead remain faithful to the club that launched his career, a decision which occurs all too rarely in football nowadays. But a passion for FC Cologne has been Podolski's driving force.

It was as a 10-year-old that Podolski arrived at the club and he worked his way up through the club's various youth teams to finally make the breakthrough into the first team at the age of 18.

Although that season ended in disappointment, Poldi was not considering any offers. He even snubbed calls to join the national team because he had more pressing affairs with Cologne towards the end of 2004. Promotion back to the Bundesliga, he felt, was far more important than representing his country and it was hardly his fault the Zweite Bundesliga matches were played on dates also reserved for international fixtures.

A tally of 24 goals in the second division played a major role in ensuring that Cologne made a return to the top flight. Yet 12 months on, Poldi is once again facing the same crossroads he faced just six months into his professional career. The only difference is, this time around, it feels right to move on.

"It is important for my development that I measure myself with the best," he told the Bild newspaper at the end of the season. "That is not possible in the second division, but it is with Bayern."

Having given his all for Cologne in a decade's service, the onus is now on them to listen to offers. "I hope the two sides can reach an agreement soon," added Podolski.

Leading the chase for his services are German domestic double winners Bayern Munich. With Michael Ballack leaving for Chelsea, Bayern need a new idol for the fans and, in Podolski, they couldn't have hoped to find a closer resemblance.

Like Ballack, he is already one of the many faces of adidas and EA Sports — the producers of the popular FIFA World Cup video game series — yet his name is less familiar outside of Germany. That should change this summer, however, when his talents go on display to the rest of the world.

If he can find his feet in his first major tournament, Podolski could be challenging for the golden boot award. Having yet to grace Europe's top club competitions, Poldi will be much of an unknown quantity when he takes to the field in Munich for the opening game of the tournament on June 9. Costa Rica are first up and perhaps it will be they who discover the strengths of Podolski, who is just as deadly 20 yards from goal as he is from close range.

@ PA Sport, 2006, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited.

Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.