RJ DEMELLO - Wednesday, March 12, 2014
American soccer fans have seen this many times when players have to make decisions on their club future.
It's easy to see these days in soccer how the right move can ignite a career, while the wrong one can (see Jozy Altidore) pull the emergency brake on ones development. Aron Johannsson's performance at AZ Alkmaar this season has turned the heads of US Soccer fans everywhere. That's all well and good, but if he is to get to that next level he must move in the summer, and that move means everything.
There is no doubt Johannsson is talented, scoring 16 goals through 25 games so far this season in the Eredivisie. That is a great accomplishment for any striker, but let's provide some perspective. At Johannsson's current strike rate, taking his goals per game average (.64) and extending it to reflect a full season, he is due to finish the year at right about 22 goals in the Eredivisie. Once again a very respectable total for a striker anywhere, but hardly world beating being in the Dutch league.
Last season the Eredivisie saw an average of 3.15 goals per match across the league. Meanwhile in the Bundesliga that number dropped to 2.93, while the Premier league was even lower at 2.8 goals per match. Never mind Serie A, where shockingly (sarcasm) the goals per game average was lower at 2.64. In fact, of the nine leagues looked at for this, the four above, Spain, France, Portugal, Denmark, and Turkey; the Dutch league easily had the highest goals per game average. The point being, goals come a little easier in clog country.
So you all must be asking why, why must you bring down our great striking hope? Look Johannsson is a good player, but it isn't about what he does now. For the Kevin Bacon lookalike, it is about his next step. The right one could turn him into that savior some like to make him out to be, the wrong one, well we're living through that right now.
In the 2012-2013 season Altidore scored 23 goals, roughly about what Johannsson should end up with. The former New York Red Bull now has one league goal so far for Sunderland in England. Altidore isn't the only top goal scorer from the Eredivise last year to struggle. Sanharib Malki scored 17 goals for Roda JC, this year in the Turkish League the striker has six goals. Two of the top five scorers stayed in the Netherlands while Wilfried Bony is an exception to the rule, scoring nine goals so far for Swansea in the Premier League.
The goal scoring record of top strikers in past Eredivisie seasons is also a cautionary tale, a player can find success, but expectations from high goal numbers in the league must be tempered. Mounir El Hamdaoui who won the golden boot in 08-09, scored three goals in 19 appearances for Fiorentina last season. Bjorn Vleminckx won the top scorer award in 10-11 with 23 goals, he has scored 23 goals so far in Belgium and Turkey in the three seasons since his title. Bas Dost scored 32 goals in 11-12 to lead the league. In his two seasons since at Wolfsburg he has managed a somewhat respectable though hardly earth shattering 12 Bundesliga goals in 40 appearances. Even Luis Suarez struggled at first after leaving the Eredivisie. The Uruguayan scored 35 goals in 09-10 to win the golden boot. Over the next season and a half at Liverpool the striker made 44 appearances, while scoring just 15 goals.
Obviously Suarez is now taking the Premier League by storm. He went to a team on the rise that stood behind him while he adjusted to the different style of England. If Johannsson is to continue to grow and truly become the type of star some in US Soccer already want to anoint him as, his next move will be the most important of his career. Choosing a bad team with no ability to provide service in a much more physical league like Altidore did and you will see Johannsson struggle immensely. Looking at the data provided, that can almost be of no doubt. Now you must be screaming, well then WHERE DOES HE GO?
Looking at the numbers, the smartest choice for the Alabama born striker is the German Bundesliga. Out of the leagues examined it had the second highest goals per game average behind the Eredivisie. The countries close connection to Scandinavian language and culture would be helpful in acclimating Johannsson to life off of the field as well. But just looking at the league itself can be foolish. Bony and Altidore went to England, Bony to a decent Swansea side while Altidore to an awful Sunderland team. It's not a total coincidence the Ivorian has nine goals while the American has one. Johannsson must look for a team that is a solid mid-table squad that scores goals so he is both confident of playing time and that service will be provided.
Examining the Bundesliga table a few possible decent destinations, based on stats alone mind you, peak out from the clutter. TSG Hoffenheim sits in 10th out of 18 teams with 29 points, nine points above the drop zone. The club is third in the league in goals scored with 52, leaving it behind only Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Borussia Monchengladbach resides in eighth place currently with 36 points and 41 goals scored. Fifth in goals for and with fellow USMNT player Fabian Johnson headed to the team next season make it a possible great fit for Johannsson.
These conclusions do not take into account managerial and squad situations, but based on the numbers alone the teams above provide a potential environment for Johannsson to get great opportunities to score against stiffer opposition.
Aron Johannsson is a good player playing very well right now. But for the 23 year old, it isn't really about his numbers this season. It is about this summer's World Cup and where he goes next. Played right and he can be a star for many years to come. A wrong turn and we could see another talented player waste away because of a poor transfer.