Everything should be perfect at Werder Bremen as the Bundesliga season heads towards its conclusion. Die Grün-Weißen have successfully fought off relegation, and the decision makers were looking forward to a quiet summer in which to build a bright future for the club.
That future was supposed to include the 26-year-old Algerian forward Ishak Belfodil, but the Algerian striker, who is currently on loan from Standard Liege, has been the centre of controversy in Bremen.
Although he has started in just 13 games and scored only four times in 26 overall appearances for Werder, Belfodil has shown significant improvement in recent weeks. The 26-year-old, in fact, combines some rare elements.
At 6ft 3ins and 86kg, Belfodil is built like a centre-forward. The striker, however, struggled in the centre of the park and was then moved to the right by Werder head coach Stefan Kohfeldt.
Fast and with the ability to use his physical presence to punch through defensive lines, Belfodil has added a surprising element to Werder’s attacking play. In fact, with 1.2 dribbles per game, Belfodil ranks third in Werder’s squad, behind Milot Rashica and Finn Bartels – both players who are considered classical dribblers.
Moving him to the wing has, of course, the downside that he finds himself less involved in crucial battle areas in the penalty box. As a result, he has only scored a goal every 336 minutes. That number just makes bad reading at a first glance, however.
Those who have watched Bremen closely in recent games will have noticed Belfodil’s ability to break into the box using his speed, unleashing his powerful shot almost mid-sprint. And Belfodil is not shy about taking his chances: the striker has the side's second-most shots on goal (1.8 per game), behind only Max Kruse (1.9 per game).
Werder, in fact, lack a true goal-scorer distribution this season. Unpredictability and creating chances is, therefore, a big part of how Werder play.
With his four goals in the Bundesliga, the 26-year-old is the second-most successful Werder Bremen goal-scorer behind Kruse, who has scored six goals. Belfodil’s ability to play both on the wing, as a target man for Kruse, and as a breaker up front has impressed Werder’s management, who see plenty of potential in the striker.
At the same time, the €12million loan-to-buy clause has been deemed too expensive by club officials. Hence, according to the club, Werder were going to refrain from exercising the clause, hoping that they could negotiate a better deal with Belfodil’s club, Standard. Agent Mohamed Al Faiech has completely opposed that view of events.
“I don’t concur with Werder’s interpretation of the events. It has always been the right of the player to exercise the option, and Belfodil decided not to trigger the clause,” Belfodil told the German magazine Kicker.
Al Faiech also opposes any suggestions that Belfodil has already told Liege that he is going to leave the club for Werder, and that his rejection to trigger the clause was simply a decision to pave Werder’s way to negotiate a better deal. “We also have other options. And we have no idea what will happen in the summer,” Al Faiech added.
Werder’s sporting director, Frank Baumann, in the meantime, has not been impressed with the latest development. Baumann has been critical of Al Faiech’s statements but also of Belfodil’s behaviour following Werder’s Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund, when the 26-year-old refused to join his team-mates in front of the Werder faithful in what is a common post-game ritual in German football.
As a result of the conflict between the agent and the club, Belfodil was left on the bench for the game against Bayer Leverkusen on matchday 33. Kohfeldt’s decision to sit Belfodil suggests that the Algerian will leave the club in the summer. In the Bundesliga, those options could include Hoffenheim, who are looking for a quick striker to replace top scorer Mark Uth, who will be leaving the club for Schalke.
Hoffenheim, however, will likely face stiff competition from the English Premier League, where Belfodil’s style of football could be a perfect fit. West Ham United, for example, might be looking for a physical strong forward to replace Javier ‘Chicharito' Hernández, who could be on the move in the summer. Everton were interested last summer and could once again be among the clubs that want to bring in the striker.
Given Belfodil’s unique mixture of strength and speed, Everton, West Ham and Hoffenheim are unlikely to be the only clubs interested in landing the striker, however. The likes of Swansea City and Huddersfield Town, should they stay, up will also look to improve their frontline come this summer.
As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that the Algerian’s agent has decided to play the waiting game when it comes to Belfodil’s future in Bremen – after all the 26-year-old could have some exciting options this summer.