31215_isi_greenjulian_intbs073114278_(1) Brad Smith/isiphotos.com

Julian Green Takes Another Step Backward at Hamburg

According a report in the German publication Kicker, U.S. international sleepwalked through a Hamburg reserve match—further evidence that the 19-year-old has a lot of growing up to do.
BY Brooke Tunstall Posted
March 12, 2015
11:41 AM
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES. And in this case, not in a good way.

Twelve months ago American soccer fans, and more than a few officials at U.S. Soccer, were reading any and all tea leaves looking for clues on the national team intentions of presumed phenom Julian Green.

At the time, Green was a known name and an unknown commodity—a highly regarded dual-national, eligible for both Germany and the United States. And, we were told, very highly regarded by his club team. Making him all the more coveted was that said club, Bayern Munich, is one of the best in the world and its coach, Pep Guardiola, has a long history of grooming young stars.

Fast forward a year. Green, still just 19, is now floundering at a relegation candidate and serves as a sobering reminder of the dangers of prematurely anointing players as stars.

Green, of course, ultimately chose to play for the U.S., the country of his birth, though he spent most of his young life growing up in his mother’s Germany.

Despite his youth, despite having all of one first-team appearance (in the 88th minute, no less) with Bayern, and despite appearing not ready for prime time in his national team debut against Mexico last April, Jurgen Klinsmann rewarded Green with one of the coveted 23 tickets to Brazil as a member of the U.S. World Cup team.

Green’s inclusion on the squad raised more than a few eyebrows, especially as it appeared to come at the expense of iconic U.S. player Landon Donovan. Those brows remained arched as Green failed to get off the bench through the first 375 minutes the U.S. played in Brazil. But then he took the field in the final 15 minutes of the overtime loss to Belgium in the round of 16 and calmly finished a Michael Bradley pass. In that moment we were briefly reminded of what all the hype was about.

Sadly, that is the only thing Green has shown at either the club or national team level to justify both the hype or a spot on the senior national team.

Though Klinsmann adamantly denied this, many saw Green’s inclusion on the World Cup roster—and still think of it—as a quid pro quo: Green received a spot on team as a reward for choosing the U.S. over Germany. In hindsight, such a deal seems laughable because based on the season Green has had while loaned out to lowly Hamburg, there’s no way a world power like Germany was going to call up Green.

Put simply, Green’s time at Hamburg has been a disaster. In fairness, playing for teams fighting off relegation is tough for any player, particularly a young one who has spent his career breathing the rarified air Bayern inhales regularly at the top of the table and in the latter stages of the Champions League.

But overcoming the hurdles that come with a change of environment like this are part of why a player is loaned from a big club to a smaller one. That, and the chance to get consistent playing time. On both fronts, Green has failed spectacularly and as such his future as a professional and as a potential U.S. national team regular is now in jeopardy.

Green has played just five games for Hamburg and has yet to score. He was so ineffective and, if you believe German media reports, which admittedly can be rather exaggerated when it comes to reporting the salacious, was such a sourpuss in the clubhouse that he was demoted to the reserve team, in Germany called the U-23s.

But instead of sucking it up and using the demotion as a challenge, Green continues to sulk and in doing so leaves his career further in peril.

According to Kicker, the go-to source for German soccer news, in a recent U-23 game for Hamburg, Green basically sleepwalked through a game.

It was not easy as the team basically "played a man short." Senior team member Julian Green was talked into participating in this match by the bosses. He didn't do more than that, the 19-year-old only passed the ball backward and avoided any duels at a walking pace.

This is the U.S. national team’s savior?

The folks at Hamburg don’t care that he scored a goal in a World Cup or came through the youth system of one of the world’s elite clubs. They have jobs and a lot of money on the line as they try and stave off relegation. It’s all about what a player can do for them right now and they’ve decided that Green can’t help. That's life in the real world of grown-up sports.

So what happens now with Green? Perhaps he can salvage his time at Hamburg but that will require a substantial attitude shift on his part, not to mention a vast improvement in his level of play.

A return to Bayern Munich is not realistic. Green needs first-team games and simply put, there’s no way in hell he’s getting minutes at a roster stocked with the world’s best players. Not if he can’t play for Hamburg.

A move—ideally a transfer, where his new club would have a vested interest in his development—is going to be needed, either to a team in Germany’s second division or perhaps a neighboring league like the Netherlands or Belgium where playing time would be more realistic. While it likely wouldn’t happen, a move to Major League Soccer would make a whole lot of sense, too, provided Green is willing to put playing time and development over salary.

But he has to go somewhere this summer that lands him in a good place or else he risks seeing his vast potential wither away into a series of tales of broken dreams about what could have been.

Meanwhile, there’s his national team future to consider, and that’s going to require a whole lot of tough love from the man who sweet-talked him into choosing the U.S. a year ago. In short, until he earns it with his club team, Klinsmann shlould not give Green minutes with the senior U.S. national team. He has done less than nothing to earn it and potential just isn’t a good enough reason to get the nod over players who are grinding it out on their clubs.

Fortunately for Green, this is a huge year for the U.S. U-23 national team as it attempts to form a cohesive unit and qualify this October for next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The U-23s have a series of friendlies in Europe later this month and Green needs to be on the roster for those and use them as place to jumpstart his career.

(In a perfect world, Green could also play for the U.S. U-20 national team. He’s young enough to be age-eligible but because he played with a German youth team he is ineligible to do so under FIFA rules.)

A series of strong games with Andreas Herzog’s U-23 team could both help Green’s standings with the senior team but also give him some confidence to take back to his club, not to mention showcase him to potential employers.

More than that, it would give him a chance to do something he has yet to do in a U.S. uniform which is actually earn his place on the roster with a series of strong performances elsewhere.

This is part of why youth national teams exist and Green has leapfrogged that process and it might be a reason why he’s floundering now. The U.S. —and we in the media are as equally guilty of this as any fervent fan-boy or official at Soccer House—are always so desperate to anoint a young star for greatness that he is prematurely given a savior status he hasn’t actually earned.

See Adu, Freddy; or Szetela, Danny; or Quaranta, Santino. The list is a long one.

The American soccer community needs to give these young players time to grow and not rush their development. Hopefully the lessons of Julian Green can be applied to Gedion Zelalem, Rubio Rubin, Haji Wright, and Christian Pulisic along with any number of promising young American players who have not yet earned anything on the big stage.

The process can’t be rushed. Hopefully having done so with Green hasn’t permanently damaged his chances to reach his vast potential.

Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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