Phil Hay: Why Leeds United’s new boy Lasogga can be a match for Wood

Victor Orta with Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
Victor Orta with Pierre-Michel Lasogga.
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The proof of how badly Pierre-Michel Lasogga wanted Leeds United is there in his personal life. His first child is on the way and his girlfriend Salina, back home in Hamburg, is due to give birth on Sunday.

There were more convenient clubs on Lasogga’s plate last month and, beyond the reluctance of Hamburg to have him in the building, nothing stopping him staying with his family and drawing in £50,000 a week.

Pierre-Michel Lasogga.

Pierre-Michel Lasogga.

That Bundesliga salary – still the second-highest on Hamburg’s wage bill, behind Lewis Holtby’s – is a legacy of a summer when Hamburg tore up their old business model and Lasogga had everything in front of him. Amongst the many signings made by Leeds he comes to Elland Road with arguably most to prove. In 2014 there was tentative talk of him travelling with Germany to the World Cup.

Four years on his name will not even be mentioned. Lasogga’s only international call-up, for a friendly against Chile in Stuttgart in February 2014, fell victim to a muscular injury.

“He never came back,” says Kevin Kraft, a football writer with the German newspaper BILD.

That disappointment notwithstanding, the first half of 2014 found Lasogga at his peak. On loan from Hertha Berlin, he top-scored for Hamburg and dispatched the crucial header which averted relegation in a play-off against Greuther Furth. In the summer that followed, Hamburg moved away from full fan ownership and became a limited company, allowing – in theory – for more investment and a more competitive team.

Miroslav Klose (centre).

Miroslav Klose (centre).

It was, according to Henrik Jacobs, the Hamburg reporter for local paper Hamburger Abendblatt, a path on which the club believed they would “find a way to the european cups.”

Since then they have finished no higher than 10th.

Lasogga was part of the flawed revolution; valuable property after his year on loan from Berlin and a player who Hamburg installed as a high earner for a fee of close to £8m.

“There were a lot of clubs all over Europe so Hamburg gave him a good contract,” Kraft says.

Rafael van der Vaart.

Rafael van der Vaart.

The fee, the deal and his reputation served as an albatross as Hamburg stood still. In the 2014-15 season, Lasogga and Rafael van der Vaart ranked as the club’s joint leading goalscorers in the league with five goals each. Hamburg scored a paltry 25 and finished 16th again.

A year earlier, Joachim Low, the Germany coach, had taken the opportunity to look at Lasogga for a reason. Prior to the 2014 World Cup, he was short of an out-and-out centre-forward and short of strikers in general.

“Lasogga is a real number nine,” Jacobs says. “He’s got great skill in the box with both feet and a powerful header but he’s not so fast. That’s one reason why he’s not an option for the national team anymore.”

When it came to it, Low’s final squad for Brazil included a 35-year-old veteran in Miroslav Klose, one of only two recognised forwards.

Injuries, including a dislocated shoulder, held Lasogga back and Hamburg, amid a steady flow of coaches, decided gradually that his game was not made for their tactics.

Popular with the club’s support but, latterly, less so with the management. Markus Gisdol, the current manager at the Volksparkstadion, looked instead to Bobby Wood, a USA international with more pace than Lasogga. Gisdol informed Lasogga earlier this summer that he would not play in the Bundesliga, leaving the forward to consider his next move with two years left on an expensive contract.

From the outset of transfer negotiations, Hamburg were committed to financing part of a deal.

Under the terms of his season-long loan to Elland Road, they are subsidising around three quarters of a salary which climbs far above the limits of Leeds’ wage structure.

Lasogga is, essentially, Chris Wood’s replacement at Leeds, the most experienced and proven of the strikers signed and the player whose game matches Wood’s most closely.

At his best, with his attitude right and in the vein of form he found three years ago, those who watched him in Germany agree that he has the potential to be a big asset; a strong, competitive poacher and a natural finisher who gives Leeds the flexibility to play again with a kosher number nine.

“If he was at Bayern Munich with Robben and Ribery on the wings, he’d score 15 goals in the Bundesliga I’m sure,” Jacobs says. “He can be a great player for Leeds if he stays without injury.”

Kraft echoes that sentiment: “He’s very cool in front of the keeper. If he’ll get a chance he’ll score.”

Now 25, Lasogga is in England in search of love, a fresh start and a break from the frustration of a permanent transfer to Hamburg which never lit up.

Unlike many of United’s signings, this big move is not his first.

With a baby about to arrive, there was at least one motivation for sticking around in Germany and taking his money but in his circumstances, and at this stage of his career, the old adage might apply: a change is as good as a rest.