FC Cologne General Manager, Horst Heldt, while giving his perspectives on the German top flight performers in this interview with Bundesliga, he also talks up the prodigious talent of his side’s 19 year old Nigerian striker, Tolu Arokodare – a loanee from Latvian side Valmiera, which is bound to interest Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr and the NFF.
You have made two new signings from Berlin. Duda from Hertha and Andersson from Union. How have they been received and what are their strengths?
Heldt: “I am very happy with both of them. It is still difficult for Ondrej Duda because he is a creative player, a ten, so it is important that he has a grasp of the patterns of play and the runs that we make. Everyone has to understand how he plays, what runs he makes, and he has to understand what the rest of the attack does around him. Those are the kinds of things that just take time. We have to give him and the team time. He has already shown quality in these few games and has scored a goal for us, so his form is improving. He missed our pre-season because the transfer went through late in the window as Jhon Cordoba leaving allowed us to make it happen, so things can take a little longer.”
“Sebastian Andersson is a classic number 9 with great quality. He holds up the ball well and is good to pass to. He is good with his head and has already scored two important goals for us. You still have to get to know him, the team has to get to know him, and they have to learn in which situations to pass to him. That takes time as well, but I am glad to have him at the club. When Jhon Cordoba leaves having scored so many goals for the club in recent season it is difficult to replace him, but I think he [Andersson] is on the right path towards doing that.”
In Ehizibue and Arokodare you have two Nigerians in the squad. What are their strengths and what are your hopes for the young striker’s development this season?
Heldt: “Tolu [Arokodare] is learning a lot at the moment, it has to be said. He caused furore in Latvia, rising from the ashes like a Phoenix and causing us to take notice. He is still a young player at 19 and he has the qualities to develop. At 19 he still needs time though. We tend to play with one man upfront, so his challenge is to put himself in a position to be given more playing time. I just spoke about Sebastian [Andersson], who is developing well. Tolu has to do the same. He has played already and I am sure that if he keeps working as hard as he has been then he will add something to our side. He has qualities that aren’t easy to find; he is strong in the air and hard to dispossess. He has to refine those skills at Bundesliga level, but that is the kind of normal process that players adjust to through working hard in training and getting time on the pitch. He is doing that, he is eager to learn and I am sure he will develop well.”
The club has some very good young players who came through the youth system, such as Thielmann, Katterbach and Jacobs. Timo Horn also took the same path. How critical is the youth system to FC Cologne’s success?
Heldt: “It is very important, and I am glad to have a coach who gives young players a chance. Of course you can’t play all of them all the time, and they need to go through a process of development which entails going through highs but sadly also lows. Inconsistent performances are normal from young players and they need to be given time. I think we have a great youth setup and a lot of talented players and it will be a priority of 1. FC Cologne going forward to develop those players and to give them chances.”
What do you think of [Hansi] Flick’s performance in his first year at Bayern?
Heldt: “I mean, it’s one record after the other with him. He won the treble, or whatever you call the one that’s one better than a treble. He also won the match between the Champions League and Europa League winners, even if that was in the new season. He won everything you can win. Of course you can say that it’s easy to do that with the best team in the world, but it really isn’t easy to juggle everything and to spread out the game time so that everyone gets to play. Every player demands to play as much as they can, so in that respect I think he has performed really well.”
Many consider Robert Lewandowski the best attacker in the world at the moment. What do you think of him?
Heldt: “I can certainly agree with that. He performs every week, both on a domestic and international stage, and the goals flow freely with him. It is virtually impossible to stop him, because he is a first-class frontman with power and size but is also top-level technically. He is dangerous regardless of the situation, be it from set-pieces, from balls from wide, from balls down the centre. He pairs an imposing physical presence with footballing quality, which is why I agree with many that he is perhaps not only the world’s best striker at current, but the best player overall.”
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