Manuel Veth –
The Colombian striker Jhon Córdoba appears to be the latest talent unearthed by the German club 1. FSV Mainz. Under the leadership of general manager, Christian Heidel, Mainz has emerged as one of the leading developing clubs, not only in German football, but also in European football.
The list of prominent Mainz alumni includes André Schürrle (now VfL Wolfsburg), Lewis Holtby (Hamburger SV), Shinji Okazaki, and Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), as well as Andriy Voronin (now retired). Mainz’s manager, Heidel, also unearthed head coaches such as Liverpool’s current head coach Jürgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund’s head coach Thomas Tuchel, and current Mainz coach the Swiss, Martin Schmidt, also seems destined for a successful career.
Mainz has one of the smallest budgets in German football, but Heidel has nonetheless managed to build a highly competitive squad which, this year, is likely to reach a European competition for the fourth time in the club’s history—the club still has an outside chance to reach the UEFA Champions League.
Given the success that Heidel had in Mainz, it is no surprise that other clubs are interested in signing the manager and, after 24 years in charge at Mainz, Heidel will be leaving the club for Schalke.
Rouven Schröder will replace Heidel at the end of the season. Yet, as one of his last actions at the club, Heidel chose to exercise the €5.5 million purchase option that was part of Jhon Córdoba’s loan-to-buy deal with the Spanish Primera División team Granada CF.
Heidel: “We Would be Stupid if we wouldn’t retain him.”
Heidel told the media in Germany, “We would be stupid if we wouldn’t retain him.” The €5.5 million transfer makes Córdoba the most expensive transfer in Mainz history.
Before the winter, though, there were doubts about the future of the Colombian striker, as Córdoba often played second fiddle to the Japanese striker Yoshinori Muto—another exciting player unearthed by Heidel (you can read more about him here).
Muto, however, picked up a knee injury on match day 20 of the Bundesliga and, after an injury setback in April, is now expected to to miss the rest of the season. Yet, Muto’s bad luck has meant that Cordoba has been able to show Mainz coach, Martin Schmidt, the wealth of his talent.
The 22-year-old striker has started in 12 matches straight since Muto’s injury, and has scored four goals in the process.
At 188cm and 85kg Córdoba is an imposing figure and, while he is highly skilled, Córdoba’s play differs from that of his teammate Muto in that the Colombian can use his physical strength to quite literally break through defensive lines.
Hence, where Muto played more like a false nine or even a trequartista, Córdoba is a pure power forward who can also hold on to the ball or who, through his physical presence, can create space for his teammates. During his time in Mexico, Córdoba was often referred to as the Colombian Didier Drogba.
Despite his strengths, there are still some weaknesses in Córdoba’s game in that his awareness of his surroundings during an attacking play could be improved. Córdoba still has the tendency to fall into the offside trap, and he sometimes lacks the ability to see better-positioned teammates during an attacking play.
At Just 22 Jhon Córdoba Has Already Played for Six Clubs
Some of these shortcomings are due to Córdoba’s history. Córdoba made his debut in professional football, at the young age of 17, for the Colombian Categoría Primera A club Envigado FC. After two seasons with the club, where he scored eleven goals in 38 games, he was sold to the Mexican Liga MX club Querétaro FC in the summer of 2012.
Córdoba, however, never made a single start for Querétaro, because the club loaned him out to division rivals Chiapas FC (also known as the Jaguares). At the Jaguars, Córdoba managed just one goal in 17 games. Querétaro then loaned him out once again, and sent him to Dorados de Sinaloa but, after just one game with Dorados, Querétaro decided, on September 2, 2013, to send the striker to Espanyol Barcelona in Spain on a loan deal that also gave Espanyol an option to buy the striker for €3.5 million.
At Espanyol, Jhon Córdoba managed 28 games and four goals, but it wasn’t enough to convince Espanyol’s management to exercise Córdoba’s €3.5 million option. Instead Querétaro negotiated a €1.83 million deal with Espanyol’s league rival Granada.
Granada, however, are owned by the Italian business tycoon, Giampaolo Pozzo, who owns several clubs throughout Europe—aside from Granada, Pozzo also owns Udinese Calcio in Italy and Watford FC (where his son is listed as the official owner). Pozzo’s ownership strategy includes unearthing talented players from throughout South America in order to sell them at a profit, and Córdoba has been part of this strategy.
Córdoba has always been seen as a long-term profit investment. Yet, the fact that he has played at six different clubs since turning professional, has meant that he has not had the stability needed to develop tactical awareness on the pitch. Hence, at 22 years, he is still a raw talent, but Mainz coach, Schmidt, is considered one of the most gifted tactical coaches in Germany—perhaps in Europe—and with Córdoba now moving permanently to Mainz, the Colombian striker should finally receive the training that will eradicate some of his weaknesses, and turn him into a top class striker.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be defended in November. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.