Big, lumbering centre forwards have gone out of football fashion in recent times, but go back about fifteen years and just about every team – including some of the very biggest clubs – had a secret six-foot-four weapon ready to bring into action when the going got tough.
If Carsten Jancker – who measured nearly two metres in height and, like contemporary Jan Koller, had an unmistakable shaven bonce – were born twenty years later, it’s possible he wouldn’t have found his way to the top of professional football in Germany (and, almost certainly, not its national team).
But then Fussball looked very different in the early part of the 21st century, when Germany – its national side beginning to flounder (albeit, you know, still somehow making the World Cup Final in 2002) – was just beginning to plant the seeds for its technical revolution.
Instead of nimble, fleet-footed number 10s and mercurial, ball-playing centre-backs, Germany had old school throwbacks and characters like Jens Lehmann and Steffan Freund. Jancker was cut from the same cloth: he wasn’t pretty, he definitely wasn’t Mesut Ozil, but he was effective.
Effective enough, anyway, to spend six seasons on the books of Bayern Munich, where he lifted the Bundesliga on four occasions, and the Champions League in 2001 (after being on the losing end of that final at the Nou Camp two years earlier).
Jancker had a goalscoring record that might be described as patchy: a level or two above Emile Heskey, to be sure, but we’re not exactly talking about Cristiano Ronaldo numbers. His game was less about finding the net than it was being a nuisance: holding the ball up with his back to goal, winning knockdowns, and laying on the vital flick for more skillful teammates (indeed, his strike partner Giovane Elber became one of Bayern’s all-time leading scorers playing alongside him).
To some, that might be a sign of where German football was 15 years ago (and, more pressingly, where it is now after a root and branch review of the game), but the big forward was pretty good on his feet when we wanted to be – and not in an Andy Carroll way. His goals repertoire probably includes more carefully placed lobs than it does towering headers, and you don’t get to be a part of Europe-conquering teams without a decent sized football brain.
— FC Bayern Español (@FCBayernES) August 28, 2016
It was intelligence – coupled with a tenacious streak – that saw him make the most of a unique and, at times, under appreciated set of skills, which carried him to places he probably shouldn’t have reached, both at club and international level (33 caps and 10 goals for Germany isn’t bad, regardless of the era).
It seems sometimes that players of lesser ability resonate more with football crowds – partly because we see a little of ourselves in them, but mainly because they are seen to give 100% at all times, where the very best players are either too clever or too arrogant to do the heavy lifting.
For that reason, Jancker is exactly the sort of player for which the term cult hero was invented, and until Bayern decide to plump for another small car-sized number nine to bring down crosses from Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller, he’ll always have a special place in fans’ hearts.