1 May ~ Just six months ago it seemed as if Patrick Helmes’ footballing career in Germany was coming to an early and ignominious end. He had been hailed as one of the national team's brightest prospects after the 2006 World Cup, but failed to build on a promising start to his career. Wolfsburg manager Felix Magath banished him from first-team training in November. The 27-year-old striker, who has 13 international appearances to his name, was reduced to playing for the reserves in the Regionalliga Nord and seemed set to sign for St. Etienne.
Helmes first appeared in the Bundesliga in 2005 as a 21-year-old who was struggling to find his feet in a Cologne side that was battling to avoid relegation. He cemented a promising reputation by helping his hometown club return to the top flight.
His form in the second division attracted the attention of Bayer Leverkusen. Their persistence in his contract negotiations was rewarded when Helmes went on to score 21 goals for the club in his first season back in the Bundesliga.
In an end-of-season kickabout while on holiday with friends, Helmes managed to tear his cruciate ligaments. By the time he was fit enough to return to first-team action, the form of new signing Eren Derdiyok meant Helmes played mostly as a substitute.
Rumours circulated that he was not taking his training as seriously as the club expected. The statement by coach Jupp Heynckes that "most players who listen to me tend to improve," was followed swiftly by a free transfer to Wolfsburg in January 2011.
Even a €10,000 fine imposed by the notoriously hard taskmaster, Magath, due to poor performances at training sessions failed to prompt any improvement. Magath declared in November that Helmes would no longer be involved in first-team affairs.
The public embarrassment of being demoted to the second string seems to have had the desired effect. After the winter break, Magath recalled him to first-team training. Since returning to Bundesliga action in February, Helmes has scored nine goals in nine games.
It remains to be seen whether this fine run of form will be enough to put the Wolfsburg striker back into contention for a place in the Euro 2012 squad this summer. The player denies that he is thinking about it and claims to be happy just to be playing regularly again in the Bundesliga.
After missing out on the last two tournaments due to poor form at just the wrong time, surely he will be hoping for a change of luck this year. One thing could stand in the way of his participation in Poland and Ukraine. Helmes is due to be become a father in June. So if a call-up comes, "Herr Low will need to check the dates with my girlfriend first." John van Laer