Max Kruse Reloaded: A new start at Werder Bremen

When Max Kruse was penalized for leaving 75,000 euros in the back of a Berlin taxi, it seemed like his career at the top level was coming to an end.

It was the final straw for his former club VfL Wolfsburg, who paid 12 million euros to bring the cultured attacker from VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach.

A year ago, he was ditched from the national team by Joachim Löw in light of the European Championship. His face didn’t fit the ultra-disciplined culture around the world champions. Kruse, a keen poker player, had a myriad of accusations thrown at him: unprofessional, too much sex, too much gambling, and his own guilty pleasure, too much Nutella for breakfast.

But Kruse’s face does fit at SV Werder Bremen, his childhood club, which reared him through their well-respected academy programme. Kruse’s start, however, was tragic – after the club paid six million euros for the striker, he was ruled out for several months with a knee injury. In that time, Kruse has undergone a period of self-analysis.

The striker, still at the ripe age of 29, was brought up 90 minutes north-east of Bremen – closer to Hamburg – but was plucked from a young age into the club’s academy. Kruse has spoken publicly about how he sees his previous escapades as history – he wants to talk about the future and has assumed a leadership role at the Weser Stadion.

That stems from Kruse’s search for first-team gratification. He didn’t break through at Bremen as quickly as he expected; St Pauli was a vibrant learning experience in the second tier; but Freiburg was the environment in which he flourished the most. “He has had a very, very large share of success and development. For this I am still grateful to him today,” Kruse said of SC Freiburg coach Christian Streich.

From there, Kruse went to Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he had a generally successful time, and then on to Wolfsburg. The club, backed by Volkswagen, was an awkward juxtaposition for the 14-time German international: the club wanted championships, but lacked the team culture to deliver on a consistent basis.

Kruse drags Bremen up

Kruse has founded a rich, playful streak of form at Bremen under head coach Alexander Nouri. The green-and-whites have rocketed from relegation trouble towards contention to reach European competition next season. “Since Max has been on the pitch, our quality has increased significantly,” says Frank Baumann, the club’s sporting director.

With three goals and four assists in four games, there can be no doubts about Kruse’s importance to Bremen as a team. He is the team’s first passing option, switching roles between attack and the middle-third. He connects the game brilliantly, with a secure touch and perceptive combination play.

Blessed with exquisite technique, Kruse has been allowed to make that effectual in Nouri’s new-look 3-5-2 formation. On average, the striker takes out six defenders per game, according to ‘Packing’ data from Impect Media in Germany. The win over Hamburg, his best performance since his return, saw him carry nine defenders out of the match.

Kruse’s hunt for external motivation, either in the pursuit of titles or due to a chip on his shoulder, are in the past. Making a success out of his time at Bremen, one of the league’s storied clubs, and one which he identifies with, is the aim. Nouri described him as a ‘difference maker’ in the team, whilst his former academy chief compared his intelligence to Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller.

It remains to be seen whether or not Kruse can fight his way back into Löw’s plans. The German coach is generally conservative in his selections, painstakingly planning every minute detail to make sure every cog clicks together. “If Kruse performs like this, Löw’s call will come,” writes former Bremen captain Frank Baumann.

That’s the future – but in the here and now, Kruse and Bremen are targeting Europe. Eighth in the Bundesliga, two points off, nine games unbeaten with five matches left, there’s no reason for the northern German club to hold back now.

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