The Beister gamble that could bring huge rewards for Victory

If you’ve followed German football closely in recent years, you won’t have been the only one to do a double-take this week: Maximilian Beister to the A-League? Really?

Max Beister

Max Beister celebrates scoring a goal for Hamburg during their Bundesliga match against VfL Wolfsburg in 2012 Source: Getty Images

This is a 26-year-old who has starred (or at least had great moments) for two famous German clubs, Hamburger SV and Fortuna Düsseldorf, and was part of nearly every national youth side between 2009 and 2013 and is still contracted to a Bundesliga side.

Hats off to Melbourne Victory, in particular Kevin Muscat, who must have been working the phones at all hours to get this deal done.

From what I’ve seen of Beister, first-hand and from afar, he is an attacking midfielder with all the tools to become a genuinely top player in the A-League.

His story bears a remarkable similarity to both Thomas Broich and his new Victory teammate Besart Berisha, who stand alone as the A-League’s two best imports.

Upon arrival, both Berisha and Broich had huge question marks on them, particularly psychological. Were they here for a holiday or here to save their careers? Fortunately it was the latter, but plenty of others have sought the former. Right now, Beister is at that same T-intersection.

So let’s address the elephant in the room: if he really is that good, why is he in the A-League and not chopping up defences with his parent club, Mainz 05?

The awkward truth is that Beister has had a terrible few years. He’s played just a handful of matches - 20 league games, across three divisions - in the past two seasons.

Yet his name is one that still evokes an interested response from those inside the Bundesliga bubble.

“There was a lot of hype around Max. Everyone knew that he was a player with big potential and that he had a lot of natural talent,” one German coach told The World Game this week.

“He was putting it all together at Düsseldorf and he started well at Hamburg but his career seemed to fall in a hole towards the end there.

“He wasn’t the only one - there were a lot of players who suffered a drop in form at Hamburg in this time. Even though he’s still young, Max seems a bit lost right now about what to do with his career.”

Beister’s rise through the ranks at Hamburg, from the day he signed as a 14-year old, was swift. He debuted for the senior team at 19 before making a loan move in 2010 to Fortuna Düsseldorf, then in the second division.

Seven goals in 26 games set tongues wagging in his first season with Fortuna - a fine return for a player who had seldom seen first-team action before.

Given licence to roam forward in the second year, Beister was the reason new Australian signing Robbie Kruse (a full two years older than Beister) struggled for game time.

Beister scored 11 goals in 33 games and was a key plank in Fortuna’s successful promotion push (for the record, Kruse bagged none in 11).

Recalled swiftly by Hamburg, Beister’s adjustment to the top tier wasn’t quite so easy, managing just three goals in 23 games.

While he grabbed five goals in 16 games a season later, injuries began to mount. His card had been marked at the Volksparkstadion.

Banished to Hamburg’s second team (in the third tier) for most of 2014-15, Beister struggled with form, injury and confidence and was eventually released - a whole year early from his contract.

Those close to the situation privately suggested his injury rehabilitation perhaps wasn’t as intensive as it could have been, for a myriad of reasons.

Thrown a lifeline by Mainz, where he signed a two-year deal, he again couldn’t break the first team - managing just five minutes. A loan spell in the second tier with 1860 München brought eight starts but no goals.

This season? We’re in October, and Beister has played all of 35 minutes for Mainz’s reserve team. It is a remarkably swift fall from grace.

But now he finds himself in some excellent hands. Muscat - believe it or not - knows when to pull the caring rein. He’s a sensitive, smart operator and will know Beister, right now, needs the carrot as much as the stick.

Expect some heart-to-hearts with Berisha, too. Both know the weight of being the “next big thing” in a football country, with the Albanian finding his salvation on the other side of the world.

It is a tantalising idea that the A-League can recuperate such an immense talent. For the sake of everyone involved, not least the player himself, let’s hope our league can be the place where he finds his feet again.

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5 min read
Published 21 October 2016 at 1:44pm
By Sebastian Hassett