With the majority of American players stationed in Europe off for the summer, our focus in this space this summer transfers to individual talents rather than our weekly list updates. Each week, we will take an in-depth look at an American who, for one reason or another, is peaking our interest at the moment. This week, we’ll take a look at one of the bigger USMNT names in Europe who is fresh off becoming the most expensive United States player ever.
John Anthony Brooks
Club: VfL Wolfsburg
Most of the time, our focus in this section will be on lesser-known players or ones who we don’t often talk about during the European season. That isn’t the case this week. Since scoring the winner against Ghana in the first game of the 2014 World Cup, German-born defender John Brooks has become one of the most important players on the United States Men’s National team, and that figures to be the case for years to come. At 24, Brooks still has his best years in front of him,
For the first time in his career, however, Brooks will be wearing unfamiliar colors when he returns to Germany to begin the 2017-18 season. On May 31, Brooks officially signed with Wolfsburg from his childhood club Hertha Berlin, moving to Die Wolfe after the two teams agreed on a 20 million Euro fee, the largest sum ever paid for an American player. But whether or not the move is the correct one in the still-developing young player’s career remains up for debate.
Brooks’ backstory is both familiar and unique for an American player in Germany. Born in Berlin to an American serviceman from Chicago and a German mother, Brooks came through the academy of his hometown team, Hertha BSC, making his debut for the reserves at 18. He turned down interest from a number of top Bundesliga clubs to sign his first professional contract with Hertha after the 2010-11 season, and he made his debut for the first team in August 2012. He played 29 games in the 2012-13 campaign, helping Hertha to the 2. Bundesliga title.
Since then, Brooks has been a mainstay for the club. He appeared in 118 league games and scored seven goals over his five seasons with the senior side, earning consistent praise as one of Germany’s best young center backs over the past few seasons in particular.
During that stretch, he’s also become a key figure for the USMNT. He decided to represent the United States after appearing in youth camps for both the U.S. and Germany, and he made his debut for the national team in a 2013 friendly with Bosnia and Herzegovina. He did enough during the 2013-14 season with both Hertha and the United States to earn a role as a reserve on the 2014 World Cup team, and he officially announced himself to the U.S. soccer public with his thunderous 84th-minute header to beat Ghana after coming on as a substitute for the injured Matt Besler.
Wolfsburg is fresh off a narrow survival after finishing 16th in the Bundesliga and topping Eintracht Braunschweig in the two-legged relegation playoff. Meanwhile, Hertha finished sixth in the Bundesliga and will play in the Europa League next year. On that basis alone, this seems like a backwards move for Brooks, although that’s not entirely true. Wolfsburg played in a Champions League quarterfinal two seasons ago, while Hertha have overperformed given their financial prowess, or lack thereof. There’s no doubt that Wolfsburg can afford to pay a much better wage, and they can go out and spend money to build a team around him. Add in the fact that Wolfsburg is less than 150 miles from his hometown of Berlin, and this move starts to make a bit more sense.
However, Wolfsburg are going to need Brooks to be at his best if they are to return to the top half in the near future. Die Wolfe were pretty horrendous defensively last season, allowing 52 goals and the sixth-most shots in the league, with left back Ricardo Rodriguez — who has since signed for AC Milan — forced to play often in the center of the back line. That should give Brooks a straightforward path into the starting lineup.
That said, while he is undoubtedly a promising and domineering figure at the back, consistency is often an issue for Brooks. His 6-foot-4 frame and strong instincts (he averaged 2.6 interceptions per game last season) allow Brooks to lock down opposing strikers against teams that try to create play from the wings, but he also has a tendency to get caught napping far too often. He’s an outstanding passer for a defender, but he sometimes gets caught out of position when he tries to push up into the attack. He isn’t the fleetest of defenders, and it can bite him on occasion. All things considered, he’s a fantastic player who is still developing his game, but Brooks needs to sharpen his focus just a bit if he’s to take the next step and become a world-class center back.
There really isn’t a ceiling on what Brooks could become with a bit more time and a little bit of quality coaching. Wolfsburg could well be the place for his necessary improvement to occur. But the next few seasons will be instrumental to Brooks meeting his potential as he leaves his comfort zone and tries to take the next steps in his career.