The no-frills German has become synonymous with goals over the course of a career that has seen more ups and downs than the Frankfurt stock exchange, but surely there's more to one of the craftiest veterans on the Bundesliga block than that?
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Born in the north German town of Buchholz in der Nordheide on 17 January 1983, Meier spent his younger days at local sides SG Rosengarten, TuS Nenndorf and TSV Buchholz 08. His big break came in 1995 when he joined the youth set-up at the Bundesliga’s only ever-present club Hamburger SV, where the aspiring goal-getter later put pen to paper on his first professional deal following loan spells at MSV Hamburg and FC St. Pauli. After making just four senior appearances for the six-time German champions, he moved to Eintracht Frankfurt - initially on a one-year loan deal - in 2004.
Meier swiftly earned cult status at the Commerzbank-Arena, partly for standing at a rangy 6’5” tall, but above all after helping steer the Eagles back to the Bundesliga from the second tier in his first season in Germany’s financial capital. Eintracht were relegated again in May 2011, yet the Buchholz native stood by the club that had given him his second chance as a professional footballer. “The club's always looked out for me in difficult times,” he recalled. “It seemed only natural for me to stay and help the team get out of the mire as quickly as possible.”
True to his word, Meier’s 17 goals in 31 appearances helped propel Eintracht back to Germany’s top table at the first time of asking in 2011/12. He finished Bundesliga 2 joint-top scorer that season, earning the moniker Fußballgott (football god) among the Frankfurt faithful. The fairytale continued in 2012/13 as the Eagles stormed up the league ladder to secure a place in the UEFA Europa League. Meier usurped his previous Bundesliga best-mark of ten goals by netting 16 times, with then head coach Armin Veh not the first to admit that the former HSV pariah “has never been this good”.
Balancing domestic and European affairs, the Eagles took something of a nosedive in 2013/14, finishing the campaign just nine points clear of the relegation zone. Veh’s work was done and in came ex-SV Werder Bremen strategist Thomas Schaaf. With concerns about how Meier might fit into his preferred system, the 53-year-old risked the Frankfurt fans’ chagrin by leaving their inimitable No14 on the bench for the first three games of 2014/15, but when summer signing Nelson Valdez suffered a serious injury, the Eintracht icon seized the opportunity with both hands.
Meier scored on his first league start under Schaaf and he hasn’t looked back since. His fifth brace of the campaign against 1. FC Köln on 8 March 2015 confirmed what German football enthusiasts had known for months: at 32, the Bundesliga’s leading marksman was in the form of his life. Yet when pressed on the prospect of following in the footsteps of legendary Ghanaian striker Tony Yeboah (l.) and returning the Tojägerkanone to Frankfurt after a 21-year absence, the humble Meier replied: “It’s unrealistic."
Much like the entire cast and crew at the Commerzbank-Arena, former 1. FC Köln and Eintracht goalkeeper Markus Pröll believes the Eagles’ evergreen veteran is being far too modest. “Why can’t he win it?” he said in an interview with www.express.de. “If that means Bayern share the goals around, so be it. [Alex] is on fire. He knows where he’s supposed to be and he has a nose for it. He never switches off. Sometimes you don’t notice him and he scores anyway. Since I gave him my wash bag it’s been going great for him and continues to get better and better.”
Pröll’s man-bag might just be the only piece of designer kit in Meier's locker, with the Eintracht hero seen to represent the very antithesis of the modern-day footballer. Save the occasional cut, dry and restyle, he has never been one for the limelight. He’d much rather kick back and enjoy a kebab and can of Coca-Cola - just don’t tell the Eagles’ nutritionist. “I don’t feel like a star,” the 32-year-old told German website Kreiszeitung Wochenblatt. “I try to be professional in the way I live my life and keep myself in the best shape possible.”
To that end, Meier - who occupies fourth place on Frankfurt’s all-time list of leading scorers behind Jürgen Grabowski (109), Bernd Nickel (141) and Bernd Hölzenbein (160) - continues to put in the extra hours. The way he strikes a ball - a controlled swing followed by the sweetest of connections almost exclusively with the instep of his right boot - is something that was rehearsed time and again as a child: “My Dad taught me to shoot like that […] Roger Federer hits his forehand over and over again, even though he’s already perfected it. I’ve always practised.”
Away from the pitch, it would appear he hasn’t put quite so much effort into acquiring the local lingo, having once admitted in an interview with German tabloid Bild that he doesn’t understand a single word of Hessisch - the regional dialect spoken in Frankfurt. What would Meier’s diligent old kit lady at Buchholz 08, Frau Werner, think of that? “She always washed out kits and organised the trips,” he recalled. “After training, every player was given a piece of paper with all the necessary information on it. That way no one was ever late!”
Meier has always held the women in his life very close to his heart. The unassuming family man has a holiday home in his other half’s native USA, while he claims to “always listen” to his mother. The former Germany Under-21 international rarely gives the rumour-mongers quite so much attention, though, especially when it comes to talk of a belated call-up to the senior national team. “It’s never been on the agenda for me,” he revealed. “You have to be realistic, there are better players out there. I’ve always just tried to go my own way.”
Compiled by Christopher Mayer-Lodge