[TRANSFER WATCH] Despite the loss of young World Cup stars Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen) and Sami Khedira (VfB Stuttgart) to Real Madrid, the Bundesliga, which begins this weekend, is thriving. High attendance, solid sponsorship support and strict management controls mean German clubs are on solid footing financially and can keep up on the international transfer market. Here are the 11 key imports over the summer ...
Michael Ballack (Bayer Leverkusen).Ballack has been a winner wherever he's played except Leverkusen. He won his first league title at Kaiserslautern in 1998, three league and cup doubles at Bayern Munich and and another league and cup double last season at Chelsea. He was injured in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth and missed out on the World Cup. Two days before the tournament, Chelsea announced it would not re-sign Ballack, who returned to Leverkusen. He had left in 2002 after one of the most notorious collapses in soccer history -- Bayer blew a five-point lead in the Bundesliga with three games to play, lost the German Cup final to Schalke and the UEFA Champions League to Real Madrid.
Raul (Schalke 04).After 20 years at Real Madrid, Raul has moved to Germany, where he joined Schalke on a two-year contract. He is the all-time leading scorer in the Champions League (66) and the all-time leading scorer for both Spain (44 goals in 102 appearances) and Real Madrid (323 goals in 740 appearances).
Christoph Metzelder (Schalke 04).Another German national team veteran to return home, Metzelder arrived from Real Madrid along with Raul after three years in Spain. Like Raul, he was a free agent.
Simon Kjaer (Wolfsburg). The Dane is considered one of the top young defenders in the world, and he helped his case with a good World Cup. He arrived from Palermo in Italy, where he was considered one of Serie's top one-on-one defenders.
Mario Mandzukic (Wolfsburg).Big-spending Wolfsburg spent $10 million on the Croatian striker, acquired from Dinamo Zagreb, where he scored 42 goals in four season. Mandzukic, 24, was born in Croatia but grew up in Germany.
Nassim Ben Khalifa (Wolfsburg).The 18-year-old forward won the Silver Ball as the runner-up in MVP voting at the 2009 Under-17 World Cup, where he helped Switzerland win the championship in emphatic fashion. Wolfsburg signed him from Grasshoppers for $3 million.
Marko Arnautovic (Werder Bremen).Born in Vienna to a Serbian father and Austria mother, he debuted for FC Twente in the Netherlands and then moved on loan to Inter Milan, where he played only three league games in 2009-10. Whether the 21-year-old Austrian international, sold for $9 million, lasts at Bremen remains to be seen. Arnautovic's poor attitude has already landed him in the dog house.
Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund).Lewandowski only turns 22 on Saturday but already has played 24 times for Poland. He had 32 goals in two seasons at Lech Poznan, which sold him for $6 million.
Johan Audel (VfB Stuttgart). The 26-year-old French midfielder was a late addition at Stuttgart, arriving in a $5 million transfer deal from Valenciennes, where he scored 23 goals over the last three seasons.
Emanuel Pogatetz (Hannover 96).The Austrian national team captain has spent the last five seasons in England with Middlesbrough and should provide some stability in the back to a Hannover team that just narrowly avoided relegation last spring. An added bonus for Hannover: he arrived as a free agent.
Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04). Uchida, 22, is one of the most highly rated right backs to come out of the J-League, where he three titles in four seasons with Kashima Antlers. He's impressed the Schalke staff with his effort to integrate himself into the team, skipping vacation after the World Cup to head to preseason training.