It says a degree about Joshua Kimmich’s ambition and confidence that in a recent Q&A with the German Football Association, he declared the team he is looking more forward to facing at Euro 2016 is France while then claiming Les Bleus, and Spain, are his favourites for the tournament.
It’s no wonder the 21-year-old is dreaming big, as 12 months ago he had just 55 professional appearances to his name – all in the German second and third tiers – and was something of a long-term project for Bayern Munich.
Yet Tuesday’s performance at right-back in only his second cap may have helped relieve Joachim Low of a telling selection burden.
Since the retirement of Philipp Lahm in the wake of the 2014 World Cup triumph, no position has vexed Low more. In Germany’s 22 games in the post-Lahm era, Low has started seven different right-backs – Kimmich, Benedikt Howedes, Emre Can, Antonio Rudiger, Sebastian Rudy, Kevin Grosskreutz and Matthias Ginter – plus experimented with a three-man defence.
Joshua Kimmich has been very impressive up to now. Looks a good call by Joachim Low to select him at right back.— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarretTimes) June 21, 2016
To emphasise his dissatisfaction, Rudy was the most used with four appearances followed by Rudiger and Can with three. It’s also telling that of that group, none can be considered specialist right-backs with Ginter only recently converted into the role by Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund.
The seventh strand of the debate is Kimmich, who equally cannot be described as a right-back by trade but against Northern Ireland he offered plenty of optimism that he can help exorcise Die Mannschaft’s ghost in the machine; that is, the legacy of Lahm.
Against Northern Ireland, only Toni Kroos (145) had more touches than Kimmich’s 104, displaying just how involved and integral he was to Germany’s play. His crossing was inconsistent, with only two of nine reaching a team-mate, but no player sent in as many passes from a wide area, again displaying how willing he was to get on the ball and how comfortable his team-mates were passing to him.
Calm, assured but with an energy the more defensive Howedes and Can – the only other members of the aforementioned septet to have made Low’s 23-man squad – rarely exhibit; there was more than a touch of Lahm about his display.
His willingness to drive forward also allowed Thomas Muller to attack the penalty area from a more central position, where he is at his potent best; and it was no surprise to see the 26-year-old enjoy his best attacking display of the championships so far.
So obvious was Kimmich’s impact, the DFB’s official Twitter account was tweeting Lahm for his reaction. Wisely, he remained silent. The caveat is, he was given total freedom to advance by a Northern Ireland side looking to contain; Michael O’Neill’s side having just 24.4 per cent possession, were out-passed 719-196 and produced two shots, one of which was blocked.
Greater tests lie ahead and Kimmich’s inexperience is sure to make him a target of opposition teams. Especially in the latter rounds – should Germany get there – with the likes of France and Belgium possessing such quality in offensive wide positions.
The pressure he’ll be under in possession will be infinitely more intense. A defensive midfielder by trade, 14 of his 25 starts for the Bavarians were at centre-back while he played just one game at full-back. For a time, he was more known for being screamed at by Pep Guardiola on the pitch following a goalless draw against Dortmund.
What Guardiola told his protege: “I told him that he’s perhaps one of the best centre-backs in the world. He’s got the desire, the will, the passion. He’s got everything.”
Low has a habit of stumbling on the right formula in major tournaments and, with the knockouts awaiting, he may have found the answer to a burning questioning bothering him since July 14, 2014.