Bayer Leverkusen's Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo: world-class wingers in disguise


With 39 Bundesliga goals and assists between them in 2023/24, Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo - collectively known as 'Grimpong' - played a major role in Bayer Leverkusen's success.

That might even be understating it. Grimaldo finished the campaign with more assists than any other player (13), while his 10 goals were more than the likes of Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sané, RB Leipzig’s Xavi Simons (both with eight) and Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Brandt (seven). Frimpong was not far behind with nine goals and seven assists of his own.

So what? Well, their numbers would be impressive in isolation, but are even more so considering both players are wing-backs. While Sané, Xavi and Brandt can largely focus on going forward, ‘Grimpong’ have to do their share of defensive duties too.

Watch: Leverkusen celebrate German double

They excelled in that area that as well, as the 2023/24 Bundesliga champions conceded fewer goals (24) than any other side. For context, VfB Stuttgart and RB Leipzig had the next-tightest defences with 39 goals against, a whopping 15 more than Leverkusen.

Nevertheless, it is going forward that ‘Grimpong’ really grabbed headlines. By way of comparison, former Bayern duo Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who had their own 'Robbery' moniker, and are widely considered the league’s best-ever wing pairing, never managed ‘Grimpong’s’ tally of goal involvements in a single season – despite winning 17 Bundesliga titles between them.

Beyond Germany’s borders, it is only Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold that come close to matching ‘Grimpong’, accumulating a combined 34 goal involvement’s in their Premier League-winning campaign of 2019/20 under Jürgen Klopp.

Watch: Alejandro Grimaldo - a revelation in Xabi Alonso's system

It has been an astonishing rise for Grimaldo, in particular, under Alonso. The 28-year-old late bloomer, who deservedly made his senior Spain debut in the November 2023 international break more than seven years after the last of his two U21 appearances, had previously never scored more than five league goals in a campaign.

That tally came last season, when he also struck twice in the Champions League and provided five assists in 10 appearances in the competition. With the 11 assists he also tallied in the league for Benfica, it is no wonder he caught Leverkusen's eye, and - by continuing and enhancing that form in his maiden season in Germany - that of Spain coach Luis de la Fuente.

"That is my strong recommendation. It would be fully deserved. He already played well at Benfica, and has the quality for it," said Alonso when asked about Grimaldo getting called up by La Roja following his player's brilliant free-kick strike in the 3-0 Matchday 6 win in Mainz, his second direct set-piece goal following the one that helped earn a draw with Bayern on Matchday 4.

Xabi Alonso (l.) has taken Grimaldo (r.), Frimpong and Leverkusen to another level. - Imago Images

"It wasn't only the free-kick today. He played really well and is very professional. If he keeps on playing like that, then he'll get a call-up to the national team." Prescient words from the Leverkusen coach, with Grimaldo named in Spain’s squad for EURO 2024 in Germany.

If Alonso could already see the future for Grimaldo, the Spanish tactician is equally lavish in his praise of Frimpong too.

"We're totally convinced about Jeremie, and believe that he has a big international future ahead of him," said the Leverkusen boss, whose right wing-back made his senior international debut for the Netherlands in October 2023, having been an unused member of De Oranje's World Cup squad in 2022. "We want to support him as well as possible on his way." Frimpong too, has earned a place at EURO 2024 on the back of his displays in 2023/24.

The Dutchman has repaid Alonso’s belief in him, ramping up his goal involvements to almost as mind-blowing a level as his jet-heeled pace.

The former Manchester City youth academy prospect, now 23, averaged a goal involvement every four league matches in his first season-and-a-half at the BayArena following his January 2021 move from Celtic. He slashed that to a goal or assist every 140 minutes in 2023/24.

Watch: The best of Frimpong in 2023/24

“I improved every year I think, especially in my end product," said Frimpong. "When I was at Celtic, I was getting up there and I would not finish the actions. That’s one thing I had to improve on my game, because what’s the point if you go all the way up there and you don’t finish it?"

Both wing-backs managed to find that ultimate football commodity in the final third in 2023/24: consistency. It has meant that, despite the summer departure of Moussa Diaby - such an integral part of the Leverkusen front line in recent seasons – Alonso’s team were firing like never before, and they scored at least two goals in all but six of their Bundesliga games en route to becoming the first ever team to go unbeaten in a top-flight campaign in Germany.

Not that Grimaldo is surprised: he had been promised this season would be spectacular when he signed.

"I knew before the first game that we had a good team,” said the former Barcelona youth academy player. “That impression has been confirmed week after week, sometimes in an impressive way. With the other new additions, those responsible at the club have also implemented their promise from my contract talks in May to further strengthen the squad.”

After such a stunning double-winning season, and with Alonso also pledging his future to the club, the upcoming 2024/25 campaign looks to be another hugely promising one for ‘Grimpong’ and Leverkusen.