Just one point behind the top six and in the UEFA Europa League last 16 prior to the coronavirus-enforced hiatus, if Wolfsburg are having a quietly successful season it is one mirrored by their equally unassuming defensive rock: John Brooks.
And that is just the way the 27-year-old likes it. He rarely gives any interviews and is largely silent on social media too: he only has one Instagram post this year, has not tweeted since 2017 - where he is still in a Hertha Berlin shirt in his profile picture – and has not published anything on Facebook in more than two years.
Yet while he may not seek the spotlight, his performances invariably draw it towards him anyway. A fundamental part of Wolfsburg’s team this term, only leaders Bayern Munich and title contenders RB Leipzig (both 26) have conceded fewer Bundesliga goals than the Wolves’ 30 in 2019/20.
Watch: From the archives: Brooks' German-American roots
Scratch a little deeper and it becomes even more apparent just how vital the 6’4” centre-back is. A hamstring injury and brief dip in form mean the 38-time USA international has only played in 21 of Wolfsburg’s 36 competitive games this season – with striking results. In short, Wolfsburg win more and concede less with Brooks on the pitch.
Oliver Glasner’s side have won 47.6 per cent of their matches with Brooks this term, averaging 1.66 points and 1.23 goals conceded per game, while they keep a clean sheet every three outings on average. Compare that to 33 per cent, 1.4 points, 1.53 goals conceded and a shut-out only every five games without him in the side.
Against that backdrop it becomes clear why a succession of Wolfsburg head coaches – Andries Jonker, Martin Schmidt, Bruno Labbadia and Glasner – have all put Brooks at the heart of their respective teams’ backlines since he joined in summer 2017.
In doing so he has kept some talented players out of the side, with Germany U21 international Felix Uduokhai and Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma both preferring to go out on loan rather than sit on the bench, while Marcel Tisserand and new signing Marin Pongracic have been unable to dislodge Brooks permanently.
His in-game statistics make it clear exactly why that is. On average the Wolfsburg No25 wins 60.7 per cent of all challenges, a figure that rises to 73.4 per cent in the air, while also completing 85.3 per cent of his passes from the back.
This latter metric is more important than might first appear given that Brooks is naturally left-footed, meaning he is ideally suited to the left-hand centre-back position in Glasner’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. Able to control the ball quickly on his left and pass it on comfortably to initiate attacks, he offers Wolfsburg an added dimension the others do not.
Teammates and fellow centre-backs Robin Knoche (56.5 / 56.7 / 86.0), Tisserand (53.9 / 53.2 / 79.8) and Pongracic (56.3 / 80.0 / 89.2) simply cannot compete with his numbers. Indeed, Brooks’ figures are more similar to those of two of Germany’s elite centre-backs of the past few years: Jerome Boateng (60.7 / 75.0 / 92.9), and Mats Hummels (64.6 / 70.4 / 90.0).
And even when Brooks was out of the side after struggling for form following injury this season, he simply knuckled down and worked harder. “Everyone has to bring their best performance in order to play and John needs to show me that he’s ready to play against Leipzig,” said Glasner in mid-October last year.
At the time Brooks had been out of action since August and while he did not feature in that 1-1 draw with Leipzig, he started the next two games and has rarely been out of the team since.
It is a similar story at international level. Handed his USA debut under Jürgen Klinsmann in August 2013, Brooks has been a mainstay even under subsequent coaches Bruce Arena, Dave Sarachan and Gregg Berhalter, and is currently one of a very small number of the ‘old guard’ alongside Michael Bradley and Brad Guzan to have remained on the roster following Berhalter’s rejuvenation of the side.
"John's a very good defender," Berhalter told bundesliga.com at the start of last year. “He's got a good profile, when I think of his towering frame and how he passes the ball. We'll be coming over to watch him again because we think he has huge potential."
It is safe to say that potential is rapidly transforming into experience and top-level quality – just don’t expect Brooks to go telling too many people about it.