A selfless player willing to fill any role he’s been asked to, Matthias Ginter has become a defensive leader for Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany.
bundesliga.com shines a light on a player who may not get the attention he deserves...
Shortly before his team played Belarus last November, Germany head coach Joachim Löw was asked for his view on Ginter. The 26-year-old Gladbach player had by then clocked up 28 appearances for his country – in a variety of positions - since his March 2014 debut.
He has played at centre-back in a four-man defence, in a tournament-winning three-man backline at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, and even at right-back in UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying and the 2018 UEFA Nations League.
“I have the feeling that he’s undervalued by the public,” Löw said. “When he’s played with us, he’s always done his job well.”
Watch: Ginter exclusively explains Gladbach's outstanding 2019/20 first season half
As if to underline that point, the Freiburg native went on to have one of his best games for the 2014 FIFA World Cup winners. The Belarus match was played in Mönchengladbach, and the former Borussia Dortmund defender marked the occasion by becoming the first Foals’ player to score for Germany at Borussia Park.
Ginter beautifully flicked the ball home from a low Serge Gnabry centre to give his side the lead four minutes before half-time, though several teammates apparently took some convincing that he was capable of netting in such spectacular style.
“At half-time not everyone really wanted to believe it was me, or that it wasn’t an own goal,” he joked afterwards.
The 2016 Olympic silver medallist had been encouraged by Löw to get forward as often as possible against deep-lying opponents, and that approach continued to bear fruit in the second half. Soon after the restart Ginter cleverly dummied the ball for Leon Goretzka to put Germany further in front, before he won the ball high up the pitch and teed up Toni Kroos for a third.
Ginter was named man of the match by the fans after the 4-0 win that booked Germany’s spot at UEFA Euro 2020 next summer, and Löw was full of praise for his number four.
“As a coach, you know what to expect from him,” Löw said. “He’s dependable and he’s able to do what we want him to do, which is to help build the play up from the back.
“He’s improved defensively too. He has a certain calmness about him, which is what makes him so solid, reliable and dependable. I’m particularly happy that he was able to score such a beautiful goal today.”
A DFB Cup winner with Dortmund in 2016/17, Ginter is heading into his fourth season with Gladbach. He had five league goals in his first year with the club, and then helped the Foals to a fifth-place finish in his second campaign. Last term, he played a key role in getting Gladbach back into the Champions League, missing just three games due to injury but starting the other 31.
Ginter's experience and maturity suggest that he could be crucial in what will be an important year for Germany, with the Nations League and Euro 2020 all packed into the next 12 months.
Along with Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and Real Madrid midfielder Kroos, Ginter is one of only three players from the 2014 World Cup winning squad who are still involved with Germany today.
“All three have plenty of experience with international tournaments,” Löw said after Germany booked their ticket to next summer’s finals. “It’s important to have players like that on the team, which is why all three feature prominently in my plans.”
A Fritz Walter Gold Medal winner in 2012 and 2013 as the best German player at U18 and U19 level, Ginter has come a long way. Two days after his 18th birthday in January 2012, he made his Bundesliga debut as a substitute for Freiburg against Augsburg. He marked it with a late winning goal to become his hometown club’s youngest ever Bundesliga goalscorer.
Versatility is clearly a strength, especially considering that Ginter sometimes operated as a defensive midfielder at his first club. He thinks it was a big advantage to have experienced so many roles, although it didn’t necessarily help his image with the wider public.
“Because I often had to change position, many did not perceive me as someone who played with regularity – even if the numbers proved the opposite,” he has said previously.
Having set up a foundation in 2018 to help disadvantaged young people in his home city of Freiburg, Ginter has no problem putting footballing problems in perspective. As a veteran of over 200 Bundesliga matches, however, he has also become accustomed to proving his doubters wrong.
“I’ve actually become used to it by now,” he said ahead of the Belarus game. “In Freiburg no one believed that I could become a Bundesliga player. When I moved to Dortmund a lot of people thought that step had come too early. Even at Gladbach, I wasn’t seen in the role that I’ve actually taken on at the heart of defence.”
After three seasons with the first team at Freiburg, Ginter spent three years with Dortmund between 2014 and 2017. Now he is thriving under new Gladbach boss Marco Rose, a man who worked with Ginter’s former BVB coaches Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel while at Mainz.
“In certain situations, you see that our coach must have worked under both,” Ginter said earlier this season.
Having hit the top five under Dieter Hecking in 2018/19, Ginter has reached new heights under former Salzburg coach Rose.
“The new approach is more powerful, dynamic, and forward thinking,” he told German sports magazine Kicker earlier this year. “I had a long conversation with him at an early stage about plans, perspectives and goals. The discussion made me feel good, so it quickly became clear that I wanted to help this project.”
Watch: Gladbach's tactics under Marco Rose
Help it he certainly has, though a dislocated shoulder and then a muscle problem forced Ginter to miss five club matches between October and the start of December. Playing in either a back three or a four-man defence, he has been winning well over 50 per cent of his challenges this season as well as recording a healthy average passing accuracy of over 85 per cent.
Ginter most notably kept five-time Bundesliga top goalscorer Robert Lewandowski quiet as Gladbach earned a dramatic 2-1 win over defending champions Bayern on Matchday 14. That success was the Foals’ tenth in the league, a run which had their supporters dreaming of a return to the glory days of the 1970s when they won five Bundesliga titles.
While Gladbach eventually faded, they still managed to secure Champions League football by finishing fourth, and a lot of the credit must go to Rose, according to Ginter. He feels the former Mainz defender has helped him take “the next steps” in his development, and that his career is now firmly on the right track.