Niklas Stark isn't a natural goalscorer - despite netting at both ends in Hertha Berlin's win over Mainz on Bundesliga Matchday 24 - but he is a pretty handy defender.
So handy, in fact, that Stark is hotly tipped to break into the Germany squad in the not too distant future - so what's his story? bundesliga.com has the skinny...
Club: Hertha Berlin
Country: Germany (42 youth international caps)
Stark was just nine years old when he joined the Nuremberg academy. After working his way up through the youth ranks, the 6'2" defensive specialist made his first-team debut less than two weeks after turning 18, towards the end of the 2012/13 Bundesliga campaign. He flitted between central midfield and defensive roles in his 56 first-team appearances for the club, collecting a Fritz Walter gold medal as the best player in his age group along the way - ahead of former Schalke midfielder Max Meyer and Bayern Munich all-rounder Joshua Kimmich no less.
Although Stark’s first full season of Bundesliga football ended in relegation to the second tier, he wasn’t away from the big time for long. Hertha came calling in August 2015, tying the then Germany U21 international down to a long-term deal. As a defensive midfielder by trade, his pass completion numbers are regularly in the region of 80 per cent, while he averages anything between 62 and 92 per cent for challenges won. The natural right-footer hit 100 Bundesliga appearances in September 2018, and has scored five top-flight goals to date.
Plays a bit like: John Brooks
A rangy, no-nonsense defensive rock, there's definitely a touch of Javi Martinez about Stark. But while the Bayern Munich battering ram has moonlighted as a centre-back, Stark has made the permanent switch from a holding midfield role. He played alongside John Brooks during his first two, formative seasons in the capital, and the USA totem pole's influence shines through to this day.
Stark is strong - as his German surname suggests - in the tackle, commanding in the air, a fine distributor of the ball and a threat in the opposition penalty box. The Wall of Brooks has been rebuilt in Wolfsburg, but the Stark Shield is a firm fixture in Berlin.
Did you know?
A self-styled petrol head, Stark could have been whizzing round a race track or servicing your car in another life.
"I always wanted to do something with cars," he recalled in the Berliner Kurier. "It’s a family thing. My uncle has a garage, my Dad works in a garage, my Grandad worked in a garage. I had a real grounding in cars, but I’m happy football worked out for me."
What they’re saying
"Nikas is exactly the sort of player every coach wants to have. If he continues to develop the way he has, he’ll be a real force - even at one of the big clubs." - Hertha head coach Pal Dardai
"There are some exciting players at Hertha, Niklas Stark is one of them. He’s physical, versatile and focused." - Germany head coach Joachim Löw
"I’m a real perfectionist: tactically and when it comes to my positioning. It’s been going well, but my goal is to play for Germany" - Stark
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