Philipp Lienhart was schooled the Real Madrid way and counts Cristiano Ronaldo as one of his former mentors - but what else is there to know about the Freiburg centre-back? bundesliga.com has the lowdown...
Country: Austria (one cap)
Long tipped as Austria’s next footballing star, Lienhart came through Rapid Vienna's acclaimed academy system before switching to Madrid’s U19s at 17. The young defender played every minute of Real’s UEFA Youth League campaign, which ended in the Round of 16, and was soon promoted to the Spanish side’s second team, Castilla.
Lienhart developed into a regular starter in the Segunda B Division, featuring under the watchful eye of current Real head coach Zinedine Zidane. Such was the impression he made in the youth set-up, Lienhart made the jump to the first-team squad, debuting from the bench in the Copa del Rey against Cadiz in December 2015. The 6'2" right-footer also formed part of Real’s UEFA Champions League squad for the knockout rounds of their 2015/16 title-winning campaign.
Lienhart was Austria U21 captain when he moved to Freiburg, initially on loan, in summer 2017, and made his bow in the goalless draw with Eintracht Frankfurt on the opening day of the 2017/18 season. Despite an injury-interrupted year, the Austrian signed a permanent deal with the Black Forest club 12 months later. Physical problems have impeded his progress, but he has been a regular when fully fit and is already approaching 50 first-team appearances.
The Freiburg No.3 - who is winning an average of 63 per cent of his attempted challenges and finding a teammate with 88 per cent of his passes - made his senior Austria debut in a 1–0 win against Moldova in October 2019.
Plays a bit like: Sergio Ramos
Robust and uncompromising, Lienhart tends to rely on his positioning rather than pace. Strong in the air and a cerebral defender, he keeps things simple and looks to build from the back, rather than play it long - likely attributable to his Spanish schooling in the shadow of Sergio Ramos.
Did you know?
Although the likes of Zidane and Ramos helped shaped Lienhart during his formative years, it was Ronaldo who left a lasting impression on the Austrian centre-half.
"Cristiano is a great role model, especially for the younger players, and he always helped me wherever he could, so, if there were any problems, I could always come to him," Lienhart told goal.com. "He's very ambitious and always wants to win, and his work on and off the pitch, for example, in the gym, is extremely impressive."
What they're saying
"Philipp has developed well with us and integrated quickly into the team. Faster than expected, he came through his first few matches and has met our expectations directly." - Freiburg sporting director Klemens Hartenbach
"He's the ideal player for us - talented and hungry to learn." - Freiburg coach Christian Streich
Keep an eye on...
Hungary international Rolland Sallai is halfway into his second season at Freiburg. The 22-year-old winger scored twice in his first seven Bundesliga appearances in 2018/19, including on debut against Wolfsburg, but - like Lienhart - has seen his development curtailed by injury. He did, however, register a goal and assist in his previous outing on Matchday 25 of 2019/20.
Nico Schlotterbeck - the kid brother of Union Berlin's Keven - has made a handful of starts at centre-back, after impressing for the Freiburg U19s and reserves. He's also part of the current Germany U21 set-up.
Gian-Luca Itter is another promising Germany youth player. The U20 international left-back represented Frankfurt and Wolfsburg in his younger days, and has featured eight times in his debut Bundesliga campaign.