Being compared to a "little kid" by your boss at the age of 29 is probably not most people’s idea of a compliment, but Eintracht Frankfurt head coach Adi Hütter very much meant it as one when describing 29-time USA international Timothy Chandler, who has been essential in his side’s form uptick in 2020.
We, ahem, kid you not. "It seems strange to say it like this, but he’s a cool guy, simple as that!" said Hütter when asked about Chandler after the defender’s 93rd-minute equaliser earned the Eagles a 1-1 draw away to Fortuna Düsseldorf on Matchday 20.
"Timmy has a lot of experience and, alongside Marco Russ and Kevin Trapp, he’s got the dressing room under control. Sometimes he’s like a little kid who’s just having fun. He’s a really nice guy and keeps everyone entertained. But when he’s out on the pitch he knows when to turn it on."
There is no doubting that. Chandler has had a difficult time of things recently, missing the majority of 2018/19 with a serious knee injury - only playing 16 minutes all season - and starting the current campaign on the bench as his former back-up on the right, Danny da Costa, retained his place following consistently top-class performances in Chandler’s absence.
Since the turn of the year, however, Chandler has started all five league matches and scored four goals that have helped earn his side 10 points from a possible 15 in a fine start to 2020.
For a Frankfurt team that earned just one point from a possible 21 immediately prior to the winter break, it is quite a turnaround. So how has it come about?
That lengthy winless run, spanning the best part of six weeks, contributed to Hütter implementing a tactical switch and changing from a three-man backline (using three central defenders) to a four-man defence.
Watch: Chandler's Matchday 18 winner over Hoffenheim
That gave him the opportunity to field both Chandler and Da Costa in the right-back and right-midfield slots, whereas before there had only been one position available for the two of them.
"When you play with four at the back and one of the full-backs goes forward then you still have three defenders at the back," Hütter explained at the time. "Previously we only used to have two staying back a lot of the time, and that was sometimes quite risky."
An additional factor has been Frankfurt’s progress in two cup competitions. They played four midweek games across the DFB Cup and UEFA Europa League between the end of October and mid-December, and by the time the winter break came around they had had 31 competitive assignments in 2019/20 - far more than any other Bundesliga team.
Aware of the need to rotate his squad to keep players fresh and prevent injuries in his side’s high-intensity approach, it was during this period that Hütter first re-introduced Chandler to the starting line-up. He was given just his second league start of the season against Schalke on Matchday 15, and began the last two games of the year, too.
Watch: Chandler: "I don't know what's wrong - I'm scoring with my head!"
The winter break itself perhaps also played its part, giving Frankfurt time to take stock, make changes and practise strategies with players on the training pitch. Their match schedule in the first half of the season had simply left them close to little time to work on tactics at all.
"Other teams analyse us and have obviously seen that we’re brilliant down the left with Filip Kostic, so they close down the spaces really well on that side of the pitch," said Hütter, who duly went to work trying to balance out his team’s threat down the right.
And this is where Chandler comes in. If circumstances and tactics played their part in him being given a chance, the player’s attitude, ability and application have meant he has taken it with both hands. "It doesn’t matter if I play one minute or 90, I always give my absolute all," he told reporters in January.
And it has not gone unnoticed. "You could see that in the friendly against Hertha Berlin during our winter training camp, and he’s scored three goals since then," Hütter explained, referring to Chandler’s strike in the 2-1 defeat to Hertha in their Florida Cup exhibition match.
Watch: Fast-forward to 3:02 minutes to see Chandler's goal against Hertha in Florida
"It’s really impressive to see how he’s fought back from a long injury lay-off and how he’s developed. I’m delighted for him."
This year, Chandler has started on the right-hand side of midfield in all five of Frankfurt's league assignments, with game-changing results. He put away the winner in a 2-1 victory against Hoffenheim; played 89 minutes of a hard-fought 2-0 win over then leaders RB Leipzig, scored a dramatic equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Düsseldorf; and helped himself to his first-ever Bundesliga brace in a 5-0 rout of Augsburg.
Half of his goals, incidentally, have been headers, a fact not lost on the player himself. "Normally I don’t score so often with my head, not even in training, so I don’t know what’s wrong!" he told bundesliga.com. "But I’ve scored two headers, I’m happy about it and there’s more to come I hope."
If recent evidence is anything to go by, we’re sure there is, Timothy.