Since being ordered off the Mainz reserve team bus in a motorway service station because the first team needed him, Ridle Baku's footballing journey has only gone in one direction: up.
bundesliga.com profiles the young relegation saviour from Mainz, who is now excelling in a new role for Wolfsburg and Germany.
Country: Germany (U21, 7 caps)
Baku was about to make his 27th appearance for the Mainz reserves when he was pulled from the team bus at the 11th hour to plug a gap in the senior side for the visit of RB Leipzig on 29 April 2018. It proved an inspired decision. Baku went on to cover more ground than any of his teammates (seven miles) and completed a team-high 21 passes, before capping off a dream Bundesliga debut by firing in Mainz's third goal. The diminutive 5'9" midfielder added to his tally against Borussia Dortmund the following week, securing the win that guaranteed the 05ers' top-flight status for another campaign.
Baku has not looked back since. In his first full season, after almost single-handedly securing survival, he made 15 appearances. He then became a near ever-present in the 2019/20 campaign. Mainz finished six points above the relegation/promotion play-off place spot last term, with a Baku goal earning them a point at Union Berlin on Matchday 28. He also finished third on the list of the best second assisters in the league, with only Dortmund pair Julian Brandt and Jadon Sancho ahead of him. A move to Wolfsburg followed in October 2020, and the new arrival made an equaliser against Borussia Möchengladbach on his second outing for the Wolves before scoring a leveller against Hertha Berlin on his fourth.
Plays a bit like: Naby Keita
In 2020, Baku began playing more often as a right-back, but before then he drew midfield comparisons with former Leipzig favourite Naby Keita. While still at Mainz, he went head-to-head with his one-time opposite number on his top-flight debut - and won. Aside from scoring, Baku clocked 86 runs - 30 more than Keita - and 34 sprints. Leipzig's former engine, meanwhile, received his marching orders for a second-bookable offence in added time. After Keita moved to Liverpool, Baku carried the flag for leggy box-to-box midfielders in his first full Bundesliga campaign. Since moving to full-back, though, he has lost none of the energy and tenacity that made him stand out. He was directly involved in two goals and won 14 tackles per match in his first five games for Wolfsburg.
Watch: Check out Baku's first goal for Wolfsburg
Did you know?
Baku was christened Bote Nzuzi, but is known by his nickname 'Ridle' - a misspelled tribute from his father to former Dortmund forward Karl-Heinz Riedle. The Mainz native with Congolese roots has played for Germany at every level from U18 to U21. Not long after signing a five-year contract with the Wolves, Baku emulated Riedle in November 2020 by earning a call-up to his country's senior team.
What they're saying
"I found out at a motorway service station that I should get off the bus. It took me 45 minutes to work out where I was, but in the end I got there and the fans were happy, my teammates were happy, I was happy. My debut could not have gone any better." - Baku
"The way Ridle lives for Mainz, they way he got stuck in on his debut, the heart and soul he puts into it - it's just outstanding." - Former Mainz head coach Sandro Schwarz
"I think we have to be cautious with superlatives, but Ridle has settled in really quickly and is performing really well – in attack too." - Wolfsburg head coach Oliver Glasner