Why Joshua Kimmich is Bayern Munich’s most important player
In a Bayern Munich side blessed with Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller, among others, calling Joshua Kimmich the most important member is a bold claim - but far from an outlandish one.
And it goes some way to explaining why, with two years of his contract still to run and other first-team players closer to the ends of their respective deals, Bayern ensured it was Kimmich's future they resolved first, the 26-year-old having now extended his stay at the Allianz Arena through to 2026.
So what is it that makes him so special, so irreplaceable even? In his farewell interview as Bayern boss, Hansi Flick predicted that his successor Julian Nagelsmann will have "a lot of fun" with the team he left behind. That seems fairly obvious, given the sheer quantity of household names in the squad, but the new Germany coach also singled out Kimmich for special mention.
"I think if he manages to channel his extraordinary ambition a little better and steers it in the right direction, then he can become the world's best player," Flick told 51, the official Bayern Munich magazine. "He's already a world-class player in several positions but he can take another step - and I hope he does."
A constant focus on the task at hand is what sets Kimmich apart, according to Flick, something that is clearly paying off for the Germany international.
An integral part of Bayern's sextuple-winning squad and already a six-time Bundesliga champion, Kimmich is showing plenty of signs that suggest he has the potential to meet Flick's prediction.
Having initially starred as a right-back with Bayern, the former VfB Stuttgart and RB Leipzig player has since made the No.6 role his own. He's only featured once at full-back in the Bundesliga since the start of 2020/21, and his influence in a central role for both club and country is increasing all the time.
Watch: Analysis: Kimmich the Boss
Helping Bayern to win a ninth consecutive title in 2020/21, Kimmich touched the ball an average of 101 times over 90 minutes. That was the best total not just at the record German champions but among all the midfielders in the top flight.
A Germany international with more than a half century of caps to his name, Kimmich has a career passing accuracy of over 90 per cent. He's well able to mix it off the ball too, winning over 50 per cent of his challenges both on the ground and in the air in the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign.
Kimmich's energy is hugely impressive. In 2019/20 he covered more ground than anyone else in the league (247 miles) and he might have topped that ranking again the following season had he not missed seven games through injury. As it was, he ran an average of 7.8 miles per game during 27 league appearances in 2020/21 - more than anyone else at Bayern.
With all that in mind, it's little wonder that ex-Germany striker Jürgen Klinsmann has praised Kimmich as a "very special player."
"The No. 6 role that Joshua is playing for Bayern Munich and for the national team has become like the quarterback role in American Football," the former Bayern, Germany and USA head coach explained to bundesliga.com in May 2021.
"Joshua plays that to perfection. He is not only feisty in terms of winning the ball back, he knows right away what to do with the ball and who to connect to. He keeps the tempo of the game in place."
This is where Kimmich's importance truly comes to the fore. Lewandowski, Neuer and Müller all bring leadership, experience and quality to the table, not to mention goals, saves and assists, but football is largely played in midfield. If you control that area, you control the game. Having an expert in doing so is one of the most sought-after commodities in the game.
From Rottweil in the southwest of Germany, Bayern's midfield dynamo regularly produces an end product as well. As of the start of 2022, he had 33 goals and 75 assists in 279 games across all competitions for the record German champions, even if injury and illness reduced him to just 11 outings in the first half of the 2021/22 campaign.
He nevertheless had a hand in seven goals in those 11 games, having contributed directly to 14 goals in the Bundesliga across 2020/21 - scoring four and making 10 more. Five corners he took led to goals - second in the league only to Borussia Mönchengladbach's Jonas Hofmann and Freiburg's Vincenzo Grifo (both six).
The manner in which Kimmich has been getting on the scoresheet, meanwhile, has showcased the full range of his ability. Few Bayern fans will forget his delicate chip over Roman Bürki late in the 2019/20 campaign, for example, a decisive strike that all but made certain his side would be German champions yet again. Or what about his improvised winner over Dortmund in the 2020 Supercup?
Seven of Kimmich's 11 Bundesliga goals since the summer of 2019 have come from range, showing that it's highly dangerous to leave him unmarked even outside the area.
Of the four Bundesliga goals he got in 2020/21, two came from distance, one was smashed home from right on the edge of the box, and the other was a close-range header. His first - a carefully placed curler into the top corner at Hoffenheim - won him September's Goal of the Month award. His last - a thunderous strike from outside the area in the final day success against Augsburg - suggests that he's hungry for more.
It's been an impressive rise to prominence for Kimmich, who was with Stuttgart to U19 level where he played alongside the likes of future Germany teammates Serge Gnabry and Timo Werner. He dropped down to Leipzig - then a third-tier side - in 2013 before his tenacity and talent got him a move to Bayern.
While at Leipzig Kimmich worked under fitness trainer Tim Lobinger, who previously won multiple medals as a pole vaulter for Germany. For Lobinger, like with Flick, it's no surprise that the Bayern midfielder has got to where he is today.
"He leaves no stone unturned because he always wants to know how he can get even better," Lobinger told German site Spox.
That attitude has served Kimmich well, and it is that, along with his mindset and all-round intensity, that arguably sets him apart even among elite players.
"We spoke briefly after the European Championship and he wanted to get back into training right away, without even going on holiday,” said Nagelsmann of his midfield general - before ordering him to take a vacation. "I try to pass on to him that he needs to allow himself rest periods in order to bring his mega-mentality and mega-quality onto the pitch."
Bayern are now set to reap the benefits of those traits for years to come; incidentally another of the key factors in Kimmich's growing standing at the club. The aforementioned superstar trio of Lewandowski, Neuer and Müller are all over 30 - the latter is the youngest of that group at 32, a full five and a half years older than Kimmich. He's not just vital for the present; he's also the team's future and de facto leader.
Kimmich is, then, the full package: an outstanding passer, a set-piece taker, a combative midfielder with a great engine, he scores goals as well as makes them. He rarely misses a match, and is now indispensable for club and country.
Can he become the best in the world? Flick doesn't get a lot wrong. Is he the most important player at Bayern? The timing and length of his contract extension probably tells you all you need to know about that.
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