Most footballers aspire to play in the UEFA Champions League, but few actually make their professional debuts in Europe's elite club competition. Benedikt Höwedes is one of them, starting out his career at the age of 19 with an appearance for FC Schalke 04 against Rosenborg BK in the group stage of the competition in 2007.
Royal Blue rock
What made Höwedes' debut even more impressive was that he played in a position he had never appeared in, not even at youth level. He was forced to deputise at left full-back - just to the side of his childhood hero Marcelo Bordon. "You can't not feel comfortable alongside him," he said after the 2-0 win. unbeknownst to him, it was a position he would return to many years later, with remarkable results.
He took his Bundesliga bow against Karlsruher SC just three days after the Rosenborg game, and his versatility eventually helped him become a regular in the Schalke team. He has figured in every single position across the back line and seemed pre-destined for the captain's armband, which he inherited at the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
He also made the breakthrough into the national team after appearances at Under-18, U-19, U-20 and U-21 levels, before earning a place in Germany's squad for UEFA EURO 2012 just a year after making his debut. Höwedes didn't feature at the tournament but that didn't deter him from knuckling down afresh at Schalke, and under his leadership the Royal Blues finished fourth in 2012/13 and reached the last 16 stage of the Champions League. His moment in the national team would arrive not long afterwards.
World Cup winner
Injuries limited him to just 18 starts in the 2013/14 campaign, as the Royal Blues went on to finish in the top three for the first time sixth time in the last ten years. He returned to fitness just before the end of the season, though, and his form was enough to convince Germany head coach Joachim Löw to take him to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
It was there that he emerged as a true winner, playing every minute as Germany won a fourth World Cup, reprising an unfamiliar role of left-back, just as he had done so on his senior debut seven years before.