Munich - Andreas Lambertz is set to become the first German player to have played in all top four divisions of German football with the same club. After missing the first two games of the season due to suspension and injury, Fortuna Düsseldorf's captain is now raring to make his Bundesliga "dream come true" against VfB Stuttgart on Saturday.
When Lambertz joined Fortuna Düsseldorf at the age of 18 in 2002, the club's glory days were already a thing of the past. Fortuna, who had been an established Bundesliga side for most of the 1970s and 80s, found themselves in fourth-division obscurity. Their DFB Cup victories in 1979 and 1980 and their appearance in the final of the 1979 UEFA Cup Winner's Cup final had become nothing more than fond, but distant memories.
Despite winning promotion in Lambertz's first year as a senior professional in 2004, a return to the glory days was still a long way off. Düsseldorf spent the next five years in the third division, but following promotion to Bundesliga 2 in 2009, Lambertz finally felt that "the club could actually make it into the top flight". Düsseldorf eventually made the step up to the Bundesliga in May, getting the better of Hertha BSC Berlin in a play-off to bring their 15-year wait for top-tier football to an end.
Despite playing a lead role in the club's rise through the divisions, many felt that the five-foot-seven (1.75m) midfielder would be out of his depth in the higher leagues. "Every year [the club got promoted], there was speculation that his journey would end," said head coach Norbert Meier in an interview with the Der Westen newspaper, "but he's still here. His personal development has just kept on progressing." Meier himself joined the club in the third division.
History in the making
Lambertz is a tenacious and committed player and his loyalty and leadership qualities have made the man known locally as 'Lumpi' an obvious crowd favourite. "He embodies exactly what this club has been about in recent years: his game isn't faultless, but he always tries hard," said Meier, adding that, being newly promoted, "this has got to be the way for all of us".
Nevertheless, Lambertz is far from guaranteed his first Bundesliga appearance in Stuttgart. Although the 27-year-old has stressed that debuting in Stuttgart would be an "absolute highlight", and that he expects to play, coach Meier has little reason to change his starting XI since holding midfielders Adam Bodzek and Oliver Fink both performed convincingly in the 2-0 opener against FC Augsburg and the goalless draw at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach. "He will be in the squad, but we haven't decided whether he will play," said Meier.
Either way, 'Lumpi' is widely expected to feature at some stage on Saturday, and when he does, he will pen another chapter in the Bundesliga's history books.