Berlin - Out to avoid the dreaded second-season syndrome, Hertha Berlin have made some big moves in the marketplace this summer, and from the capital city side’s perspective, none were bigger than the capture of sought-after star signing Valentin Stocker.
Second time a charm
A first-team regular with the Swiss national team and already boasting an enviable trophy haul from his time with FC Basel 1893, the 25-year-old felt the time was right to seek out pastures new and with it a fresh challenge. “I wanted to join Hertha from the very beginning,” said Stocker. “The Bundesliga is the best league in the world and I want to test myself at this level every week.”
The Old Lady were long-term admirers of Stocker, who was first offered the chance to move to the capital seven years ago when he was just 18 years old. “I took a tour of the city and [sporting director] Michael Preetz showed me and my parents around the training ground,” recounted the dynamic forward in an interview with BILD. “At the end they even gave me a shirt with my name on it.”
The prospect of joining a club that at the time had just finished sixth, though tempting, wasn’t enough to convince the youngster to fly the nest at such an early age, though. “I was on the cusp of signing my first professional contract and was still too young to move away from Basel." Indeed, the Berliners were not the only 'Old Lady' whose advances he had to resist. “It was also the reason I rejected an offer from Juventus.”
Praise from Hitzfeld
While the signings of John Heitinga, Roy Beerens, Marvin Plattenhardt, Jens Hegeler and Genki Haraguchi have added strength in depth to a team that dropped dramatically from sixth to 11th in the second half of last season, Stocker is expected to slot straight into the starting line-up. Far from being a like-for-like replacement for Dortmund-bound Adrian Ramos, his technical ability in being confident to take on a man at pace will undoubtedly go a long way to ensuring the Colombian’s departure will not detract too much from Hertha's dynamism up front.
Whether it be from the either wing or operating as a diminutive front man, Stocker’s time with Basel - which saw him lift six Swiss Super League titles and three Swiss Cups - has prepared him well for taking the next step in Germany’s top flight. “He can assist and he can score. He’s got a really good nose for goal,” said Switzerland head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose claim is backed up by the winger’s superb record of 50 goals and 62 assists in 175 games for Basel.
Following in Drmic and Mehmedi’s footsteps
From Basel to Berlin via the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, big things can be expected of the Bundesliga’s latest Swiss import, a player Hertha were shrewd in snapping up before the start of the summer spectacle where Stocker was part of Hitzfeld's up-and-coming Swiss side. “[Josip] Drmic and [Admir] Mehmedi have already managed it,” claimed the former FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund boss. “And I have no doubt that Stocker will be able to assert himself in the Bundesliga.”
In admitting his intent to "put the most pressure on myself” to adapt quickly in his pursuit of success, Stocker comes across as an ambitious professional hoping to prove himself in one of Europe’s elite leagues, yet one with a realistic outlook on his status in world football. “In the Swiss league you can get away with not putting in 110%,” conceded Stocker. “There were maybe five to eight matches a season that were of a Bundesliga standard. In Germany you’ve got to go full throttle to the last minute.”
For a man at home on the left wing, who admits “vanilla truffles” are his greatest weakness away from football, it appears his pedal-to-the-metal style of play could see him slot seamlessly into Jos Luhukay’s counter-attacking outfit. “I don’t just want to be another number at a big club,” said the 25-year-old. “I’m different and I’m not here for the money. I need the full support of a club and I felt that in Berlin. That’s why, despite interest from elsewhere, it didn’t take long for me to set my heart on Hertha. Hertha and me - it works!”