From joining Bayer 04 Leverkusen as a nine year old to being released, then re-signed, loaned out - and winning a World Cup - Christoph Kramer's career has been anything but dull.
Realism out the window
However, the crowning moment of his life as a professional footballer to date is not something he really expected to happen - nor can he remember parts of it that well...
Back in October 2013, Kramer had just joined Borussia Mönchengladbach on a two-year loan from parent club Leverkusen, his second long-term loan deal in as many years. Despite making a good start to life at Borussia – including a goal on his debut – the affable young midfielder wasn't overly optimistic about his chances of breaking into the Nationalmannschaft side. “Playing for Germany is obviously a dream,” he admitted at the time. “But I need to be realistic. So many world-class players play in my position."
Fast-forward nine months and after a stand-out domestic season, impressive performances in Germany's warm-up friendlies, and a late injury to Sami Khedira, Kramer found himself walking out to a packed Estadio do Maracana for the 2014 FIFA World Cup final. A remarkable turnaround in anyone's books.
'Is this the World Cup final?'
Seemingly never allotted a straightforward path, that was by no means the end of Kramer's dramatic intervention on the world's biggest stage. After making an assured start to the match against Argentina, the Gladbach man received a heavy blow to the head in a fifty-fifty challenge on 16 minutes. After receiving treatment he was able to continue and initially seemed to have sustained no lasting damage – until he opened his mouth.
"Ref, is this the final?" Kramer asked referee Nicola Rizzoli, who initially thought he was joking. Unfortunately he wasn't - the 23-year-old was suffering from concussion and had to be taken off before half-time. Not that he can remember any of the first half. Fortunately he came round in time to see Mario Götze score the winning goal and was able to lift the famous trophy at the end of an action-packed 120 minutes against the South Americans.
In and out at Leverkusen
Kramer has never been afraid of battling the odds, of course. He first joined Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the age of nine, having been spotted playing for his local club BV Gräfrath in his home-town of Solingen, North-Rhine Westphalia. After the best part of seven years at Bayer, however, Kramer was informed that he would not be retained, with die Werkself citing his lack of height as a main factor. He joined nearby Fortuna Düsseldorf for the next two years and, as if to prove Leverkusen wrong, grew a full 30 centimeters during his time there. Perhaps inevitably, Leverkusen returned for the midfielder, re-signing him for their Under-19 squad.
Kramer then worked his way through to Leverkusen's second team and swiftly gained promotion to the first team squad in 2011. Before he was able to make his debut, however, he was loaned out to second division outfit VfL Bochum for two years. The midfielder impressed at his new club, most notably recording a league-leading 852 tackles in his second season, and such is his fondness for Bochum and the club's fans that he still has a season ticket at the Rewirpowerstadion.
Bundesliga to Germany squad and beyond
His loan stint at VfL a resounding success, Kramer was ready to make the step up to the top flight, but with stiff competition for places in the Leverkusen midfield, it was at Borussia where he finally made his Bundesliga debut, having joined them on another two-year loan deal in 2013. It was a successful debut, too, with Kramer finding the net in the Foals' 3-0 win over Hannover 96.
Kramer missed just one game as the Foals ended the campaign in sixth and qualified for the UEFA Europa League in 2014, and his form also caught the eye of Germany head coach Joachim Löw, who promptly included Kramer in his squad for the World Cup warm-up game against Poland. He did enough in that match, and in Germany's next friendly against Cameroon, to earn a place in Löw's final 23-man squad for Brazil.
World Cup starter
Kramer had to wait a while for his maiden World Cup appearance, tasting action for the first time as an extra-time replacement for Bastian Schweinsteiger in Germany's 2-1 second round win over Algeria. He was a late substitute again at the quarter-final stage in the narrow 1-0 victory over France and was unused for Germany's momentous 7-1 win over Brazil in the last four.
Then came his big moment against Argentina in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the subsequent concussion, the 23-year-old can proudly say he played a part in Germany's fourth World Cup triumph - and will surely have plenty more international tournaments ahead of him.