Cologne - It has been a long time coming but, finally, things are all falling into place again for Holger Badstuber. Five consecutive games in the Bundesliga, a debut UEFA Champions League goal in the 7-0 Round of 16 mauling of FC Shakhtar Donetsk and now, topping off a busy and productive few weeks, the FC Bayern München defender is with Germany as well.
‘Badstuber, I love you!’
“I'm over the moon about being called up for these two games after such a long absence,” Badstuber said of his place in the squad for Wednesday's friendly with 2015 AFC Asian Cup winners Australia in Kaiserslautern and the UEFA Euro 2016 Group D qualifier against Georgia in Tbilisi on Sunday. A long absence it certainly has been, with the Memmingen native's nomination coming 885 days after the last appearance for his country.
Head coach Joachim Löw, an avowed admirer of the 26-year-old defensive all-rounder's ability to open up the game from the back, stressed recently that “Holger's one of the players I'm counting on for Euro 2016.” For his part, new Germany skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger, himself back in the squad for the first time since last summer's World Cup final victory over Argentina, rates his Bayern team-mate as “the best left-footed defender in the business.” Asked for an assessment during pre-Rückrunde preparations in January, the record champs' head coach Pep Guardiola even went so far as to proclaim, “Badstuber, I love you!”
Badstuber's 30th and, to date, most recent run-out for Germany was in a World Cup qualifier against Sweden on 18 October 2012 in Berlin - a painful encounter for himself and the rest of the side as the visitors battled back from four down to earn a 4-4 draw in added time. Pain of a more tangible and enduring variety was just around the corner, however: at the start of December he ruptured the cruciate ligament of his right knee in a league game against Borussia Dortmund. A subsequent re-rupture led to a total of four operations and, ultimately, 624 days without a taste of competitive football.
‘I have to keep going’
To compound the misery, he was only back for a handful of games before being sidelined for another five months with a thigh ligament injury. His latest comeback, on Matchday 22, ended in an 8-0 win against Hamburger SV, and he has been a Bundesliga ever-present since - as well as heading Bayern's fifth goal against Donetsk shortly before being subbed off. The call to national duty is further confirmation of a remarkably swift top-end reassimilation but in light of his experiences over the past couple of years, Badstuber is very much focused on the longer-term picture.
“I need to stay patient to get back up to the level I see myself at,” he said. “I'm on the right path, but I've got to keep going.” His swift return to form is no great surprise for those who know him at Bayern, however. “Another step back to normality. He's worked hard for this and really earned it,” was sporting director Matthias Sammer's take, while Schweinsteiger noted after the game against Donetsk that, “He's really getting back into his stride, and he's good for our game.”
Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went even further in his praise of the model professional, describing Badstuber as his “personal hero.” The player himself now aims to pay back that level of faith by quietly and effectively doing what he does best, for club and country.