Realistically, Daniel Baier had few career choices beyond being a professional footballer. His father made a living from the game, as does his younger brother, but it is FC Augsburg’s understated but outstanding holding midfielder who is leaving a genuine Baier legacy in the Bundesliga.
Bavaria to Wolfsburg and back
Born in Cologne on 18 May 1984 when his father was representing the city’s second side, SC Fortuna Köln, Baier’s peripatetic early career was tied to his father’s nomadic profession. Indeed, the young Daniel turned out for a variety of youth teams including Teutonia Obernau, TSV Mainaschaff and SK Viktoria Aschaffenburg as his father plied his trade across Germany. It wasn’t until joining TSV 1860 Munich’s youth team in 1999, however, that he finally began to settle and thrive.
In his eight years with the Lions, Baier represented Germany at U-19, U-20 and U-21 levels and was tipped for great things by no less than UEFA Euro 1996 winner Dieter Eilts. Despite, or perhaps because of, such high praise, the youngster was thrust into the 1860 first team in 2003/04, making his debut at the age of 19, the campaign in which the club’s proud nine-season association with the Bundesliga ended in ignominious relegation.
Baier continued to shine in the Bundesliga 2, however, recording three goals and 24 assists in his four seasons in the first team at the Allianz Arena. VfL Wolfsburg took note and, in the summer of 2007, swooped to sign the then-23-year-old. Despite impressing during his first season with the Wolves, Baier fell out of favour, and joined Augsburg on loan in 2008. Although he returned to northern Germany briefly and unsuccessfully, it was after rejoining FCA in 2010 that Baier finally shook off his father’s wandering ways and his career began to take flight.
The rise and rise of FCA
His characteristic calm, unflustered play and peerless vision at the base of the side’s midfield was an integral component as die Fuggerstädter finished second in Bundesliga 2 in 2010/11, achieving a historic maiden promotion. Indeed, Baier has remained an essential cog throughout Augsburg’s rise into one of the Bundesliga’s most feared opponents, shining under Jos Luhukay and subsequently Markus Weinzierl as the club bounced back from fighting relegation with 14th and 15th-place finishes in its first two top-flight seasons with a remarkable European push in 2013/14.
"We have developed brilliantly and achieved plenty together, and I want to carry on in this successful fashion for as long as possible," explained Baier recently when extending his contract until 2016. Having only ever missed two of the club’s Bundesliga fixtures since promotion, a statistic which makes him "very proud", it seems that at Augsburg, the peripatetic days of the deep-lying playmaker’s youth are very much behind him and that Daniel is beginning to leave a lasting Baier legacy.