Lauded by Bayern Munich goal machine Robert Lewandowski and England legend Gary Lineker as Poland’s next big thing, forgotten midfield mega talent Bartosz Kapustka is going back to basics at new club Freiburg.
The 20-year-old had the proverbial world at his feet after some sparkling displays at UEFA EURO 2016, but what should have been a career-springboard transfer to Leicester City instead took him down something of a road to nowhere. Until now.
“The Bundesliga is a massive challenge and Freiburg have a fantastic reputation,” Kapustka said, equal parts delighted and relieved, after joining Die Breisgauer on a one-year loan deal. “The talks with the men in charge here were great, and I’m convinced Freiburg is the right place for me to further my development.”
"Hello! The first training session was good and I'm looking forward to my time at SC Freiburg."
With homely Baden-Württemberg outfit Freiburg masters in pastoral care and head coach Christian Streich a renowned champion of youth, Kapustka is in good hands. He will be given the necessary time to adapt to his new surroundings and will be spared any major condemnation for making mistakes on the job. The Pole is in the Black Forest to learn, after all.
“Bartosz is a very technical player and has a very good feel for the game for his age,” commented Freiburg sporting director Jochen Saier. “For him, more than anything, it’s now about rediscovering that talent on the pitch. We want to work together on that. It was also important with this transfer to have the option of a longer-term collaboration after the expiration of the loan.”
Reassuring words that must come as music to Kapustka’s ears. Cast aside at Leicester – restricted to just three senior appearances all season, in the FA Cup – the prodigious midfielder is a wanted man at Freiburg. Not on a whim or in a token move to swell the squad ahead of a potential campaign of UEFA Europa League football, but with a view to the long term.
Indeed, the deal makes perfect sense following Vincenzo Grifo’s intra-Bundesliga transfer to Borussia Mönchengladbach. The Italian playmaker was the driving force behind Freiburg’s immediate return to the Bundesliga as second-tier champions in 2015/16, and propelled the unfancied south-west ensemble to an unexpected top-seven finish last term. A tough act to follow, but by no means irreplaceable.
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Enter stage right, Kapustka. The multipurpose midfielder, who made his first-team debut at the tender age of 16 for former club Cracovia Krakow, can play centrally or on either flank. He has quick feet, reads the game well and makes things happen in the final third. In 14 senior international appearances alone, he has already posted three goals and one assist - impressive numbers, especially for one so young.
"He didn’t surprise me, we all know what he is capable of," remarked Poland teammate Lewandowski following Kapustka’s eye-catching individual display against Northern Ireland during the group stage of EURO 2016.
BBC presenter, pundit and retired footballer Lineker was also impressed, making his admiration known on social media...
Kapustka’s coach at Cracovia went one further, saying: "as long as he stays fit, he definitely has the ability to follow in Lewandowski’s footsteps." High praise all round, for a player whose career was unexpectedly put on ice in the English Midlands.
Afforded the opportunity to start over in Germany’s sunniest city, Kapustka is primed for the great thaw.