The Bundesliga boasts a plethora of highly-touted left backs, from Bayern's David Alaba to Cologne's Jonas Hector, but Schalke's Sead Kolasinac has outshone them all in the 2016/17 campaign.
Alaba has won five Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Champions League, Borussia Dortmund counterpart Marcel Schmelzer has two Bundesliga titles to his name, while Hector has made the Germany left-back spot his own in recent years…
Stars of the world game? Yes. Shining brighter than Schalke’s man of the moment? Perhaps not. bundesliga.com takes a closer look…
Watch: See how Kolasinac got Schalke three points against Mainz on Matchday 25
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international’s goal in the 1-0 win over Mainz epitomised the qualities that have set him apart this season from his drive and determination to his clever inter-play with teammates. It was a strike that lifted Schalke back into the top half of the table, but the tenacious 23-year-old is far from satisfied as the Royal Blues enter the business end of the season.
“We are still yet to get ourselves where we should be in the table but we are on the road to rectifying that,” Kolasinac told Schalke’s website after the win at the OPEL ARENA. “We will give all we have until the end and do our very best to get as many points as possible. We will see where things are at the end.”
The Mainz game was the latest in a string of fine performances from Kolasinac that have made the strong, modern full-back arguably the best player in his position in the Bundesliga. The Royal Blues have played with a flat back four and with wing backs at various times over the campaign but the ease with which the 23-year-old has switched between systems suggests he is maturing rapidly.
Having missed almost the entirety of the 2014/15 season after rupturing his cruciate ligament before playing second-fiddle to Dennis Aogo for most of the following campaign, there were fears Kolasinac may never live up to his potential. However, those fears were well and truly dispelled when he was afforded a new lease of life under new head coach Markus Weinzierl.
Considering his fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude are easily his best qualities, Kolasinac's ability to react to adversity with a resolute determination to be better, faster and stronger should never have been in doubt. The fact the youngster sent a text message to Weinzierl shortly before midnight the day before the Mainz match to reiterate his desire to play despite a broken nose tells you everything you need to know. Even with a mask on the Bosnian had the most touches of any player on the pitch and topped the Schalke charts in terms of passes completed.
Royal Blues' captain Benedikt Höwedes said recently that the likes of Kolasinac and midfielder Leon Goretzka are “incredibly important” to the Royal Blues. Goretzka, who is 22, has six goals in all competitions this term – three times as many as last season.
Watch: Do you agree that Kolasinac is one of the Bundesliga's most underrated players?
Goals are less important to Kolasinac’s game but he is adding them as well. It took the former Germany youth international until his fourth Bundesliga season to score for the first time but year five has proved more fruitful.
The goal against Mainz was the Karlsruhe native’s third of the season and you get the sense his raids down the left will bring further personal rewards this campaign – perhaps even in the Revierderby, at home to Borussia Dortmund, on 1 April.
But while league form will be important - Schalke are only four points off sixth-placed Cologne - Kolasinac is also targeting further progress in Europe. “I see Ajax as a decent opponent for us,” he said of their Europa League quarter-final draw. “There were a few dangerous opponents we avoided, but that of course does not mean that we can take Ajax lightly at all. Anyone who has made it this far deserves their place.”
Kolasinac warrants his place in the limelight too and some of the top teams in England and Italy are said to be tracking his progress. The Schalke academy graduate has a contract that expires in the summer but Royal Blues sporting director Christian Heidel is still hopeful of agreeing a new deal with the tough, hard-running defender.
Heidel says Kolasinac knows how highly he is thought of at the club and also told RevierSport that the fact he had now become “extremely important” on the pitch is doing the defender’s development a lot of good.
Kolasinac has only missed one match in 2017 despite fracturing his nose last month and - with close to 90 Bundesliga matches behind him - it appears that he is now starting to realise just how far he can go.