He plays his club football in the second tier with Cologne, but uber-loyal left-back Jonas Hector remains a key part of Joachim Löw's plans.

Hector is very much a Löw guy, much like Lukas Podolski – relegated with Cologne prior to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where he won the prize for the tournament's Best Young Player – enjoyed the full backing of Jogi's predecessor, Jürgen Klinsmann.

Cologne's captain fantastic doesn't make headlines for grabbing assists like Augsburg counterpart Philipp Max and he doesn't have stunning free-kicks in his locker like Hertha Berlin's Marvin Plattenhardt, but he is (a) a tried and tested member of the current Germany set-up; (b) a grafter; (c) mega-versatile and (d) refreshingly modest.

Watch: Hector on his reasons for committing to relegation-bound Cologne

Capped 41 times by his country, 28-year-old Hector has been an ever-present at senior international level since Germany lifted the 2014 World Cup. He played every minute of Die Mannschaft's UEFA EURO 2016 campaign, confidently dispatching the decisive penalty past Gianluigi Buffon in the quarter-final win over Italy. He missed just one game at last year's triumphant Confederations Cup and was Löw's first-choice at left back at Russia 2018.

"Jonas has got a lot of depth, he really understands the game," Löw said last March. "He defends, attacks and passes well. He also knows when to sit back and get stuck in, and when to go forward. Above all, he's reliable and has a cool head. We've even thought about playing him in central midfield."

An attacking midfielder in his youth, Hector still retains the in-game intelligence that first caught Cologne's eye in summer 2010. Just look at where he has been deployed for club and country since: on the left wing, in defensive midfield, at centre-back and, for the most part, in his now favoured role on the left-hand side of defence.

Hector's morph-like malleability at the highest level is all the more remarkable, when you consider that, until the age of 20, he was playing for Auersmacher in Germany's fifth division. He even turned down a move to join the Saarbrücken youth academy, in favour of "continuing to play with my friends."

Hector already has more assists in 41 international appearances (10) than retired World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm managed at the same juncture (five). © gettyimages / Alexander Hassenstein

Eventually, and inevitably, the talent outgrew the backwaters of German football. Hector moved to Cologne, happily spending two formative years in the reserve team, before making his Bundesliga 2 debut in August 2012. Promotion to the Bundesliga followed in 2014 – the same year the humble left-back received his first senior cap. He has since donned the captain's armband at club level, and is the only current Germany international not to have graduated through a youth academy.

"I've never met a guy like him before, neither as a player and nor as a coach," former Cologne boss Peter Stöger said of Hector. "He's developed into a top-class player. You can see how he has grown in confidence. He's matured on and off the pitch. He's spent time in the company of world-class players, and learned from them. He's become an integral member of the Germany team."

Unfortunately for Stöger, injury deprived the Austrian tactician of his most trusted on-field ally during the final months of his Cologne tenure. The Billy Goats picked up just six points in 14 games without their resident general, but improved since the return of Hector, although too late to keep Stöger in the job or Cologne afloat. You have to wonder where the two-time Bundesliga champions might be had Hector not been sidelined for so long.

Watch: Jonas Hector: part of the Cologne furniture

Prior to relegation, Hector repeatedly affirmed his happiness at the Cathedral City club regardless of what league they're in - and promptly acted on his words, signing a contract that would keep him in Cologne in Bundesliga 2. For a player who purportedly turned down Barcelona for fear of not being good enough, and Liverpool – "why would I go there, when I have everything I need at Cologne?" – such unwavering commitment hardly comes as a surprise.

When all is said and done, Hector could be playing for Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League or earning a crust in the regional divisions. He'd still be happy with his lot, and he'd still be one of Löw's first picks. The almost accidental rise to the top of Germany's world-class left-back next door continues apace.

Chris Mayer-Lodge

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