A pint-sized subplot to this week's DFB Cup and Bundesliga double-header between current employers Bayern Munich and old flame RB Leipzig, Joshua Kimmich is the player everyone is talking about.
"I've never seen anything like it," Kimmich's former Leipzig mentor, Ralf Rangnick, explained. "He came to us and, within two years, has become a regular for Bayern and Germany. If he continues to develop like this, he’ll be captain one day. He certainly has the necessary qualities."
For a 22-year-old with little over two seasons of top-flight experience, that is some endorsement. Yet Kimmich is worth every single word of the acclaim.
Chapter I: From Stuttgart to Leipzig
Kimmich began life in the same Stuttgart youth academy that churned out the likes of Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez and Timo Werner. The Rottweil native got as far as the VfB Under-19s, before fleeing the nest in a loan move that would break his career.
Joining Leipzig in summer 2013, Kimmich - turning out 26 times - was instrumental as the Saxon go-getters continued their ascent of the German football ladder, winning promotion to Bundesliga 2 at the first attempt. The inexorable rise of one of Germany’s brightest prospects had begun.
A certain Pep Guardiola soon got wind of Kimmich's all-round talent, and duly hit the road on a one-man scouting mission, attending a Bundesliga 2 game between Leipzig and 1860 Munich on 22 December 2014. It was Christmas come early in more ways than one.
A player every bit in the Guardiola mould, Kimmich hit the mark with 78.3 per cent of his 60 attempted passes and enjoyed no less than 80 touches of the ball. Less than a month later, he was a Bayern player – dashing parent club Stuttgart's hopes of happy homecoming.
'Whoever was involved in letting Kimmich leave should be strung up," lamented then Stuttgart head coach Alexander Zorniger. "It was a big mistake."
Watch: Kimmich on life shortly after joining the champions
Chapter II: A Bayern and Germany stalwart
Stuttgart's loss was Bayern's gain, in any case. Kimmich made 23 Bundesliga appearances in his debut campaign at the Allianz Arena, wowing with his now trademark versatility. A 2015/16 Bundesliga and DFB Cup double was just reward for a player on a one-way ticket to the very top.
"He's always positive, always focused, always serious. Joshua has absolutely everything," eulogised Guardiola, having deployed Stuttgart's one that got away in midfield, at right-back and even in central defence. "I told him that he is one of the best defenders in the world, but not only that, he can play anywhere."
Few would disagree. Kimmich marries an instinctive passing game with an unyielding willingness to cover all areas of the pitch. His penchant to attack has produced 12 goals and 10 assists in all competitions for Bayern, while he has registered one goal and three assists in his last three for Germany – all from right-back.
"Every position is a bit different, but for a young player it's important to be able to play different positions, to see the game in a different view, to learn of every position," Kimmich explained. "You need different skills, and it's perfect for a young player to develop, but I still want to improve all areas of my game."
Chapter III: The world’s greatest ever right-back?
Kimmich's drive has propelled him to stardom in no time at all. It is a will to succeed shared by only a select few others and is characteristic of the Bayern DNA. Looking at him now – walking the walk and talking the talk like only the record German champions know how - it is easy to overlook the fact that Mr. Malleable is Stuttgart born, Leipzig bred.
"I had great time at Stuttgart," Kimmich recalled in interview with Sports Illustrated last season. "We had a good system to balance the football and school. We had a good team with really good coaches, and it was perfect for us as young players to develop. It was great at Leipzig, too. We were all young and wanted to get somewhere."
Kimmich has certainly done that, but his journey is far from over. Although it is still early days, the two-time Bundesliga champion is on course to eclipse all before him – decorated predecessor Philipp Lahm included. Not bad for a player who, only three years ago, was still earning his corn in the third tier. Not bad at all.
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