The Christmas-come-late present of a move to Freiburg is the latest step onwards and upwards for Lucas Höler as his career continues on a Jamie Vardy-esque trajectory to the big time.
Vardy famously progressed from the amateur ranks of English football to spearhead Leicester City’s incredible 2015/16 Premier League triumph and earn himself senior international recognition with England.
"I’m not the classic pro who grew up in a youth academy and was confronted with the pro world early on," Höler explained to Germany sports specialist publication kicker recently. "I had a great childhood in my hometown team with a lot of free time and not so much football. I have developed step-by-step thanks to very good coaches who have pushed me on. The fact I have gone through every league and have now reached the Bundesliga makes me proud."
It is a cute quirk of destiny that Höler made his Bundesliga bow in Frankfurt, a handful of miles from Mainz where his future among the creme de la creme of German football might have been drawn.
After impressing for amateur outfit Oldenburg, Höler was signed by the 05ers to bolster their reserve team. Bolster he did, scoring 11 goals and laying on four more in 36 potential-filled appearances.
He not only showed an aptitude for putting the ball in the net, but also for harrying opposing defences to earn himself a reputation as — as he would be described in the NHL — a two-way player: just as effective when his team has the ball as when they don’t.
"In spite of my favourite shirt number being 9, I don’t see myself as a classic attacker," he explained, laying bare the blueprint to his playing style.
"I feel best when we play with two strikers and I have the freedom to drop into midfield and pick up the ball. I like to take on defenders. I think I have a good engine and can help the team a lot in winning back possession. I’m not the worst at finishing and I’m happy with my pace, even if I’m not the quickest. What I’m lacking most is experience at this level."
That could have come at Mainz where former first-team boss Martin Schmidt invited Höler to train with the senior squad. "I wasn’t so far off making it directly in the top flight," explained Höler, who - after two years - instead took the bold decision to play regular first-team football a division down at Sandhausen in 2016. "The step to go to Sandhausen and play in the second division often instead of playing in the third division and only training with the Bundesliga players was absolutely the right one."
It was another logical, solid step forward, and one that ensured Sandhausen sporting director Otmar Schork’s hope that "he has the potential to make the breakthrough in the second division" came to fruition.
His 13 goals and nine assists in 48 second-tier appearances, including seven strikes this season to push Sandhausen into the thick of the promotion hunt, were enough to suggest to Freiburg he has the ability to go even further still.
"Lucas has proven his ability in front of goal in the second division, and offers a good balance between going forward and pressing when we don’t have the ball,” Freiburg’s Sporting Director, Klemens Hartenbach, said after completing the transfer in during the winter window. "We’ve been watching Lucas since his Oldenburg days. He has developed and we believe he can take the next step with us."
Given the ease with which he has climbed the football ladder so far and slotted in at Freiburg, starting all four of the club's Bundesliga outings so far in 2018, there is no reason to think Höler won’t prove Hartenbach as good as his word.