One of the standout individual success stories of the season so far, Matthias Ginter’s transformation from bench-warming central defender to irreplaceable right-back has been nothing short of exceptional.
If the 21-year-old’s first season at Borussia Dortmund did not go quite according to plan, the start of his second is exceeding all expectation.
After scoring the winning goal and showcasing a level of positional sense that bellied his lack of top-flight experience on his Bundesliga debut for former club SC Freiburg on 21 January 2012, it quickly became apparent that Ginter would eventually flee the nest for one of the big boys of German football.
The move came sooner rather than later as the Freiburg native inked a four-year deal with five-time Bundesliga champions Dortmund in July 2014. "For me it was a childhood dream of mine come true," Ginter recalled. "I was always a massive BVB fan and now I get to wear the shirt of my favourite club."
The euphoria, however, was not to last. Unable to dislodge the old guard - Mats Hummels, Sokratis, Neven Subotic, Ilkay Gündogan, Lars Bender, Nuri Sahin and Sebastian Kehl - the multi-talented Ginter found himself playing in the reserves.
Transfer speculation linking him with a move to any one of a number of Dortmund’s rivals was inevitable, but the exit door did not once factor into the then Germany Under-21 international’s thinking: "I’m sticking around, I’ll keep working hard."
Persistence pays off
Admirably resolute, Ginter has stayed true to his word. He has been named in the starting line-up for 17 of Dortmund’s 22 outings in all competitions under Thomas Tuchel, stationed not at the heart of the back four or in defensive midfield, but instead as a right-back in all but three of them.
"He’s capable of playing on both sides of the centre of defence, he can play as a No.6 in front of the defence and now he can also play at right-back," Tuchel explained. "We’re delighted with how attentively, and with what spirit and conviction he’s gone about it."
Ginter’s suitability to his newfound role is perhaps best illustrated by his lung-busting performance in Dortmund’s 3-2 Revierderby triumph over local rivals FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 12. Supplementing his bread and butter defensive duties with a goal and an assist, he was without doubt one of the best players on the pitch on an unforgettable afternoon at the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK.
For Lukasz Piszczek, himself once Dortmund’s undroppable right-sided defender, it is an unfortunate role reversal, but there is simply no arguing with the stats. Indeed, only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (11) have had a say in more of Dortmund's Bundesliga goals than Ginter (seven) all season.
Unsurprisingly, Ginter’s personal revival has not gone unnoticed by Germany head coach Joachim Löw. He has started Die Mannschaft’s last three outings at right-back, seemingly providing the much-needed solution to the post-Philipp Lahm puzzle.
"I’m a right-back now, and that’s how it’s going to stay for now at least," Ginter said recently, his days of kicking about with the Dortmund Under-23s a distant memory.
Dennis-Julian Gottschlich/ Christopher Mayer-Lodge