Joshua Kimmich: The Origins of Bayern Munich's Next Superstar

Ian Holyman@@ian_holymanFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2016

Joshua Kimmich (left) has become a Bayern Munich mainstay.
Joshua Kimmich (left) has become a Bayern Munich mainstay.Markus Schreiber/Associated Press


Hailing from the German town of Rottweil, the Swabian town that gave its name to the powerful, tenacious dog, perhaps it is little surprise to find those qualities in Joshua Kimmich.

What does take you aback, though, is the fact the Bayern Munich midfielder was virtually unknown just over 18 months ago.

His name and face are now so familiar that you have to remind yourself that if you had asked most German football fans if they had heard of Kimmich before January 2015, a firm "nein" would have been the response.

Kimmich was not, however, entirely unknown in German football circles, which he entered into aged 12, when he joined VfB Stuttgart's academy. His father, Berthold, a former amateur footballer, regularly made the 110 kilometre round trip from the family home to training in Stuttgart with his son.

Kimmich Jr. made it worth his dad's while. He won the silver Fritz Walter Medal, handed to Germany's most promising young players, in the under-18 category in 2013—Hoffenheim's Kevin Akpoguma won gold—and bronze in the next age category the following year, when FC Nurnberg's Niklas Stark and Schalke 04's Max Meyer finished ahead of him. There is little doubt Kimmich has made the most progress of those players since.

But if Bayern are reaping the benefits of Kimmich's talents today, they should perhaps be thanking two clubs for that. One of them is Stuttgart; the other RB Leipzig.

It was the latter, whose main focus is building a Bundesliga title challenge on young players, who gave Kimmich a chance to step up into the world of professional football after he'd struggled to establish himself in Stuttgart's reserve team.

Douglas Costa's arrival overshadowed that of Kimmich (left).
Douglas Costa's arrival overshadowed that of Kimmich (left).Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

"Most of the time, it was not, unfortunately, the most technical football, but for me it was extremely important to get accustomed to the hardness of the game," Kimmich told UEFA.com in 2016 of his experience with the club, then freshly promoted to Germany's third tier.

He continued:

Also, training with adults every day was a very different kind of football for me. Much more tempo than with the youths. It was good for me to go there after being in the youth team and then being able to grow from the third to the second division. Looking back, it has helped me a lot in the top flight.

Then-Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick said, per liga3-online.de: "We've followed Joshua's development intensively over the last two years, and we're absolutely convinced of his talent."

He was not wrong.

Kimmich, however, still belonged to Stuttgart, who were also certain they had unearthed a real gem. The midfielder signed a two-year loan deal with Leipzig. And although there was a clause specifying he would automatically get another two years if Stuttgart did not take up the option to bring him back, there was no question they would not do so.

Stuttgart's problem—and Bayern's boon—was that thorniest of subjects: money. Hence the decision to sell Kimmich for €7 million in January 2015. While the club accountants rubbed their hands, then-coach Huub Stevens stated the sporting side of the club was "sad" that Kimmich had been allowed to go, per Suddeutsche Zeitung.

He wasn't the only one.

Stuttgart's sale of Kimmich provoked the wrath of Alexander Zorniger.
Stuttgart's sale of Kimmich provoked the wrath of Alexander Zorniger.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press/Associated Press

"I would like to kill everyone who was involved in this decision," Alexander Zorniger, who coached Kimmich at Leipzig and would clearly have liked to have continued their collaboration after becoming Stuttgart boss in summer 2015, told Bild (h/t Transfermarkt). "He should never have been allowed to leave. It was a fatal mistake."

Zorniger's thinly veiled sideswipe at former Stuttgart sporting director Fredi Bobic is all the more justified given not only Kimmich's success since his departure but also the fact Kimmich's development at VfB had been barred by Robin Yalcin and Rani Khedira.

Not that Bayern were taking a real leap in the dark. "Joshua Kimmich is a player Matthias Sammer and Pep Guardiola wanted," read the Bundesliga record champions' statement when announcing their new arrival (h/t Suddeutsche Zeitung). Yet surely few Bayern fans were getting too excited about someone who had not even made a top-flight appearance at that stage.

Not just that, but only his inner circle knew how to pronounce his first name correctly. "It comes from the Bible," he told Bild while still at Leipzig. "It's actually written without an H. For aesthetic reasons, my parents decided otherwise. But pronounced correctly, it would be without an H, 'Josua.'"

It seems Guardiola never learned that lesson. Not that it mattered, as it became clear the former FC Barcelona and current Manchester City coach was a massive fan of his young charge. The animated conversation he had with Kimmich's head in his hands on the pitch after Bayern's 0-0 draw at Borussia Dortmund in March showed as much, with Sportbild detailing the exchange:

Guardiola: 'You were brilliant today, Josh. Very, very good. I had told you that you could do it.'

Kimmich: 'Thanks Pep. It was a very difficult game, but at the end, I was quite OK.'

Guardiola: 'What do you mean "OK?" You absolutely rocked the house once again! You were sensational, Josh! Sensational! I'm so proud of you.'

For a young man who once told Bild his role model was one of Guardiola's former players at Barcelona, Xavi it must have been a seminal moment.

But while the performance—which included that wonderful challenge on Marco Reus when he looked set to score—provided further proof, if any were needed, that Kimmich was born for Bundesliga football and beyond, it muddied the waters in one other respect.

With Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber laid low by injury and Mats Hummels still a Dortmund player, Kimmich had been pressed into action as a centre-back that night at Signal Iduna Park. And it was not his only brilliant, sure-footed display in the position, one he had never previously played.

A midfielder by education, Guardiola was so taken by Kimmich's performances at the heart of the defence he confined Serdar Tasci, a centre-back brought in on loan in January to ease the injury crisis, on the bench.

This season, Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti has used Kimmich as a midfielder relayeur, as the French term it—a box-to-box, all-action man. He has been repaid with four goals in eight Bundesliga outings and a further three in four UEFA Champions League games.

When you bear in mind that Kimmich was named in UEFA's Team of the Tournament at UEFA Euro 2016 for his performances at right-back—a position he had never played in before stepping into the fray against Northern Ireland, winning only his second senior cap in the process—it is difficult to see where his future on the pitch lies.

He is similar to Bayern team-mate David Alaba in that respect. The Austria international has been used as an attacking midfielder by his country and a defender and defensive midfielder by his club, though he finally seems to have settled at left-back.

Surely given Kimmich's displays there for Germany—and the possible imminent retirement of the 33-year-old Philipp Lahm—right-back is the place for him with intermittent forays into midfield when injuries and tactics require.

An A-grade student while combining academic studies with his football education, Kimmich will no doubt pick the brains of Lahm, who has moved from left-back to right-back to midfield and back during his career, before replacing him.

"You try to ask them things and pick up tips," Kimmich, sounding far wiser than his 21 years, told UEFA.com before adding he is quite happy to enjoy a nomadic tactical existence for the time being. "You have to go in with open ears and eyes, but then you also have to implement that.

"It's not that it doesn't matter to me where I play, but it's secondary. I'm happy to play in any position. I would not, however, be the perfect striker. The coaches already know where they can play me."

He concluded: "Each position brings with it different things, and you can still learn a lot, especially at my age, when you're still young. I think it helps to become a more complete player."

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