Munich (Germany) (AFP) – Even as a schoolboy playing at an indoor tournament more than a decade ago, Joshua Kimmich demonstrated the fighting spirit Germany will need Saturday to get their Euro 2020 campaign back on track against Portugal.
The 26-year-old Bayern Munich star has matured into a key player for club and country.
Despite his boyish looks, Kimmich is a force to be reckoned with, either as a midfielder or at wing-back, who never backs down in the fight for the ball.
His tussle with France’s Lucas Hernandez, which left the two Bayern team-mates on the turf, epitomised Kimmich’s combative nature during Germany’s 1-0 defeat on Tuesday in Group F.
When Germany face holders Portugal on Saturday, Frieder Schrof, one of Kimmich’s first coaches, will raise a glass to his former pupil.
It was at an indoor tournament in south-west Germany, one December in the late 2000s, when Schrof, who was then coaching Stuttgart’s youth teams, spotted Kimmich’s talent.
“He had played well and already had the mentality of a leader, so I thought he would have a long career,” the 64-year-old told AFP by phone.
That evening, Schrof offered Kimmich’s father the chance for his son to join Stuttgart’s academy.
Kimmich left his home-town club VfB Boesingen, near Stuttgart, and joined the Bundesliga team’s youth set-up.
“He can do everything but lose. He’s ambitious and incredibly strong mentally,” said Schrof.
“Joshua Kimmich is not the tallest, fastest or most powerful player in the world.
“For a modern coach, the most important thing is character. He works like a beast to improve constantly.
“He will one day become captain of Bayern and of the national team.”
In 2012, Schrof left Stuttgart for RB Leipzig, who were then playing in Germany’s fourth tier and backed by Austrian energy drinks giants Red Bull.
Before leaving, he slipped up to Kimmich, telling the youngster: “Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again soon.”
There was no response, but the coach saw a flash of disappointment in the player’s eyes.
“A year later, he told me that he thought it meant he was only good enough to play in the fourth division,” Schrof recalls.
However, the seed was planted which would see Kimmich follow his coach to Saxony.
Kimmich soon grew frustrated in Stuttgart, where the club felt he was too light physically to play in the reserve team, which limited him to playing in the Under-19s.
“He was very disappointed, and even wondered if he should quit football,” said Schrof, who spoke to the management at Leipzig about recruiting Kimmich.
A week later, Kimmich arrived in Leipzig with his parents.
Then aged just 17, he quickly became a starter for the team, who had risen to the third division.
“He was a role model and a leader, even though he was three or four years younger than most of his teammates,” Schrof recalls.
Leipzig won promotion to the second division for the 2014/15 season and during a away match at 1860 Munich, Kimmich caught the eye of Pep Guardiola, then in charge of Bayern.
The Spanish coach knew he had found the player to cover at right-back for then Bayern and Germany captain Philipp Lahm.
– ‘I love this guy!’ –
Kimmich joined Bayern for the start of the next season, with most of the 8.5 million euro ($10 million) transfer fee going to Stuttgart, who had kept a buy-back option for Kimmich.
“He had already learned the fundamentals at Leipzig,” says Schrof. “But Bayern was a level above that: better training, a dream team — it boosted him.”
Guardiola, who had nurtured stars like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona, was full of praise for his young recruit.
“I love this guy,” Guardiola said.
“He has everything, he can do everything, he gives everything.”
But Kimmich did not go straight into the Bayern first team.
“A lot of people didn’t believe in him and at first he was on the bench,” said Schrof.
“However, he soon showed his enormous mentality, his strength in duels, his passing game, his crosses and his leadership skills.”
Kimmich, now a father of two, was a key figure in the Bayern side which swept the treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup titles in 2019/20.
He has won the Bundesliga title in each of his six seasons with the Bavarian giants.
Kimmich has matured into a dynamic central midfielder, but at Euro 2020, Germany head coach Joachim Loew has asked him to revert to right-back.
“He preferred to play as a six, but he has always accepted his coach’s decisions,” said Schrof.
“He does what is best for the team.”
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