Stuttgart's former coach described allowing Joshua Kimmich to leave for Bayern a "suicidally-bad decision"; is the Germany right-back the new Philipp Lahm, asks Steffen Potter.
He is 21, he plays for Bayern München – where he was one of Josep Guardiola's favourites – he has been praised by Joachim Löw as "intelligent and in no way nervous", and he is being touted as the natural successor to Philipp Lahm, perhaps the best right-back Germany have ever had.
Considering Joshua Kimmich has won just two caps, that is quite a list of credits. With Germany's attack not exactly firing in the Group C matches against Ukraine (2-0) and Poland (0-0), it was decided to bring in Kimmich for the reliable, experienced but more defence-minded Benedikt Höwedes. It worked. Against Northern Ireland on Tuesday, he would have had three assists but for team-mates' wayward finishing.
Born in southern Germany, Kimmich joined Stuttgart's academy aged 12 before being loaned to then third-tier RB Leipzig at 18, where he became a full professional, playing 53 matches in the third and second tiers, mostly as a defensive midfielder.
His intelligence and versatility convinced Bayern to swoop for him last summer, and in his first season in Munich he featured in 23 Bundesliga games and nine in the UEFA Champions League, alternating between midfield, right-back and central defender.
His development at Bayern prompted then Stuttgart boss Alexander Zorniger to declare: "We should never have let him go. That was a suicidally-bad decision."
Injuries prompted Guardiola to give Kimmich a starting berth at centre-back in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages, and he held his own. "Jogi Löw has a new option," Guardiola had said back in September. "Sooner or later, Kimmich will be an international."
"I am an international thanks to Guardiola," Kimmich replied last month. "Not many coaches would have had the guts to play me."
Kimmich's movement, passing and crossing have made comparisons to Lahm inevitable, though Kimmich is eager to play them down. "Philipp Lahm is the best full-back in the world," he said. "I have played at right-back once for Germany; I have only just completed my first Bundesliga season. Sure, I am happy to hear those comparisons but they make no sense."
First capped in torrential rain as part of an experimental team in May's 3-1 friendly loss to Slovakia, Kimmich is tipped to face Slovakia again on Sunday, with Löw hoping he can ruffle round of 16 opponents who are expected to defend deep. However, it might take a quarter-final success against Italy or Spain to confirm him as a star. Lahm's crown as Germany's greatest right-back is safe – but a worthy successor may have been found.