ISSUE #29: The 5 Best Newcomers of the 2021/22 Bundesliga Season
In total, the Bundesliga spent more than €400m on new arrivals over the summer. Here are 5 of the best signings that have hit the ground running in their rookie campaign.
With 28 matches of the season gone, and winter snow slowly ceding to spring, the familiar football trope that the marquee signing just needs time to settle is beginning to lose its validity.
In total, the Bundesliga spent more than €400m on new arrivals last summer, each of which have left a different impact on their club's fortunes this campaign.
Some have hit the ground running with exceptional returns, others have shown in glimpses the potential to repay their lofty price-tag, whilst yet others have found immense difficulties in simply adjusting to the speed of their new employers (looking at you Marcel Sabitzer!).
In this edition of The German Football Weekly, we take a look at 5 of the best signings from the summer window, taking into account during the selection process a variety of factors like their performance on the pitch, their value for money, and long-term resale value.
5th Place: Gregor Kobel
Borussia Dortmund have been a frustrating, fluctuating mess this season, grinding out results against the lesser sides in the division, but failing to spark real excitement with a resounding win against a club in the elite circle.
Any sliver of hope that Marco Rose would lift a title in his first season in charge has vanished following the 4:1 defeat to Leipzig, and with Dortmund bowing out of all cup competitions by February, you’d be hard-pressed to find a purely optimistic voice amongst the 80,000 match going fans.
Factors like Erling Haaland’s long injury layoff, the lack of a recognized defensive midfielder, and countless unforeseen absences have all played their part in BVB’s frustrations, but above all else it is the routine defensive errors which have seen Dortmund fall off the pace in a year in which Bayern were there for the taking.
No other side in the top half of the Bundesliga has conceded as often this season, whilst one needs to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last time Dortmund let in 42 goals in 28 matchdays.
With Mats Hümmels looking not a day younger than 33, Emre Can offering more as a disgruntled loudspeaker than a top-tier defender, and Manuel Akanji missing 8 matches of the season through injury, it’s been up to summer signing Gregor Kobel to provide an inkling of consistency in Dortmund’s abject defense.
The 24-year old Swiss goalkeeper arrived in July with just 50 Bundesliga matches to his name, yet the former TSG Hoffenheim, FC Augsburg, and VFB Stuttgart shot-stopper has taken to the spotlight of the Signal-Iduna Park with ease.
Having started all but two matches in all competitions, Kobel is the clear number one, and his composure in possession paired with his commanding presence between the sticks has put to rest any calls for Roman Bürki or Marvin Hitz to return to the fray.
Since 2018, Dortmund haven’t gone a single season without vocal opposition in the goalkeeping position, but this year, there’s barely been a murmur of discontent, perhaps the biggest compliment one can give to Kobel. As a young goalkeeper who is ultimately judged on his ability to remain innocuous and out of public discontent, the 24-year old has checked all the boxes.
With a world class defender in Niklas Süle arriving in the summer, and Kobel locked into a long-term deal at a club he views as ‘one of the top 10 in the world’, BVB should produce a far more formidable defensive image next season in line with some of their greatest triumphs in the past.
Perhaps then Marco Rose can follow in the footsteps of Jurgen Klopp, Matthias Sammer, and Ottmar Hitzfeld, by bringing a Meisterschale to Dortmund.
4th Place: Anton Stach
When Hansi Flick announced his latest international squad, there was one name in particular that took everyone by surprise - Anton Stach.
In fact, even the man himself couldn’t believe the news, casually returning a call from an unknown number, only to find out it was the Bundestrainer on the other end of the line.
And, whilst Flick openly admitted that Stach is “not the finished product yet and still has room for improvement”, it’s hard to imagine that the 28 minutes the midfielder received in Germany’s exhibition match in Sinsheim will be the last in his DFB career.
From featuring in 5 of the 6 matches in Germany’s U21 Euro triumph, to starring throughout Greuther Fürth’s improbable Bundesliga 2 promotion, the 23-year old has undergone a meteoric rise in the past 12 months with this impressive run of form only the next step, rather than the culminating moment, in his fledgling career.
As for how he profiles in central midfield, Stach embodies the defensive minded box-to-box midfielder sought after in Hansi Flick’s dynamic national team.
Despite playing for a Mainz side which attempts just the 6th most shots in the division, only Leon Goretzka ranks higher for shots per 90, whilst Stach’s output against the ball is highlighted in his exceptional interception and aerial duel percentages (pictured below).
The youngster's trigger-happy shot volume has only resulted in one goal this season, but his defensive output - coupled with his imposing stature (6’4 ft) - make him an ideal candidate for a German midfield lacking a true defensive specialist since Sami Khedira’s retirement in 2018.
With his deal in Mainz valid until 2024, manager Bo Svensson will be relishing the opportunity to continue his work next season with one of the brightest talents the Bundesliga has to offer.
With every grand performance there seems to be more eyes drawn to the towering German midfielder, and should he continue this upward trajectory, there's no reason why he couldn’t become the first ever Mainz 05 player to represent Die Mannschaft at a World Cup.
3rd Place: Patrick Wimmer
Arminia Bielefeld doesn't come by goals often, - scoring the fewest of any side in Germany’s top 3 divisions this season - but when they do threaten the opponent's net, it almost always involves Patrick Wimmer.
The Austrian winger who arrived from FK Austria Wien over the summer is the imaginative spark in a defensive Bielefeld outfit, routinely adding a bit of youthful excitement to an otherwise regimented first XI.
The youngster’s outstanding Rabona assist on gameweek 20 is perhaps the most obvious example of his exceptional talent, but all in all, Wimmer’s direct dribbling has proven to be one of the few factors capable of getting fans on their feet in otherwise tepid affairs at the Bielefelder-Alm.
With 13 nutmegs Wimmer is level with Bayer 04’s Moussa Diaby for the most in the division, whilst concerning the number of players dribbled past even the French international can't compete with Wimmer’s league-high 65.
Frank Kramer, Arminia Bielefeld’s coach, even had this to say for his summer recruit earlier this season.
"He sometimes does some incredible things. He's a creative player and you shouldn't take that away from him."
A sentiment backed up by first choice goalkeeper Stefan Ortega as well.
"There's something crazy and care-free about him; he's got a youthful folly, which does us the world of good. If he sticks at it and works on getting some of the basics right, which help the team, then he will be even more valuable."
With Bielefeld scoring just 1 goal in their last 5 Bundesliga matches, Wimmer’s own output has slightly tapered off, but all in all, it’s been a fantastic debut campaign for a player who was still playing amateur football in 2018.
Having scored 3 goals and provided a further 7 assists, Wimmer is not only leading Arminia’s scoring charts, but he has directly contributed to a staggering 43.5% of the goals Frank Kramer’s side has scored this season. Only 3 other Bundesliga players - Christopher Nkunku, Anthony Modeste, and Branimir Hrgota - have contributed to a larger percentage of their side’s total Bundesliga output.
2nd Place: Joško Gvardiol
Less than 9 months after both Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate left RB Leipzig, Die Roten Bullen seem to have the division's next world-class defender on their books - this time coming in the form of Croatian centerback Joško Gvardiol.
Already a starter for his national team and “one of the best 19-year old defenders” Jesse Marsch has ever seen, the Zagreb born defender has certainly repaid his price tag (€19.00m) with stellar performances and impressive maturity for Die Roten Bullen this season.
Few expected Gvardiol to immediately acclimate to the demands of the Bundesliga and the unique Red Bull style, yet in a season in which Leipzig’s youthful squad has routinely fluctuated between terrific and terrible, Gvardiol’s own consistency has proved key in binding together the erratic elements.
Amongst the Leipzig squad only Christopher Nkunku, and goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi have featured more in the first 28 Bundesliga matches, whilst Jude Bellingham remains the only U20 player in Europe's top 5 leagues to have has amassed more minutes than Gvardiol in all competitions.
A big reason for the Zagreb born defender’s routine selection is his versatility - playing 30 matches at centerback and 7 at left back this season - but it’s nevertheless clear that his long term future should be on the left side of a back three.
There, the 10-time Croatian international is able to both carry possession forward, and expertly move into the wide channels to cover for Leipzig's attacking wing backs. At 1,85m Gvardiol is slightly undersized for a modern centerhalf, but with blistering speed and a gladiator’s frame, he has put to rest any qualms about his ability to compete at the top-level.
A quick glance at his numbers also backs up what is evident from the eye-test.
With 134 tackles + interceptions Gvardiol ranks 3rd in the entire Bundesliga, and in possession the Croatian defender profiles as the key conductor in RB’s build up play.
Concerning total touches, passes into the final third, and passes completed, only FC Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich ranks above Gvardiol in this season’s German topflight.
1st Place: David Raum
It’s impossible to look past David Raum as the best transfer of the 2021-22 Bundesliga season, with the price to performance ratio unmatched anywhere else in the league.
In the space of 12 months the youngster has won the under 21 Euros, gained automatic promotion to the Bundesliga, earned a move to TSG Hoffenheim, and become an established member of Hansi Flick’s Nationalmannschaft. Just about any obstacle set in front of him Raum has mastered, earning the Hoffenheim transfer committee a fair bit of praise for pulling off a masterful free transfer during a time when the budget was tighter than ever.
And, whilst Timo Gross (Assistant manager (video) & head of analysis at TSG Hoffenheim) was quick to wave away the optimists in favor of a more holistic angle, it’s hard not to get caught up in the hype after viewing some of Raum’s impressive performances this year.
In particular, his crossing has been subject to wild enthusiasm, picking out a teammate with alarming regularity for both club and country.
Amongst Europe’s top 5 leagues not a single player has completed more crosses into the opponent’s penalty area, and in the Bundesliga only Filip Kostic has attempted more.
Both his high frequency and impressive accuracy have combined to make Raum one of the most dangerous defensive outlets in any of Europe's major top flights this season, with his 9 assists only bettered (in Europe’s top 5 leagues) by the Liverpool duo of Trent Alexander-Arnold (11) and Andrew Robertson (10).
As for his attention to phases out of possession, Raum still has room for improvement, but it is by no means a fatal flaw in Hoeneß’ 3-4-1-2 setup. The additional left sided centerback allows Raum to be brave in phases of possession, but also alleviates some of the defensive burden if the German international is caught too high up the pitch.
This marriage between Hoffenheim's system and Raum’s strengths have played a significant role in the youngsters quick adjustment to life in the Bundesliga, and likewise helped Die Kraichgauer return to contention for Champions League football.
Though numerous clubs will have taken notice of the 23-year olds meteoric rise, just last January Raum agreed to a premature extension which sees his current deal stretch into the summer of 2026.
Title Image: Gabriel Foligno