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National Team: From craftsmen to artists


Germany face the Netherlands in the European Championship qualifiers - and with Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt on two of the most expensive defenders in the world. Defenders experience an appreciation - even Matthias Ginter.

If you like, a development in modern football can be told to Matthias Ginter. It's the story of a hike: from far ahead to the very back. But also: out of the shadows into the light.

Matthias Ginter, defender at Borussia Mönchengladbach and in the German national team, 1.88 meters tall, 85 kilograms, began his career as a creative player. The 25-year-old played in the youth of SC Freiburg on the tens position in the attacking midfield. Sometimes he moved slightly to the rear of the eight. When he came to the professionals at the age of 18, he found himself in the more defensive role on the six before the defense again.

As in the second half of 2012 at SC suddenly injured several center-back, Freiburg coach Christian Streich came up with the idea to move Ginter into the defense. "And because it went well, I stayed there," says Ginter the SPIEGEL. "There was a lot of coincidence."


In Freiburg, Matthias Ginter became a defensive player. Here he defends 2013 against the then Munich Claudio Pizarro

From game designer to game destroyer, Ginter's transformation would have been described several years ago. Today you would be embarrassed by it. The pure destroyers have disappeared from the top football. The designers can now be found everywhere on the square, on the ten, the eight, the six, and sometimes on the outer positions of a defensive chain. And who as a center-back can not open a play safely, who does not hit exact passes behind the opposing defense, or with the ball at the foot can shake off a counterpart, who will not experience a glorious career.

"In recent years, the defense game has become even more demanding," says Ginter, describing the position in central defense as one of the hardest to play. Where once honest craftsmanship was required without much flourish, so there were professionals who were sometimes adored but rarely admired, so at the latest in the past ten or twelve years an art developed out of it. Some defenders are today the stars of their teams.

The light figures play with the opponent

Ginter and the German national team meet in the evening on two of these new light figures. In the European Championship qualifier, the DFB team in Hamburg receives the Netherlands (20.45 clock, live ticker SPIEGEL ONLINE, TV: RTL). At Oranje defend with Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt two of the world's most expensive defenders. Van Dijk moved in January 2018 for the record amount of 84 million euros from Southampton to Liverpool and won with the team of Jürgen Klopp in May, the Champions League. He has just been named European Footballer of the Year - as the first defender since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. And Van Dijk has good chances to leave Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo behind in the World Footballer election.


The best national team defense in the world: Matthijs de Ligt (l.) And Virgil van Dijk

For de Ligt, although only 20 years old, Juventus transferred in the summer 85.5 million euros to Ajax Amsterdam. With the Dutch de Ligt had narrowly failed in the semifinals of the Champions League. Then vied for several top clubs for his services. The Netherlands, once famed for terrific offensive players like Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, are now the best defensive duo in the world at the national level.

The defense wins the title

Ginter has observed that defenders are increasingly gaining recognition, and that clubs are willing to spend as much money on the very best of them as they do on outstanding offensive players. Manchester United turned over 87 million euros to England defender Harry Maguire in the summer. Bayern bought the Frenchman Lucas Hernández for 80 million euros. Bundesliga record.

"There is a change," says Ginter. And he did not want to fight back. First, he benefits from it himself. In 2017 he rose with his change from Dortmund for 17 million euros to the then most expensive transfer of Gladbacher club history. Secondly, Ginter believes that the team that wins the title can best defend it: "That's what you've seen at the World Cup in Russia, but also in the Champions League."

At the World Cup, a major problem for the German team was the lack of defensive stability. National coach Joachim Loew has tried to fix this after the preliminary round-off. By installing Joshua Kimmich as an interceptor before the defense - but also by putting on Ginter.

Ginter forgoes Boateng and Hummels

In eight of ten internationals since the debacle of Russia Ginter was in the starting eleven. Sometimes as a center-back next to the indisputable Niklas Süle, sometimes as part of a three-string, or right-back. Against the Netherlands Ginter will probably be back in the starting eleven.

Although he has always been in the national team since the 2014 World Cup, but has never been a fixture, that has changed since the debacle of Russia. This is also because Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng were sorted out by Löw in March. "The change after the World Cup certainly helped me to establish myself further," said Ginter. But it also has to do with how Ginter emerged from the shadow of the two defenses of the past. With good performances, so that until today no one has called for a reactivation of Hummels or Boateng. The fact that Ginter will be a fixture at the European Championship in 2020 is likely - in a threesome with Süle and Antonio Rüdiger, or just next to Süle.


Confed Cup winner 2017: Matthias Ginter

Matthias Ginter is not a van Dijk nor a de Ligt. He is not one of those new luminaries. But as defenders have generally experienced an appreciation, so Ginter enjoys in particular a new appreciation - in the German national team.

If you look at the Vita of Ginter, then you are surprised that he has already become World Champion 2014, Vice Olympic Champion 2016 and Confed Cup winner 2017. He was never particularly noticed. That could change at the European Championships next summer. Because Löw plans with him.

Source: spiegel

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