Maximilian Arnold (front) in a duel with Hertha's Mattéo Guendouzi
Swen gatekeeper / dpa
The drive from the VfL Wolfsburg academy to the Bundesliga team's training ground takes around seven minutes.
But even this short time can be long if you spend it as a young talent with an experienced footballer who has something to complain about.
When Maximilian Arnold was regularly invited to the training of the VfL Bundesliga team under Felix Magath at the age of 17, the then already seasoned professional Marcel Schäfer picked him up from the academy.
The national player often used the time together in the car to "explain clearly to the boy what he could do better," as Schäfer remembers today.
"That must have been uncomfortable at times."
Arnold was still a rather shy young man at the time.
But his footballing qualities were still clearly evident.
"He already had an extremely good passing game, remained calm in tricky situations and made few mistakes," Schäfer told SPIEGEL.
The educational measures from back then are still paying off for Schäfer today.
The 36-year-old is now sports director at VfL Wolfsburg, a club that is currently rushing through the Bundesliga with eight games without conceding a single goal, is in third place and in the evening of the DFB Cup quarter-finals against RB Leipzig (8.45 p.m. / TV: ARD) has a chance of the semi-finals.
Maximilian Arnold played a not insignificant part in this positive time for Wolfsburg.
The central midfielder is now 26 years old.
Arnold will play his 300th competitive game for VfL against Leipzig - no current Wolfsburg professional has more.
In the 4-2-3-1 system of Wolfsburg's coach Oliver Glasner, he plays on the double six with Xaver Schlager, who has a very strong duel.
Arnold gives the unexcited ball distributor there.
With 87.9 percent of passes received, he is the most passable midfielder in the league after Hertha's Mattéo Guendouzi and Gladbach's Christoph Kramer.
Wolfsburg is an extremely well balanced team between attack and defense.
No team has conceded fewer goals this season (19 out of 23 games).
Just as often, only cup opponents Leipzig played to zero (eleven times).
For the balance of a team, the central midfielders in front of the defense are often decisive: They stabilize with pass security and positional play and are equally often the professionals who initiate switching moments forward.
Arnold is currently fulfilling this role extremely well at VfL.
"He is, and I mean it positively, an aggressive leader who is uncomfortable for the opponent and always wants to win," enthused Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann before the cup game and revealed that he would have liked to sign Arnold himself: "He was already times on my note, but then always decided to extend it.
I think he has found his home. "
But for that Maximilian Arnold first had to go through a double change: a personal and a sporty one.
“It was on my note before, but then always decided to extend it.
I think he has found his home «
Leipzig's trainer Julian Nagelsmann on Maximilian Arnold
With Glasner as a coach, Arnold is a key player.
It was under Bruno Labbadia too.
But before that, in the almost relegation years of VfL, things went much worse for him under coaches Martin Schmidt, Andries Jonker and Valérien Ismaël.
After winning the DFB Cup and the runner-up in 2015, things went downhill in Wolfsburg: Diesel gate in the VW factory, a drop in performance and many, many personal misjudgments at VfL.
Man's addiction and mismanagement met football stagnation and an unbalanced squad, which resulted in two relegation participations in 2017 and 2018.
Right in the middle: Arnold, then still in his early 20s, who tried to shoulder the burden of the entire club, as VfL sports director Schäfer says today.
Arnold (right) celebrates after his goal against Bielefeld
Photo: INA FASSBENDER / AFP
“I learned a lot more from that than from the successful seasons.
I realized that you shouldn't drive yourself crazy about everything, ”Arnold told SPIEGEL.
He has now found a certain calm.
That he had started a family also helped him during this maturation process.
“It gives me another responsibility.
Nothing throws me off course so quickly, ”says Arnold.
"Others might have broken under the pressure during the relegation period, Maximilian has become stronger," says Schäfer.
During this phase, Arnold separated from an eternal companion: the Maxi.
From then on he wanted to be called Maximilian or Max, Maxi sounded too cute, too childish, he explained at the time.
Personal and athletic maturation process
Arnold also continued to develop playfully.
As a talent, he was an attacking midfielder.
Over the years his coaches pulled him back into defensive midfield.
The fact that someone who was actually a dribbler and preparer suddenly blossoms into the new role of a strategist has been seen many times in football.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is the prime example of this.
And the 2014 world champion also left his nickname "Schweini" behind at some point.
For Arnold it was a personal and athletic maturation process.
But that does not mean that he has lost the goal danger.
It just looks different now: Arnold contributed nine assists last season, often through free kicks and corners.
This season it's at five.
Against Hertha at the weekend, he hit a corner so precisely that Maxence Lacroix could head in to make it 2-0.
In the past two seasons he was one of the best standard shooters in the league.
Shortly before the 2014 World Cup, Arnold made his debut in the German national team at the age of 19 in a friendly against Poland.
After that there was no more game.
He was always important in the U21 team (23 games).
But it wasn't enough for more.
When asked whether a return to the national team was realistic, Arnold finally replied: "If not now, then when?" It is still unlikely, because the competition in his position is too great.
But the fact that Maximilian Arnold approaches the matter so aggressively shows how much he has developed.
Icon: The mirror