Profile: Shkodran Mustafi – Reus’ low-key replacement

When disaster struck in Mainz and Marco Reus’ ankle decided to give the Borussia Dortmund star a summer break, some Germany players from the preliminary squad who had been discarded saw their World Cup dream revive. Kevin Volland must have thought his chance had come while Shkodran Mustafi was probably planning which club to hit first in Ibiza. Not many would have bet on Joachim Löw calling up a centre-back to replace the former Borussia Mönchengladbach winger but that’s exactly what he did and Mustafi is now in Brazil.

As Reus’ absence in the World Cup was confirmed on Saturday morning by the DFB doctors, Mustafi was announced as his official replacement in the squad. Those who aren’t as familiar with Germany’s youth squads in the last decade or Serie A will have probably been scratching their head asking themselves who Mustafi is, rather than whether he was the right replacement to pick. But the defender of Albanian origin will now be part of the 23-man Germany squad in Brazil and now this multi-cultural German squad that includes representation from Poland, Ghana, Tunisia and Turkey will have a new country alongside them.

Shkodran Mustafi was born in Bad Hersfeld, Hessen, in April 1992. He started his career at 1. FV Bebra and later moved to SV Rotenburg before signing for Hamburger SV in 2006. He remained in HSV’s youth teams until 2009 when he was released and picked up by Everton. His move to the British Isles made him a stronger player as he developed physically and acquired much of the playing style he’s known for today. Mustafi is a tough-tackling centre-back who is not afraid to get stuck in and put his body about for the cause. During his two-and-a-half seasons at Merseyside he only managed to make one first-team appearance, against BATE Borisov in the Europa League in 2009, coming on for the last 15 minutes in a 0-1 defeat for the side managed by David Moyes.

While he was at Everton he played regularly for Germany’s U18, U19 and U20 sides after winning the U17 European Championship in 2009 just before joining the Blues, a squad that included Marc-André ter Stegen and Mario Götze among others. Despite being a big prospect for club and country, Moyes never found time to offer Mustafi at Goodison Park for the first team and he was therefore confined to the reserve outings. After 30 months in Liverpool, Mustafi jumped at the chance offered by Sampdoria of first-team football and duly made the move to Genoa on a free transfer in the winter transfer window of 2012.

He had to wait four months for his debut for il doria, but it came on the season’s last day in a 3-1 defeat against Varese, in which he played 90 minutes. Sampdoria got promoted that season via the playoffs (beating precisely Varese over two legs) but manager Giuseppe Iachini was sacked before the beginning of the season and replaced by Juventus and Italy legend Ciro Ferrara, who did not give Mustafi his Serie A debut until November of 2012. He made 17 appearances in total last season, only five of which from the bench, but he was a regular feature this season for the team, being at the heart of the defence in 33 matches, only one of them from the bench.

Mustafi makes the difference in Sampdoria’s defence – Miroslav Klose

So what does Mustafi bring to the German side? As mentioned, he developed his physical side in England but everyone knows how much defence is an issue in the Calcio and Mustafi has not only kept his physical game but also learnt the tactical aspect of defending that Italian football is so famous for, becoming a good reader of the game and thus showing good anticipation. His trademark move is most definitely his excellently-timed tackle and no-nonsense defensive techniques, a combination of the two footballing styles he has developed in. At 6 ft. 1″ he is not the tallest of defenders but his physique is more than imposing and he is a good bet for aerial duels.

However, six months ago it could have been a whole different story for Mustafi. He was set to be called up for the full Albanian squad but Joachim Löw nipped in at the last minute after seeing his qualities and called him up for the friendly match against Chile in early March. Mustafi played no part in it but it was enough to convince him that his international future lay in his country of birth.  He finally made his Germany debut last month in the 0-0 draw against Poland, playing the full 90 minutes in what was a mostly reserve side in an uneventful evening. Fate meant Mustafi made his debut at the Imtech Arena in Hamburg, the club where his professional career had started but who never gave him a chance to shine. He may not have shone per se in the match but he showed the composure and balance that Germany have sometimes been lacking at the back and that must have impressed Löw enough, since those 90 minutes are the only ones he has played in a Germany shirt, as he was left out against Cameroon and Armenia.

It’s highly unlikely that Mustafi will have much of an impact in Brazil, since he has Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes and Matthias Ginter ahead of him at centre back but the Sampdoria man is also able to fill in at left or right-back if needed, which gives Löw more options in the event of an injury debacle or when giving players a rest in what will be overwhelming heat in Brazil. After his call-up, Löw stated that “Shkodran has worked hard in training, he’s fit, we have a lot of confidence in him and we know we can count on him 100%” while fellow Serie A teammate Miroslav Klose labelled him “the difference in Sampdoria’s defence”.

In any case, being nominated in the squad will do him anything but harm. Albania’s loss could be Germany’s gain and the tough-tackling German-Albanian defender will finally be able to have the chance to make himself known and perhaps even prove himself in front of the German crowd. Still only 22 years old, perhaps some Bundesliga scouts will now be turning their sights towards the Luigi Ferraris for their new defensive purchase.

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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