The Rise of Christoph Kramer

When Christoph Kramer’s name was included in Germany’s final 23-man squad for the World Cup in Brazil, plenty of eyebrows were raised. Understandably so, as he was not even selected for Germany’s initial 30-man provisional squad, having only been promoted later by Jogi Löw for tactical purposes. Much like the case of tennis player Goran Ivanišević, who became the first wild card to win a major at Wimbledon in 2001, Kramer’s rise to the top has been difficult yet sensational, considering the fact that he was not only relatively unknown when he joined Borussia Monchengladbach on a two-season loan from Leverkusen in 2013, but his position is also represented by a plethora of world-class players in the national team. Now a fresh World Cup winner with his name ahead of the likes of the Bender twins in Löw’s highly competitive midfield, Kramer must go from strength to strength to showcase that his inclusion in the national team was no fluke but well deserved.

A rocky road to success

The lanky midfielder with a boyish look has not always managed to make his presence felt, as his relatively stature at the age of 15 cost him a place at Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s youth squad in 2006, despite being recognised as a promising prospect in their youth program when he was just 9 years old. However, this setback did not affect his desire to improve but functioned more as a motivator to further challenge the odds that were against him. Thus, having spent two years at Fortuna Düsseldorf after his departure from Leverkusen, and having grown a staggering 30cm during that time, he was brought back to Leverkusen’s youth team by Sascha Lewandowski in 2008, which provided a golden opportunity for Kramer to firmly re-establish himself in their ranks. Without wasting any time, Kramer’s steady development awarded him his first senior contract in 2011 with Leverkusen II, where he made 27 appearances before being promoted to the senior squad only a year later. Still highly inexperienced at the time, Kramer was sent to second division side Vfl Bochum for a two-year loan in 2011, which not only supplied him the level of consistency to mature as a player, but also saw him develop into a tough-tackling, ball-winning defensive midfielder, making 61 league appearances and scoring four goals.

Hard work and determination have always been the cornerstone for Kramer’s development, but the fierce competition for a starting place at Leverkusen, with the likes of Simon Rolfes, Stefan Reinartz and Lars Bender all preferred ahead of him, prompted Kramer to join Borussia Mönchengladbach on yet another two-year loan for the 2013/2014 season immediately after his spell with Bochum. Despite initial doubts about his ability to make an impact, Kramer quickly settled in, forming a dynamic partnership with Granit Xhaka in midfield, which saw him make 33 appearances and scoring three goals in his debut season with Die Fohlen, helping them finish the season in 6th place and earning a place in the play-off stages for the 2014/2015 UEFA Europa League. So good were his performances during his debut season that it not only attracted interests from the likes of Lazio and Napoli, but also impressed Mönchengladbach’s sporting director Max Eberl so much that he reportedly was willing to pay a club-record fee to seal a permanent deal for Kramer. Nevertheless, the impact that Mönchengladbach had on Kramer’s meteoric rise was paramount, and despite not being capped for any Germany youth games in 2013, having only made nine appearances for both the U19 and U20 squads in his professional career, he received a rare call-up to the national team for a friendly match against Poland a month prior to the World Cup. The rest is history.

Reaching new heights

Now an indispensable asset to Lucien Favre’s side, Kramer’s impeccable work rate and energetic style of play accompanied by his physicality and superb distribution abilities are transforming him into a commanding yet industrious modern midfield powerhouse, who oozes the quality and confidence to become the next superstar for both club and country. Even Thomas Muller, who shared the World Cup triumph with Kramer, is not surprised at all by the development Kramer has made. “He has an irrepressible will,” Muller emphasised. Moreover, Kramer’s tireless displays, which, for instance, saw him cover an astonishing 12.7 km last week against Bayern Munich and was arguably one of the best players on the pitch, has been one of the driving forces behind Gladbach’s current unbeaten run in the Bundesliga; his intelligent movements, powerful forward surges and incisive distributions at the base of the midfield has become a core part of Gladbach’s attacking play, creating space for the likes of Max Kruse, Patrick Herrmann and Raffael to thrive pushing forward. Thus, it is no surprise that clubs such as Liverpool and Tottenham have eyed Kramer as the ideal deep-lying playmaker to bolster their squad and add steel to their midfield.

Although still too inexperienced to permanently displace the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira in the national team, Kramer’s recent appearances for Germany, most notably their Euro 2016 qualifier games, clearly indicates the trust placed on him by Jogi Löw, which only adds further recognition and value for Kramer’s international future. Since the sheer quality that Germany boasts in their midfield arsenal, Kramer must continue to make his presence felt by maintaining a high level of consistency to further advance his development to justify his place in the national team, especially with the likes of Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, Max Meyer and even newly promoted players such as Karim Bellarabi coming up the ranks to challenge the current Mannschaft players. However, the more well-rounded Kramer, who is comfortable with both feet, can certainly offer a more dynamic box-to-box approach, capable of injecting steel and intensity both offensively and defensively. With his contract at Leverkusen set to expire in 2017, Kramer will most certainly establish as an integral part of die Werkself’s team after his campaign ends with Gladbach next summer, though it is inevitable that Kramer will ply his trade on an even bigger stage if he continues his phenomenal rise. Of course, only time will tell, but this time the odds are in his favour.

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A Masters student from Finland currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Luyang is a keen follower of German football with a passion for sports.

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