Was Dortmund move too much too soon for Matthias Ginter?

“Matthias is one of Germany’s strongest, most versatile and talented young players,” BVB’s sporting director Michael Zorc emphasised when the news of Ginter’s transfer was first announced in July 2014 after Germany’s World Cup triumph, asserting: “We made a conscious decision to start the new season with four formidable centre-halves.”

As for the newly crowned world champion, Matthias Ginter’s transfer to Borussia Dortmund, which saw him penning a five-year deal until 2019, was not only seen as a prosperous future investment, but also as an imminent injection of versatility and competitiveness to a rather injury-prone team, with undisputed first-team starters Mats Hummels–Neven Subotić missing a combined of 32 matches in the 2013/2014 season due to injury. Moreover, with İlkay Gündoğan having just returned last August after an entire year out, Sven Bender and Nuri Şahin often sustaining minor niggles and Sebastian Kehl not rejuvenating, Ginter’s versatility proved to be the main catalyst for his move, as he was frequently deployed in central midfield during his successful spell with Freiburg.  Playing for his hometown club, Ginter started all 34 of Freiburg’s Bundesliga games last season, while also winning the Fritz Walter Gold Medal in 2012 and 2013, awarded by the German Football Association for being the best German player in his age group.

Although the predispositions for Ginter’s success at Dortmund were loud and clear, especially under the wings of arguably one of Europe’s best managers in Jurgen Klopp, the somewhat surprising, shocking to say the least, run of Dortmund’s first-half of their Bundesliga campaign completely disintegrated the plans not only for Dotrmund’s vision to uplift their team both domestically and internationally, but also in terms of the development of Ginter.  It could be argued that Ginter fell victim to Dortmund’s inconsistency by being unable to justify his purchase, despite making 15 competitive appearances so far in all competitions. With Dortmund sitting second-to-last on the table before the start of the Rückrunde, trailing league-leaders Bayern by 30 points and 12 points from sixth place Augsburg, the chances to even qualify for the UEFA Europa League is becoming increasingly out-of-reach. This would almost certainly reduce Ginter’s first team chances even more with Klopp likely to rely on more experienced players to improve the club’s form, raising the question of whether it was too early for Ginter to embrace the challenges at the Signal Iduna Park.

Dortmund move too much too soon for Matthias Ginter?

Although Klopp’s future has come under increased scrutiny with even rumours of him departing, Dortmund, BvB are still among one of the best clubs in Europe for producing talent as well as for developing and nurturing young players. Most notable youth academy graduates include Kevin Grosskreutz, Marcel Schmelzer and Mario Götze, while the likes of Hummels, Şahin,  Bender, Gündoğan, Subotić and Shinji Kagawa were all nurtured to stardom at die Schwarzgelben.

Now with a new crop of young players, who have spent most of their emerging careers at the club and are now breaking through into the first team, such as Erik Durm, Marian Sarr, Jonas Hofmann and Marvin Ducksch (latter two currently on loan), this typifies Dortmund’s policy and philosophy of creating rather than buying stars. In this respect, Matthias Ginter has arrived at the perfect place; the impressive reputation and influence of Klopp in developing and trusting young players has been one of the pivotal factors for Dortmund’s success in recent years. Furthermore, ever since the establishment of the club’s academy and youth system in 2008, which was adopted and modeled based on other highly successful clubs such as Barcelona,  Zorc and his colleagues have done a splendid job in both trusting and keeping their youth talents while strategically building their academy and youth system to better equip its players to progress to the professional level. Perhaps what epitomizes the success of this youth strategy and policy best was Dortmund’s magnificent title-winning 2010/2011 Bundesliga season with an average squad age of just over 23, including youth academy graduates. Thus, the 21-year-old Ginter is more than capable of following the footsteps of his counterparts to becoming a cornerstone in Dortmund’s ranks.

Although versatility is Ginter’s biggest asset, being considered a ‘utility player’ who can field in various roles does not necessarily bring about a route for success in contrast to a player can solidify a particular position. That said, Ginter’s experience in central midfield can certainly support Dortmund’s tactical flexibility, but his prime position still lies in central defence. This was already evident at SC Freiburg, where the 1.90 metres tall Ginter demonstrated his defensive prowess, showcasing his leadership abilities by anchoring a back-four line with a robust yet intelligent approach to play that complemented an astounding composure on the ball, adept reading of the game and formidable tackling.

It was no surprise, then, that the defensive pillar and technically sound Ginter helped Freiburg to a 5th place finish in their highly successful 2012/2013 Bundesliga campaign, signaling a rise to prominence for the hometown youngster.  His performance caused  the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United to knock on the doors to entice the promising starlet away from Mage Solar Stadion. However, at Borussia Dortmund, Ginter can further his sporting development by shadowing the current captain Mats Hummels and gradually solidify his presence at the heart of the defence. Since the future of Hummels at Dortmund is becoming increasingly uncertain, the capability of Ginter becoming the heir of Hummels would be an understatement. Of course, it is unrealistic to think that Ginter would be in the starting XI on a regular basis regardless of Dortmund’s current situation, but he was brought to Westfalenstadion for a reason and with a five-year deal in his pocket, he will certainly be a player Dortmund would like to groom for the future.

The challenges ahead

Arriving at a club in the caliber of Borussia Dortmund is certainly without its fair share of challenges; a lack of playing time will clearly hinder Ginter’s development in the long run, but blaming all of this solely on Dortmund’s poor form is unfair. Although Ginter adds much-needed depth to Dortmund by strengthening a previously slim set of defensive options, he must demonstrate the willpower to challenge his defensive compatriots and seize the opportunities given to him, which he is yet to grasp, largely due to the impressive displays showcased by Greek stonewall Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

More importantly, Ginter needs to play regularly if he is to maintain and replicate his form in Freiburg and justify his place in the national team. One viable option would be a loan move to either another domestic club or abroad, with Shkodran Mustafi at Valencia CF a good reference example. However, it is extremely unlikely that Dortmund would even consider shipping Ginter away for loan, let alone permanently, especially with Hummels’ future hanging on a thread and Dortmund’s miserable form. Nevertheless, drastic changes will surely be forthcoming at Dortmund regardless of their standing at the end of the season, which would suggest quality signings to fulfill the expectations and strengthen the squad.

As for Ginter, it would inadvertently create a situation, where he might no longer be guaranteed a starting place if Dortmund decides to splash out on defensive reinforcements to either fill the void left by Hummels or to provide back-up alternatives. With Ginter’s role and influence expected to stay minimal when the second half of the Bundesliga commences at the end of this month, was Dortmund move too much too soon for the promising prospect? It would be harsh to label the move as a mistake at this stage, considering that Ginter, just turned 21, joined the club last July and understandably needs time to truly settle down. But with the modern game becoming increasingly competitive and sensitive, there might not be enough time for Ginter to prove himself if he does not seize his chances early enough. Even if he does seize his chances, will Dortmund continue to maintain their policy of creating rather than buying if they end their season below expectation remains a fascinating question that might have implications on Ginter’s future. Nonetheless, it is up to Ginter to justify his value and prove that he is worth the reputation of a future star in the making.

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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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