It takes something special to stand out, and when the special strays into the territory of the outrageous you are always going to be noticed. Step up, Marwin Hitz.
Having won promotion to the top flight in 2011, FC Augsburg have been sure and steady – improving year on year while remaining in the shadows. With a defensive, physical approach that can hardly be described as glamorous, Markus Weinzierl’s unheralded side have tended to irritate more than impress – not that it should bother the raucous support at the compact WWK Arena.
In the last year, goalkeeper Hitz has made a concerted effort to climb out of the shadows. After moving to Bavaria from VfL Wolfsburg in 2013 and supplanting Austrian veteran Alex Manninger as number one, the recently capped Swiss international has made plenty of waves.
So sooner had he established himself in the staring eleven for Die Fuggerstädter, it didn’t take long for the St.Gallen-born stopper to make his first impression – quite literally – on Arjen Robben after sixteen minutes of a DFB-Pokal second round match against FC Bayern. Whether it was out of sheer enthusiasm or red-misted madness, the Augsburg ‘keeper charged in on Robben, taking the Dutch winger out with both feet and leaving him with severe lacerations and more time on the physiotherapist’s couch.
How Hitz managed to remain on the pitch is anybody’s guess, but it may have had something to do with his cheeky grin.
Hitz quickly apologised for his tackle on Robben, and went on to make headlines for a far more-positive reason at the end of the 2014/15 season. With his side 2-1 down against Bayer Leverkusen and the game four minutes into injury time, the Augsburg ‘keeper ventured up into the opposition box and lashed in the equaliser from just inside the six-yard box.
It was the third time a goalkeeper had scored from open play in the Bundesliga after Jens Lehmann and Frank Rost, and after winning the Bundesliga’s goal of the month award, Hitz was well on the way to becoming a cult hero among the Augsburg fans. Fast forward to the latest story, and Hitz’s pitch manicuring skills.
In a game that was always going to be a battle of attrition, Augsburg’s game against 1. FC Köln at the Rhein-Energie-Stadion was defined by a moment of controversy – with Hitz right in the middle of it. With game locked at 0-0 just before the hour mark, referee Daniel Siebert awarded a rather soft penalty to the home side after Köln’s Austrian international Phillipp Hosiner tangled with Daniel Baier.
As players from both teams debated the merits of the Elfmeter with Herr Siebert, Hitz slowly and surreptitiously ambled towards the penalty spot, where he then dug his studs into the turf, twisting his boot on the spot a few times right under the nose of the Schiri. Leaving behind a clearly visible muddy patch. Satisfied with his sneaky act of sabotage, the Elfmeter(punkt)killer nonchalantly ambled back his mark as Anthony Modeste stepped up to take the kick.
The entire incident wouldn’t have even been a footnote were it not for Modeste’s awkward slip. The Frenchman ended up flat on his backside, and the ball rolled towards the goal, where Hitz dived neatly to make the save – his first penalty stop in the Bundesliga. To compound matters for Köln, a coolly-executed Raul Bobadilla free-kick at the other end sealed all three points for the visitors.
(I couldn’t find a video on YouTube, but you can find it here on this TZ article).
A rather sheepish Hitz duly apologised after the game – though this was clearly little consolation to Köln fans who felt that their team had been cheated. “It’s not me… I wouldn’t do it again,” tweeted the seemingly contrite Augsburg ‘keeper.
With that in mind, we’re all waiting what Hitz is going to come up with next. Though I don’t think he’ll be taking up gardening anytime soon.
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