It is fair to say that Kevin Kampl’s brief spell at Borussia Dortmund didn’t work out. Some observers would even go so far as to say that his time at the Signal-Iduna Park was a failure. That may be a bit harsh, but what is clear is that the Slovenian midfielder is now enjoying a new lease of life at Bayer Leverkusen and proving the doubters at BVB wrong.
Dortmund’s €12 million capture of Kevin Kampl from Red Bull Salzburg in the January transfer window of 2015 was meant to provide an injection of quality to a side astonishingly bottom of the table at the Winterpause. With Marco Reus predicted to leave the club sooner rather than later, the arrival of the blonde-haired midfielder appeared to be just what the Schwarzgelben needed.
Unfortunately, the 24-year-old did not have the impact that was hoped for even though Jürgen Klopp’s side did recover to climb the table and finish seventh. Kampl would make thirteen appearances, but he failed to score and provided just two assists. Deployed as a winger, he struggled to make an impression and with Reus actually signing a new contract, his role as the heir-apparent to the fans’ favourite was doomed.
If his league form was disappointing, worse was to come in the DFB Pokal where he suffered his low-point in the semi-final. With the match tied at 1-1 against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, Kampl was introduced as an 83rd minute substitute for Kuba Blaszczykowski. Booked in the 90th minute, he was then sent-off in extra-time for a second yellow card with Dortmund going on to lose on penalties.
With Thomas Tuchel replacing Klopp in the summer, there may have been hope of a second chance at BVB, but despite making a few appearances in the Europa League qualifiers and coming on as a sub in the first Bundesliga match day against Borussia Mönchengladbach, his time was up.
If Dortmund didn’t know what they had, one person certainly did- Roger Schmidt. The Bayer Leverkusen trainer wasted no time in signing Kampl for €11 million returning him to the club he had joined as a seven-year-old and whose youth ranks he had progressed through. In fact it was the second time Schmidt has signed the player, having made him one of his first transfers following his appointment as RB Salzburg coach back in June 2012. At that time he paid VfR Aalen some €3 million for the Slovenian U-21 international.
The German trainer clearly knew Kampl from their previous spell together and claimed to know why he had struggled at Dortmund making it quite clear that BVB were to blame. “Kevin is not a winger, which is where Dortmund played him. Since his time with the Leverkusen amateurs and with me in Salzburg, he played a position further forward” Schmidt explained.
“That he could be a key player controlling the game was clear to me. He is not a winger, but someone with large area of operation. I think Kevin has quickly realised that here we believe in him. That has helped him so that he can play to his qualities.”
And play to those qualities he certainly has, although Schmidt seems to have found another position for the midfielder to shine. Although at the start he was deployed a bit further forward as part of an attacking three alongside Karim Bellarabi and Hakan Calhanoglu, an injury to Lars Bender has provided him with the chance to develop a little deeper.
Since match day 10, Kampl has largely been deployed as part of a central midfield duo beside Christoph Kramer and it is a role he has excelled in. Although his goals and assists stats are virtually the same as at Dortmund (one goal and two assists so far) his overall effectiveness has been markedly improved, as he’s completed nearly 80% of his 529 passing attempts and created 38 scoring chances in 1083 minutes of Bundesliga play this season.
The respected player ratings from German publication Kicker have him as Bayer Leverkusen’s best player of the Hinrunde with an average match rating of 2.85 which also makes him the fifth highest rated midfielder in the Bundesliga with only Douglas Costa, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Thomas Müller and Xabi Alonso ahead of him. Exulted company indeed.
He has been equally impressive on the continental stage playing in all six of Leverkusen’s Champions League group stage matches. He was highly impressive in the Werkself’s 2-1 loss at the Nou camp to Barcelona and got himself on the scoresheet in the 4-4 draw with Roma.
Whether it is the man-management of Roger Schmidt, the confidence of playing in a more natural position or just the fact that he has adapted to the rigours of the Bundesliga, one thing is clear- Kevin Kampl has had an excellent Hinrunde.
It could well be that at the end of the season a few people at Borussia Dortmund might be feeling they were perhaps a little too hasty when they decided to cut their losses on the player in the summer.
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