December 17, 2017

Could Kevin Großkreutz be a World Cup Hero?

There are seconds remaining in the final of the 2014 World Cup. It has been a monumental struggle but the end is in sight. Germany has scrapped their way to the final where they face Brazil. Sometimes they’ve been majestic, sometimes functional, and sometimes lucky but it has not been without cost. With Bastian Schweinsteiger, and İlkay Gündoğan injured plus the Bender Brothers suspended, coach Joachim Löw has had move Philipp Lahm into the midfield in an attempt to shield the back four against the marauding Brazilian forward line. The game is forced into extra time and with penalties looming Mats Hummels tries one last foray into the Brazilian half. His big diagonal ball is meant for Thomas Müller but a season of being coached by Jose Mourinho has sharpened the wits of David Luiz. He tracks Müller’s run and denies the Raumdeuter his chance to take his place among the giants of the German game by scoring the winning goal. But Müller is not finished yet; he scraps with Luiz for the ball and in the corner of his eye spots the rampaging run of makeshift full back and last minute call-up Kevin Großkreutz. Müller pushes the ball out of the area and into Großkreutz’ path who larrups the ball home and wins the World Cup for Germany.

Thirty years later, Großkreutz is president of UEFA and Müller is a columnist for Bild.

The above is obviously a fantasy. After all, what are the chances of both Bender brothers being suspended. But joking aside, Borussia Dortmund’s Kevin Großkreutz has become one of the most valuable utility players in the Dortmund squad and although he may not be banging on the national team coach’s door, he is politely tapping.

“Big Kev,” looking svelte in the national team kit.

After his move from Rot Weiss Ahlen in the Summer of 2009, Großkreutz was a mainstay of the left hand side for Dortmund. His exuberant playing style and affinity for the club which he’s supported since childhood have made him a popular figure with the fans, as have the 20 goals and 17 assists that he contributed in those first three seasons.

Possibly his most important intervention, however, was in the 2010/11 season on the first match of the second half of the season. Dortmund were top of the Bundesliga, but had lost only their second game of the season to Nürnberg in the last game prior to the long Winter Break. For the restart, they had to travel to Leverkusen, who had been the only other team to beat them in the Hinrunde. If they had lost that game then the fear was that Klopp’s team would sucumb to Bayern’s challenge and the first Bundesliga title since 2002 would elude them. But they won, thanks in large part to a brace from Big Kev. Dortmund did not look back, after that.

However, with the arrival of Marco Reus and subsequent change in Klopp’s tactical formation, Großkreutz found his opportunities on the left limited and while he was not forsaken he had to fill in on the left, right or down the middle, as an understudy. This season, his role as utility player is firmly established, filling in for the injured Łukasz Piszczek at right back and doing a damn fine job, to boot.

Defeats at Napoli and Borussia Mönchengladbach aside, Dortmund have been off to something of a flyer this season, despite injuries to a number of key players. With Piszczek in for a long spell in the treatment room, Großkreutz has deputised, effectively despite switching flanks and playing closer to his own goal than he is accustomed to. The knowledge that a run in the side as a right back has allowed him to focus on developing the virtues of that position in the secure knowledge that the job his for a prolonged period of time. His ball retention has been excellent and he has made very few mistakes, so far. His pace and natural attacking instincts make him an ideal full back under Klopp’s system which includes high intensity pressing and adopting a high line.

Perhaps inevitably, some of his supporters have called for him to be recalled to the national team. Certainly there are better players than Großkreutz in pretty much every position, but it would be interesting to learn if Germany head coach Joachim Löw has considered him as an option given his versatility. If you’re looking for more romantic reasons, the World Cup can produce unlikely heroes and Kevin would very definitely fit the bill.

Your future UEFA president. You heard it here first.

Where would he play? Well, there are two possibilities. The first would be to keep him on the periphery as a stopgap to plug any injury or suspension gaps. The second would depend on whether Löw considers (as I posited in my earlier fantasy) moving Philipp Lahm to the midfield where he has been playing for Bayern this season, to rave reviews.  If so, then Großkreutz is a possible choice for right back. That second option may sound attractive to some and is easy to advocate when you are not the one who has to make the decision and it is unlikely that Mr Löw will go down that road. After all, as impressive as Großkreutz has been, he has only played a handful of games and Germany do not play like Dortmund. Großkreutz’s lack of experience as a defender may be exposed when playing to a different system.

All told, it seems like too much of a risk for a team that wins far more matches than it loses and if Großkreutz does travel to Brazil, it will probably be as a benchwarmer.

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