Is Christoph Kramer German Football's Next Big Thing?

A story which caught us all by surprise – from fans to those not in the know whatsoever alike – was Christoph Kramer’s inclusion in the German World Cup squad in May of this year; four months down the line, and the on-loan Mönchengladbach midfielder has somehow consolidated himself in the Germany set-up, kicked on for his club side, with an inspirational cameo against Stuttgart saving die Fohlen a point, and is one of German football’s hottest properties, a man whose signature is coveted by several clubs across Europe. All of this after signing the two year loan deal at Borussia-Park in May of 2013 as, seemingly, a player signed as a bit-part replacement for Borussia Mönchengladbach’s outgoing, and similarly bit-part loanee midfielders Tolga Cigerci and Alexander Ring.

How wrong that evaluation proved to be; not only did Christoph Kramer nudge previously nailed-on starter Havard Nordtveit and veteran back-up Thorben Marx out of a starting berth almost immediately, after an excellent pre-season of practising alongside with fellow youngster Granit Xhaka, but he ended up playing 34 games of Borussia’s 35 game season, showing incredible consistency at the top level for a man who beforehand had only played second tier football at VfL Bochum – also on a two-year loan from Leverkusen. Kramer’s first kick of a Bundesliga ball came in Borussia’s season opener away to Bayern München at the Allianz Arena, and from then – and after what can only be described as an excellent debut performance – Kramer never looked back, becoming the midfield revelation of 2013/2014 and gaining his spot in Germany’s World Cup squad having fully earned his stripes as an international midfielder.

Barely even known outside of Germany prior to the World Cup, Kramer’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric over the past year, with reported interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid the latest in the long line of big clubs interested in the 23-year old midfielder. A fee of around €15m is reported to be parent club’s Bayer Leverkusen’s valuation – a fee perhaps not seen as particularly substantial in the English or Spanish leagues but quite considerable compared to other Bundesliga players – one recent and pertinent example is the similarly talented and marginally more experienced André Hahn, who linked up with Kramer’s current club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, in the summer for a fee of €2.25m – the fee was, obviously, seen as ridiculously low at the time, but players of Kramer’s ilk leave for significantly less than €15m very frequently in German football – the fact that Kramer is seen as such an asset, firstly by his parent club but also by potential suitors hints at a bright future for Kramer, who is, outside of the group of Bayern and Dortmund players who dominate the international and domestic game in Germany, one of the Bundesliga’s hottest properties.

Max Eberl, the sporting director of Borussia Mönchengladbach, is even reportedly willing to pay the €15m it’d take to bring Kramer to Borussia-Park permanently; given that the club’s previous record signing is still only €12m, a fee ultimately wasted thanks to the wildly unsuccessful form of Luuk de Jong, the €12m man, such a move would be quite a statement of intent by the Foals if completed; obviously, paying €15m for a player essentially catapulted to the top by the club wouldn’t be ideal, but was made necessary due to the lack of a buyout clause in the loan contract; while Kramer played out his youth years at Bayer Leverkusen and made his professional debut at Bochum, it’s undoubtedly Mönchengladbach who have made the biggest impact on Kramer’s fledgling career to date, taking him from a prospect to an international; this, interestingly, is something Kramer seems to appreciate; he wasn’t remotely interested in a summer switch to Napoli or Lazio – something obviously made difficult by the terms of the loan contract between Borussia and Leverkusen, but still possible, and doesn’t seem to see his future at the BayArena either, even comparing his contract situation to human trafficking; while his contract with die Werkself runs to 2017, Kramer remarked “if I don’t want to play somewhere, I won’t play” to der Spiegel. Unequivocal words.

Is this slight blemish, a statement which will definitely flag question marks on Kramer’s attitude towards his employers, a massive flaw in and of itself? If it is, it hasn’t been taken as such; Kramer is the darling of Borussia fans, if not more so having clearly favoured their club over his parent team, while the German media and even fans of other teams alike seem to have taken a shine, too; his commitment and slightly goofy style can endear Christoph Kramer even to fans of his current opposition. This is something aided largely by the effective partnership between him and his partner in crime in midfield at Mönchengladbach, Granit Xhaka. Ultimately, Xhaka and Kramer became one of the most well-rounded partnerships in the league; off the ball, Xhaka’s combative style covered for Kramer’s energetic probing runs forward, while in possession, both acted as comfortable ball-players, which allowed the likes of Juan Arango, Patrick Herrmann, Raffael and Max Kruse to thrive going forward; given the ease with which he can distribute the ball, and allow the forward line to play to its full potential, it’s easy to see why Kramer has now slotted so seamlessly into the German midfield, playing the full ninety in both of Germany’s inaugural games as World Champions against Argentina and Scotland, alongside Toni Kroos, as well as starting in the final itself back in July alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, before concussion forced him to the sidelines.

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His partnership with Kroos, is, it must be said, not the most balanced – not on the level of his partnership with Xhaka, anyway; the nature of the partnership almost dictates that both players neuter their game somewhat. Kroos is, as we all know, an offensive midfield player, not a midfielder particularly comfortable at dropping back in defensive midfield and putting in a shift, and when he plays this position – which he often has done for club and country – he leaves his defence somewhat exposed. Kramer is perhaps more well-rounded, and can definitely play as a sitting midfielder, but his style is more of a box-to-box player, covering every blade of grass. It’s likely that Löw would rather drop Kramer than Kroos to the bench when Bastian Schweinsteiger – the national team’s new captain – returns to the fold, obviously as the switch is much more like for like and, if we’re being realistic, Kroos a better, more experienced player than Kramer, and is a lot more key in how Germany shape up moving forward; this could stint Kramer’s progress in becoming German football’s “next big thing” – he’s likely not going to have the impact of a Schweinsteiger, an Özil or a Reus, all players who have been virtually undroppable since establishing themselves in the set-up; he’s a talented player in his own right and an excellent squad option, but, given that there are only really two midfield berths Kramer could occupy, usurping a captain and a player who has starred for the national side over the past four years will be difficult; instead, Kramer is likely to be a constant fixture in the squad, perhaps having a large impact as a substitute, but probably not as a starter assuming first choice options are always fit.

It’s genuinely exciting to see where Kramer goes next; his talent could easily carry him on to a massive club, but perhaps staying at Mönchengladbach or Leverkusen would be the wiser choice, given that he would be a clear, undisputed starter; regular game-time should still be the priority for Kramer given the stage of his career. Nevertheless, everything seems to be going right for Kramer at this present moment in time; the trajectory of his career is forever getting more and more crazy, while his tricks in training – we’ve all seen the incredible nutmeg – seem to be coming off, and his skills at “Rock, Paper, Scissors” are gaining worldwide recognition; he definitely could make it anywhere, given the chance.

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