What is it with the Bundesliga and those players who can seemingly play anywhere? There are a number of highly versatile players in the league, perhaps testament to the tactical nous and technical ability of its professionals, with some high profile examples.
Long term first choice at full back (on either side) for Bayern and Germany, Philipp Lahm, has this season managed to stake a claim at playing in defensive midfield for the national side in Brazil; after being re-trained to play there by Pep Guardiola, Lahm has been a revelation for the Bavarians, in some games racking up tremendous statistics for a centre midfielder, some that most traditional midfielders could only dream of.
Over at the Westfalenstadion there’s Kevin Großkreutz, who was something of a revelation at right back for Dortmund following a long term injury to Lukasz Pisczcek, so much so that he appeared at that position for Germany against Chile. Großkreutz has played most positions for Dortmund by now – even in goal in that 2-1 loss to Hoffenheim last season – and is the definition of a utility man. But are the more players who stake a claim to that title?
In short: yes. One slightly less known player who’s made real waves with his versatility this season has been Borussia Mönchengladbach’s former full back, now defensive all-rounder Tony Jantschke. Breaking through the youth ranks after moving to the club at the age of 16, Jantschke has gone on to make over 100 appearances for the club so far – being a virtual ever-present under current manager Lucien Favre – and having just turned 24, has a longer future ahead of him than either Lahm or Großkreutz.
Jantschke began his career as a right back, and his original position is one in which he has excelled, offering defensive know-how and attacking commitment to truly cement his place in the Borussia XI there. Strong in the challenge and surprisingly good in the air for a player of his size, – standing at 5 foot 9, he’s won 52% of his aerial duels this season, generally against much taller players – Jantschke was shifted inwards to centre back following a suspension to Martin Stranzl during the Hinrunde this season, a tactical decision that was, in hindsight, inspired by Lucien Favre.
Despite problems with defensive personnel all season – Dominguez, Stranzl and Wendt all sustaining long setbacks – Jantschke has consistently made the first team all year round, missing only three games thus far. Equally, his contributions on the pitch are always felt – he rarely puts a foot wrong in a game, and is an important leader in the team, reflected in his being awarded the armband for the away game in Nürnberg at the weekend, with usual captain and his vice, Filip Daems and Martin Stranzl, both out.
However, it’s not just there that Jantschke has excelled in recent times; at the Under 21 European Championships in 2013, then Germany U21s manager Rainer Adrion made the odd choice of playing with inverted full backs – Jantschke, generally a right back, playing on the left while SC Freiburg’s Oliver Sorg, generally a left back, playing on the right. While the German team went home in disgrace, Jantschke was one of the few German players to go home with any real credit, having, again, not really put a foot wrong.
He’s also played in defensive midfield against Augsburg and Hertha BSC this season, freeing up the forward-thinking potential of his midfield partner Christoph Kramer in both games. Indeed, in the clash with Hertha, Jantschke effectively acted as a shield for the centre back partnership of Stranzl and Dominguez; breaking up play and acting as a water carrier to the attacking players in front of him, just as the aforementioned Philipp Lahm does for his club, to rightful acclaim. Interestingly, both players have similar passing statistics – Jantschke with 91% accuracy just shaded by Lahm’s 92% – however, Jantschke tends to play trickier passes over a longer distance, so this slight discrepancy is understandable.
With a newly signed contract until 2018 with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Tony Jantschke looks set to play on further with his only professional club until now – unlike other slightly more famous Borussia Mönchengladbach youth products. It is, at least for a Mönchengladbach fan, impossible to find something to dislike about the young utility man – his efficiency in defending and passing the ball echoes quite well Favre’s footballing concept at Borussia, a team who have alongside Jantschke moulded themselves into something that’s reasonably good at defending, and great with the ball at their feet.
It is, surely, only a matter of time before Jantschke makes the leap to the full German national team, having represented his country at every youth level from U17 to U21. The future looks bright for both player and club.