It is very much in vogue to be compared to Michael Ballack. Just like the former Kaiserslautern star, Kai Havertz has appeared for both Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea, which has drawn obvious similarities between the two. Leon Goretzka currently plays for Bayern Munich, another of Ballack’s former sides, and he has too been likened to the former Germany international.
Christoph Baumgartner, though, is neither German nor a player for any of Ballack’s previous haunts – yet he has still been mentioned alongside the footballing great. The Austrian midfielder plies his trade at Hoffenheim, and he is one of the most talented youngsters in the Bundesliga.
After starting out with St. Polten in his homeland, Baumgartner was spotted as a 17-year-old by Die Kraichgauer. It didn’t take him long to show off his playmaking skills – he provided 15 assists in 29 games for Hoffenheim’s U19s during the 2017/18 campaign, and five goals in 14 matches in the Regionalliga with the club’s II team the following term earned him a promotion to the first-team squad.
One of Julian Nagelsmann’s last acts as Hoffenheim boss was to give Baumgartner his professional debut. Initially, though, it was a decision that looked to have backfired. The youngster replaced Nadiem Amiri at the interval against Werder Bremen in May 2019, and he received a booking after just seven minutes as Hoffenheim lost 1-0. He then followed that up with a first-half red card in the following match against Mainz, which also ended in defeat (4-2).
He made a tentative start to the 2019/20 term, as well, playing just 171 minutes in the first 13 Bundesliga matches. From December, though, he began to make his mark. He needed just six minutes to provide an assist against RB Leipzig and only five to score against Union Berlin two games later – that was his maiden strike in professional football. He would go on to start all but three league matches until the end of the campaign, scoring a further six goals and creating three.
Even at a young age, he has received plenty of praise for his displays. Hoffenheim sporting director Alexander Rosen said: “(He) is an extremely talented player with strong technical skills and a good sense for space in attack. As a result, he always develops solutions in tight game situations and is also dangerous around goal.”
His performances at club level also earned the 21-year-old a call-up to the Austria squad for their UEFA Nations League matches against Norway and Romania last April. Against the latter, he scored once and provided an assist despite a 3-2 defeat, and he has since added a further three caps.
The 2020/21 term has been a difficult one for Hoffenheim. A 4-1 victory over Bayern on the second matchday proved to be a false dawn as Sebastian Hoeneß’ side lie in 12th in the Bundesliga after 21 matches. However, Baumgartner has been one of his team’s better players and has reportedly even attracted interest from Manchester United. A round of 32 tie against Molde in the Europa League awaits – Baumgartner scored in the first leg of Hoffenheim’s 3-3 draw and will have a big role to play if his side are to progress to the next round.