OPINION | Matthias Ginter’s romantic return to Freiburg fits like a glove

A multitude of Bundesliga appearances, a plethora of international caps, two World Cups including a winners’ medal, a triumphant Confederations Cup, an Olympic silver, and a European Championship appearance later, Matthias Ginter is returning to where it all began after agreeing to join boyhood club SC Freiburg from Borussia Mönchengladbach at the end of the current season. Eight years after leaving the Schwarzwald for pastures new, the Freiburg academy graduate returns home, bringing with him a wealth of quality and experience collected on his travels.

At face-value, this seems like an incredibly exciting signing, not least because of Ginter’s abundant craftmanship, but also the nature of Freiburg’s spectacular rise. Currently on the verge of a European spot for next season, as well as preparing for a DFB Pokal final date later this month, Freiburg have proved themselves to be a prodigiously attractive proposition, with their essence as one of Germany, perhaps Europe’s, best-run clubs having well and truly put them on the footballing map. Freiburg’s exponential ascent through the division, combined with the sense of a romantic homecoming, this is a transfer that appears to fit like a glove.

Born and bred in the stunning Baden-Württemberg city of Freiburg im Breisgau, Ginter rose through the ranks at his hometown club, making his debut for the Bundesliga outfit aged 18 in 2012. The local lad went on to make a total of 81 appearances for the club in the top-flight, before moving onto Borussia Dortmund in 2014. He later joined Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2017 and has made 153 appearances so far for Die Fohlen.

It would seem reasonable to infer that the 28-year-old has been signed by Freiburg as a direct replacement for the departing Nico Schlotterbeck, who recently announced his move to German giants Borussia Dortmund – the exact move Ginter made all those years ago. Schlotterbeck has unquestionably persisted as one of the outstanding individuals within the Freiburg team, and stakes a hefty claim to being one of the Bundesliga players of the season. An integral part of Freiburg’s remarkable European challenge and magnificent cup run, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the Bundesliga’s finest prodigies would be duly snapped up by one of the big boys. It was therefore of the utmost importance that Freiburg replaced such a talent effectively. In Matthias Ginter, it would appear though they have done so.

Perhaps most obviously, this is because of Ginter’s abundant defensive quality and wealth of experience, not to mention his gifted backline versatility. In 2017, after four years at the club, head coach Christian Streich switched predominantly to a back-five, which the Bundesliga coach of the year contender continues to employ on occasions. Ginter has in fact played much of his career as the right-sided centre-back of such a formation. Having this season played that exact role for Gladbach, as well as having executed the role at international level with similarly commanding precision, Ginter gives coach Streich the enticing option of deploying a back-five. Whether Ginter is able to imitate quite how good Schlotterbeck has been this season for Freiburg remains to be seen and is perhaps questionable, though his ability and experience more than suggests that he’s incredibly well-suited to slotting right into latter’s vacant position.

However, despite Freiburg’s increased utilisation of the back-five in seasons gone by, Streich has predominantly opted for the back-four this campaign. Whilst it’s fairly common now for centre-backs to be able to smoothly transition between the two, Ginter is indisputably one of such players, able to play as one of a centre-back pairing with relatively indistinguishable accuracy. Ginter’s tenacious marshalling of the backline, his aerial prowess, excellent passing range, and comfort on the ball, all clearly elucidates his ability to command this Freiburg defence. Although not an illustrious tackler in the traditional sense, Ginter is an effective reader of the game, and will be able to link up well with his Freiburg team-mates, both across the defensive line, and forward into the midfield.

Ginter’s affection and commitment towards a hometown return certainly cannot be refuted, particularly as he has actively chosen his homecoming over offers from some of Europe’s most lucrative clubs such as Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. “I wanted to do something special in my career, and there’s nothing more meaningful to me than a return to SC Freiburg and to my home,” said Ginter as soon as the transfer was announced, highlighting the romanticism around such a move. The opportunity to play under his old coach Streich, to be part of a team and club well and truly on the up, as well as returning to the familiarity of home in a beautiful part of Germany, why wouldn’t he actively seek such an opportunity? Ginter will perhaps be relieved of the difficulties of the settling in process that would usually befuddle newly-signed players, as he’s joining an environment that is in no way unfamiliar.

But nothing in football is guaranteed, and no transfer is guaranteed to work out. Whilst there always exists the possibility that a player will struggle at their new club, Ginter’s move logically appears a sensible one for both parties. A season as good as this current one will perhaps be nigh-on impossible for Freiburg to replicate, particularly if they are playing European football next season, but with Ginter joining the ranks, they are certainly giving themselves the best chance to do so.

James Westmacott

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