Since the professionalization of football, the players that are linked to the most dominant part of the field have carved out a niche for themselves in the importance and transcendence of their team: the midfielders.
It was not until 1880 when the inverted pyramid (2-3-5) was born at the University of Cambridge, the first tactical system properly named in the history of football, a module that brought with it an important change with respect to the organization of the players.
Before, football consisted solely of attacking; that was the sole premise. Overwhelm the opponent’s goal.
But with the evolution of the tactical strategy and the different styles of play, the teams began to understand that organization and discipline had to be prioritized. So they decided to do without the use of so many forwards to start filling the midfield and the defense.
There, the pyramid, which at that time conceived all possible football of the time, embedded a novel figure, that of the center-half or midfielder; a player who moved in the center circle between his neighbors (the wing-backs, the defenders and the attacking players.
As the midfielder position came from having dropped one of the attackers to the center of the pitch, in those times the place was occupied by the superstars of yesteryear.
The centrojás, as he was known in the southern cone of America, was a player who had functions in attack and defense, and his job was to organized both parts of the team to manage the offensive flow and keep the block solid when it came to recovering the ball. That is, he had to excel in both facets of the game.
This position, which has mutated so much throughout the more than 100 years of football history — perhaps the one that has changed the most — has found in Joshua Kimmich an heir to everything previously mentioned. Kimmich is just that, a star who plays in central midfield.
Kimmich is a player who has been used in countless positions on the field of play and who has developed endless responsibilities, which has made him a kind of multipurpose tool. This makes him special, because his game has no labels — he executes and realizes what should be done at the right time.
For this reason, when Pep Guardiola discovered him a little over five years ago as a teenager playing at RB Leipzig, he welcomed him among his protégés. It was Pep himself who recommended the signing of Kimmich and also who defined him as “his son” on some occasions.
This leads us to understand that iconic image after a ‘Der Klassiker’. The manager from Santpedor approached the midfielder in a very energetic way to question why he had not followed his instructions — but also to congratulate him:
“You were fucking sensational. You’re the best Josh, you’re the best. I’m very proud of you. You played sensational, Josh. You’re good – very good. I told you that you could do it, I told you.”
It was a paternal bond that would define the evolution of the player. Whether it was from defense as a center back, or starting on the wing as a winger, Joshua has never let his coaches down when it comes to responding to the demands they make of him.
Kimmich is a midfielder, that is his position, no? No. Kimmich is a great footballer, because pigeonholing him into a fixed location on the field would diminish all his great virtues. Although it is from the midfield position where he has found an ideal place for his football to impact at all areas at Bayern.
It was first with Niko Kovac and finally with Hansi Flick where the German has exploited his full potential, being the driving force of the entire organization of his team and managing to impose himself as a midfield controller from the center of the pitch.
There, Bayern has grown under his silhouette, which has made him the best in the world in that position. If we had to describe his game, we must speak in technological terms.
Kimmich is a processor that defines when and how.
From there, he executes from his superb foot, sending passes and tracing changes of orientation that very rarely see their trajectory interrupted.
With the left or right leg, he doesn’t care, his precision is elite. If we talk about what he is capable of doing on a sensory level, we would be referring to a player who, practically alone, leads an entire team.
Rarely has such superiority been seen. The German midfielder achieves this through his brilliant placement. “Guardiola showed me spaces that did not exist for me,” he said in an interview for ‘El País’. Once again, he was describing that close father-son relationship that he has with Pep, which in the end has marked him as a player.
And it is precisely that, he always finds the right space and the ideal position. Through it, he helps his teammates when the opposition presses, positioning himself where he knows he will gain some advantage, masterfully controlling a place that gives him time, and releasing the ball to give continuity to the play.
It’s as if his football had invisible threads scattered all over the pitch and these threads connected him to the other 10 members of his team; a network similar to the one in the movie ‘Avatar’ between Eywa and the Na’vi through which they communicated.
Without the ball, Kimmich is a prodigy who anticipates like few others and fights like no other. We see it in his enraged character when he wins last-ditch tackles or when he scores impossible goals from sky-high distances with his amazing strike.
Kimmich is a titan when it comes to defending and offending. He doesn’t care if he’s a few centimeters shorter than other giants, if he has to recover possession, he goes into the physical duel with no other option but to come out on top.
He does it with his powerful lower body, with which he is also capable of protecting the ball. And although his technique is not the most aesthetically pleasing he always finds the route to get out of pressure — he rarely loses the ball and knows in which areas he should not lose it.
His peers respect him because they know that when he plays, he is able to draw and telegraph what his mind wants. As Arrigo Sacchi once said, “Football is played with the head rather than with the feet.” Kimmich is a reflection of his phrase.
With Nagelsmann at the helm, Kimmich’s game hasn’t changed much, or at least, it hasn’t for a while now. The young coach likes to play with three center backs, so there is no need for him to drop down between the defenders. And just as it was with his predecessor, his role remains that of a pilot through which the Bayern’s possession operates.
If the ball does not pass through Kimmich’s feet, Bayern does not flow the same; their actions go from superlative to normal. Being a team that has a powerful attack, the importance of the former Stuttgart player cannot be understated.
In attack, Bayern are strong and solid, almost insurmountable, dangerous, robust and with few flaws. Its defense is the opposite, it is fragile and flimsy, easy to crack, it breaks at the slightest threat.
Through the middle, there is only one piece, the only vertebrae of the column that unites the whole, there is Joshua, as the only link by which the Germans hold in the middle.
In modern football’s attack-heavy structure, teams often throw the largest number of players forward. It is the same for the Bavarians who are sometimes seen with up to six attackers near the opponent’s box. Regardless of whether or not Kimmich is accompanied by a midfielder on paper, in practice he stands alone.
What at first may seem like an annoyance, he transforms it into an absurd and absolute domain of what he wants Bayern to be.
If he wants his teammates to accelerate or pause, attack from the left, right or center, he decides at his discretion, since he alone rules the midfield. He doesn’t mind loneliness, he has turned it into his best weapon and transcends it to a level that few footballers in history have achieved.
A player who collects the genetic code of the midfielder since football’s primitive days and whose work honors all the greats who passed through said demarcation. Joshua Kimmich is the beginning and the end of the plays, he is excellence rolled into a singular midfielder, he is a journey through time.
By: Jaime Alvarado / @jaimej_0295
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images