In a lengthy interview with The Guardian last weekend, Joshua Kimmich sat down to talk about his incredible development at Bayern Munich since joining the club back in 2015, when Pep Guardiola was manager. Since moving to Bayern, Kimmich’s career has taken off quickly and he’s become a regular starter at right back for both Bayern and the German national team. Impressively, he’s already recorded 112 appearances, 13 goals, and 20 assists for Bayern across all competitions and has made 27 appearances, scored 3 goals, and provided 12 assists for the German national team across all competitions as well.
The 23-year old was named Germany’s player of the year for 2017 in recognition of his strong performances with Die Mannschaft in the World Cup qualifying campaign as well as their Confederations Cup triumph in Russia. He also recently signed a contract extension with Bayern at the beginning of March, which will keep him at the club until 2023. In addition, Kimmich has admitted that he’s ready to become a leader at the club.
Meeting Pep and jump-starting his Bayern career
Kimmich credits Pep Guardiola with being a massively influential part of his growth as a player and recalled the first time he met the Spaniard after finding out Bayern wanted to sign him:
My heart was beating very fast and it was a very special moment. I asked him: ‘Why me?’ He told me how he sees me, my style of play and what he likes. He had seen situations where I could develop technically and he said there were other positions I can play instead of defensive midfield. He had watched me in the under-19 European Championships and he characterized me very well. He also told me I would get my chance with him.
In his first season with Bayern under Guardiola, Kimmich admitted that Pep helped him visualize spatial awareness, anticipate where his teammates would be, and work on his first touch:
There are many things – but Pep showed me completely new spaces in the field. I improved a lot. He cares about your first touch a lot and that you know what to do even before you get the ball. You have to know where your team-mates are, so he wants you to screen the whole field. Pep would talk to you immediately if he recognized something. He also has this amazing view of football. For every opponent he had the perfect master plan.
Adapting to different positions
Having played under three different managers already since joining Bayern, Kimmich discussed that he had to adapt to each role in different ways depending on where Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti preferred to utilize him. Guardiola most often deputized him as a right back, but Ancelotti felt he was more effective as a defensive midfielder, which put him further down in the pecking order behind some of the more experienced midfielders on the squad. Although it was difficult for Kimmich to adjust his game for different positions, he felt playing as much as he could was vital and kept him hungry to improve, especially because he was backed by a strong support system:
As a young player the most important thing besides having a very good coach is to play a lot because you improve that way. So it was a very hard time for me. Everybody wants to talk with you and help you. But you have to deal with it alone. I know my family and my girlfriend are there for me. It’s important – especially with my girlfriend – that I talk about other things. But I had football on my mind all the time.
Controlling what you can control and not psychoanalyzing what you can’t control, Kimmich revealed, is something that’s come with time, and it’s helped him stay positive:
‘What can I do to play? How do I improve?’ I trained longer and harder. Then I would get home and think: ‘Oh, shit, I have to change something.’ It’s very tough for your mind when it’s three months or longer. Now I think differently because sometimes you don’t have the power and you have to accept it. Maybe it’s good to learn this at a young age but you don’t want to suffer too long.
Shaking off the comparisons to Philipp Lahm
Kimmich’s natural ability to get forward from right back have drawn many comparisons to the great Philipp Lahm, but he’s been quick to play them down. Kimmich wants to be his own type of player, free from the burden of expectation to live up to one of Bayern’s greatest ever defenders. He’s taken a liking to the fact that the comparisons have started to die down a bit:
I always wanted to be me and not a Lahm clone or Lahm the second. Of course Philipp was a great player – even when he had a bad game he was still better than the others. There’s a higher consistency in his performances and you want to match that. But you want to play as your own person. People aren’t making the comparison as much any more and that’s better for me.
As if Kimmich’s quickly growing credentials at Bayern weren’t enough, he’s also begun taking Spanish lessons to try and better communicate with some of the Spanish speakers in the squad:
I have free time and I thought what could I do to improve my mind? It’s hard to study and so a new language was a perfect solution. I’m taking a little break right now but I’ve been learning it for over a year. I can speak a bit with Arturo Vidal and the other Spanish speakers – but it’s far from perfect. Like everything, and football most of all, I can still get much better.
There should be zero doubt in anyone’s mind that this kid is going to go on to be a true leader for Bayern Munich, and he’s got exactly the right attitude; there’s always room for improvement in all aspects both on and off the pitch.