When the 2016/17 campaign draws to a close next month, it will mark the end of an era for Bayern Munich. Captain Philipp Lahm, a player synonymous with the club’s success over the last decade, will retire from the game, as will Spanish playmaker Xabi Alonso.
Alonso has not been at the Allianz Arena for as long as Lahm, having only joined the Bavarian giants from Real Madrid as a 32-year-old in 2014. Nevertheless, his composure, technical mastery and supreme intelligence have formed the bedrock of what will surely be three successive Bundesliga titles and yearly strong showings in the Champions League.
Replacing a player of Alonso’s calibre would ordinarily be an expensive venture for any elite club, with a significant transfer splurge almost certainly required. But Bayern need not look beyond the walls of their Säbener Strasse training complex to find a man steadily developing into a star of the European game, with all the tools needed to fill the void that the outgoing World Cup winner will leave behind.
Joshua Kimmich, a €7 million signing from RB Leipzig almost two years ago, is one of the brightest young prospects on the continent, and has a diverse and still-expanding arsenal which could allow him to assume the role of Bayern’s midfield orchestrator.
There is a theory currently being espoused in Germany that, having slotted comfortably into the right-back slot for Joachim Löw’s national side, Kimmich will fill the vacancy that Lahm is due to create on the right-hand side of the Bayern backline. But despite spending much of last season in defence under Pep Guardiola, the 22-year-old is a natural midfielder.
Blessed with a wonderful passing range as well as the clean technique required to conduct play from a central area, Kimmich has already proved capable of holding his own in a midfield which contains such top-level talents as Arturo Vidal and Thiago Alcântara.
The youngster’s most valuable asset is his intelligence. Perceiving the game on a level usually reserved for players a decade or more his senior, Kimmich possesses the anticipation and understanding to adapt to various roles, having featured at centre-back, right-back and in an array of midfield positions during his two seasons in Bavaria.
Following his fine performance in the heart of defence against rivals Borussia Dortmund last May, Guardiola was effusive in his praise of the versatile young star. “He's got everything," the now-Manchester City boss said. "He can do everything and he gives everything. He's capable of defending against any player in the world.”
Kimmich’s attitude and adaptability impressed the Catalan so much that he has reportedly identified the German as a transfer target at the Etihad. Bayern will surely refuse any offer.
Indeed, current Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti point-blank ruled out the possibility of Kimmich departing the Allianz Arena last month. “There is no possibility of Joshua Kimmich leaving this club,” the Italian said. “He stays here. He is important for us now and in the future.”
Ancelotti, too, will have been struck by Kimmich’s ability to turn his hand to seemingly any task. The former Chelsea boss has returned the ex-Stuttgart youngster to a midfield berth this term, albeit in a much more attacking role than his more natural deep-lying position. Kimmich has responded brilliantly, netting eight goals in 11 games in the first half of the campaign.
Kimmich should be wary of becoming known as a jack of all trades, though. Versatility can be a both a gift and a curse for a young player: although it can allow them more game time than they perhaps would otherwise have received, their development can be stunted as a result of never being able to master the finer points of the craft.
In that regard, Alonso’s departure could be timely for Kimmich. The German’s 87.9 per cent pass accuracy is comparable to the Spaniard’s 88.4 per cent this term, while his 1.8 key passes per 90 minutes is only a shade shy of the former Liverpool star’s average of two – all going to show that the younger man has the raw materials to assume the central midfield mantle.
There is one aspect of Alonso’s role that Kimmich would have to grow into, though. Shielding the back four while also acting as a filter through which all of the side’s attacking moves are funnelled brings with it an added responsibility, and the Germany international would have to step up to the task.
However, Kimmich is currently making 80.3 passes per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga, a figure which is identical to Alonso’s average. This shows that the 22-year-old is not afraid to get on the ball and showcase his ability; such a level of self-assuredness is a pre-requisite of any player with elite-level playmaking aspirations.
To most players of his age and relative inexperience, the task of replacing a world-class conductor such as Alonso would be a daunting one, but the youngster’s maturity and quiet confidence has put him ahead of the development curve. Kimmich is ready.