Joshua Kimmich: The Footballing Anomaly Who Brings Order to Bayern Munich

As words to live by go, they don't get more distinctly intense than: 'there must be order'.

Yet nobody who has watched Joshua Kimmich develop into the single-minded administrator of Bayern Munich's midfield would be surprised to learn that Yussuf Poulsen remembers this as the motto of the teenage Kimmich when the two lived together at RB Leipzig.

At the age of 25, Kimmich has mastered the art of carving neatness out of nothingness, begetting space where there was none before and filling any space before it threatens to empty out. Versatile, unwaveringly professional and thoroughly modern, he is a fitting emblem for a Bayern Munich side who are looking to dominate Europe's best over the next few years.

Joshua Kimmich
Kimmich has won five Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich | Boris Streubel/Getty Images

This striking synchronicity between the club and the man makes it all the more surprising that Kimmich was not reared from an early age in the principles of 'Mia San Mia', taking instead a rather more circuitous route to starting as the fulcrum for Germany's biggest club.

The defensive midfielder instead spent his formative years in Baden-Württemberg, part of the same Stuttgart academy which was responsible for the development of Sami Khedira, Mario Gómez,
Antonio Rüdiger and, more recently, two of the Bundesliga's most prominent terrors in Timo Werner and Serge Gnabry.

First-team opportunities were not forthcoming at Stuttgart, with Die Roten preferring Kimmich to play in their Under-19 side despite a clear pathway to regular minutes against professionals with Stuttgart II in the 3. Liga.

It was the intervention of a certain energy drinks branded club which gave Kimmich's career its wings, and changed him from a man whose ethos merely resembled Bayern's to a player who actually turned out for them.

Kimmich joined RB Leipzig in 2013, and by the time he turned 20 had more than 50 professional appearances under his belt, and he was about to be honoured by one of football's most prestigious scouting missions.

Stuttgart had entered a re-purchase option into Kimmich's contract, but they perhaps hadn't counted on one eventuality - Pep Guardiola was turning up to games in the German second-tier with the express purpose of watching the man who had graduated from their academy.

International Friendly - Holland U18 v Germany U18
Kimmich had to progress through the leagues to get to where he is today | VI-Images/Getty Images

When Bayern's rumoured interest developed into something more concrete, Stuttgart's eyes must have filled up with Euro signs. Having repurchased Kimmich for €750,000, they were more than happy to flip a youngster who hadn't so much as set foot at the highest level for €7,000,000 and make a healthy profit.

Alexander Zorniger, Stuttgart's manager at the time, wasn't diplomatic when later judging the club's little bit of cleverness: "Whoever was involved in letting Kimmich leave should be strung up."

Kimmich, meanwhile, was joining Bayern at one of the most interesting points in their history, not only with Guardiola at the helm, but during the curiously eventful autumn years of Philipp Lahm.

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Kimmich had some pretty big shoes to step into at Bayern | TOBIAS SCHWARZ/Getty Images

Lahm probably wouldn't have planned on too many surprises in the final few seasons of his career, but Javier Mascherano, Fernandinho, David Alaba and so many others could tell you that when Pep Guardiola looks at you with a certain glimpse in his eye, you're about to end up learning an unorthodox tactical role. And Lahm was one of his most high-profile victims, going from one of the world's tidiest full backs to one of the world's tidiest defensive midfielders.

If Lahm ever wondered what sort of player he might have been had Guardiola been responsible for his early footballing education, in Kimmich, an inverted mirror image of the World Cup winner, he was literally training alongside him.

As Lahm was ingeniously positioned at the base of Bayern's midfield, the Catalonian manager's chess game saw Kimmich move in the other direction, now tasked with bringing his methodical approach to the defence as a centre-back or right-back, alongside his regular midfield duties.

What was Guardiola saying to Kimmich after the draw against Dortmund?
What was Guardiola saying to Kimmich after the draw against Dortmund? | INA FASSBENDER/Getty Images

It was this positional adjustment, and an infamous dressing down which followed it, which came in a way to define the fundamentally unique nature of Kimmich's talent.

Following a 0-0 Der Klassiker draw with Borussia Dortmund, Guardiola strode on to the pitch, making a beeline for Kimmich and barely looking his other players in the eye as he delivered his usual post-match salutations.

What happened next wasn't altogether clear. If Guardiola is to believed, he was, in his own demonstrative fashion, sharing with Kimmich his belief that he was one of the best centre-backs in the world, but Kimmich himself maintains that Guardiola was simply telling him not to play so deep after he moved into midfield from defence to replace Xabi Alonso late in the game.

Hansi Flick, Joshua Kimmich
Flick has given Kimmich the gift of stability | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

It appeared that Kimmich could forever remain a challenge to coaches - a player whose clear ability to progress the ball was wasted on defence, but whose focus and mania for discipline were more suited to a watchful role in the back four.

It is thus fitting that, for now at least, Kimmich's positional future has been decisively settled by a manager who shares his gift for order in Hansi Flick, whose main achievement in his seven-month spell at Bayern has been making winning look so simple.

"He [Kimmich] was a full-back and we decided to put him in the six position because there he can better use his strengths," Flick explained of his decision to permanently keep Kimmich in midfield alongside Thiago Alcântara.

"He moves a lot, he establishes order, he can attack while also acting as a support to the defence."

Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller
Only Muller is statistically more accomplished at advancing the ball in the final third than Kimmich | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

The key word which provides substance to Flick's reasoning is touch - no player in the top five European leagues has taken more than Kimmich's staggering 3139 this season.

The former Red Bull man is relentlessly clever when it comes to covering ground - better than anyone else in the Bundesliga in fact - and thus where the ball is, so is Kimmich the defender, tucking in when Benjamin Pavard ventures forward making sure that no gap stays unplugged in the middle of the park.

This is where Kimmich the attacker comes in, a metamorphosis facilitated by the studied diligence of his touch.

Roman Buerki
Kimmich's historic chip against Dortmund all but guaranteed Bayern the Bundesliga title | Pool/Getty Images

At the feet of the man who has delivered the second most Passes into Penalty Area (PPA) in the Bundesliga the ball is now awaiting Kimmich's command. His tidy first touch gives him limitless space to take another, before either accurately spreading the play to the flanks or attempting a more adventurous pass through the middle.

It was exactly so, with a slight twist, in Bayern's season-defining goal against Dortmund in May. Here, Kimmich seized on a loose ball with Dortmund trying to break from a corner before Erling Braut Håland had time to react.

After swapping passes with Thomas Müller, Kimmich's first touch gently but forcefully shielded the ball from the attentions of Julian Brandt, his second touch carved open a swathe of space at the edge of the box, and his third, in typical Kimmich fashion, made a moment feel like eternity as the ball sailed over Roman Bürki's head.

Joshua Kimmich
Kimmich has much to prove on the international stage | Boris Streubel/Getty Images

What will frustrate a custodian of footballing control such as Kimmich, is that when it comes to international football he has been unable to stop the moments of disarray which have cost Germany dearly in recent tournaments.

From Germany's high-octane Euro 2016 exit to France, to the national reckoning of 2018, Kimmich, mainly at right-back, has been caught up in a transitional environment too turbulent for even his assertive stamp.

With Bayern and a reborn, frighteningly-quick Mannschaft both poised to prove themselves in the new decade, the outcome of football's near-future rests in Kimmich's unceasingly firm grip.