Mats Hummels: A defender's textbook
Every tackle has a story to tell, they say. A peek into the career of one of the most underrated yet decorated defenders in recent times.
This article is incongruous to other articles you may find floating around in the web world, quite simply because this doesn't deal with any of the stars people may usually tend to idolize or seek to learn from in hindsight. What has been dealt with here is something much different from praising the ostentatious, flamboyant style of play one would associate with the modern day icons of the game.This write-up is in no way an encomium for Pogba's braids or Bale's thighs.
On the contrary, this piece is a tribute to steely nerves, selfless sacrifices and an iron resolve, which ironically the bards run out of tools to eulogize. Mats Hummels' career is a fitting pointer to the fact that you needn't be born with golden feet or superhuman powers to make it big in the game.
A peek into his style further stresses on his emphasis on keeping things simple and dealing pressure with a clear and open mind. The man is all about being in the right place at the right time and once that small part called attention to detail has been checked, a simple ounce of self-belief to trust your instincts would ensure that you are doing the right thing at the right time as well. With that virtue called experience adding to your repertoire, it is seldom that your instinct and common sense don't become one and the same. And that doesn't come around very often.
The German beast is one of the best ball-playing defenders on the planet, and this cements his place in a German national team that is driven by a possession-oriented system. Apart from this, there is an air of reassurance and confidence backed stability that he brings to the side. His constant demand for the ball has helped in cutting some slack off his compatriots.
It is very rare that teams nowadays look to build-up game-plays from the back, with most teams opting to ward off the threat from the pressing forwards by clearing the ball out of play. But Hummels (and naturally whichever team he is playing for) has switched several gears ahead in this regard, with his proclivity making him go for one-twos with the defence he is leading.
We see his technical prowess thrive in the most oppressing situations, with the man gracefully dribbling past the opposition forwards and passing the ball into the midfield like any world-class midfielder. For a player of his level shouldering the hopes of millions, it is much easier said than done.
Like all modern defenders, Hummels can physically ruffle the strongest of forwards in the air but it is his ability to moonlight into roles that one may least anticipate him in that has come good more than once for his nation. His header from inside the opposition box was the difference between the sides when Germany narrowly got past France in the quarters of the 2014 World Cup. Hummels has forever shown the urge to take part in link-up plays and has always been in the thick of things for set pieces, be it from his half or the other side of it.
One mustn't forget that all these accolades have also come along with a fair share of criticism. He was labelled as an upstart and was widely criticised for his adventurous ventures into the midfield during counterattacks, leaving his post unattended thereby compromising with the team's defensive solidity and organization.
His heroic performance at Euro 2012 was rather cruelly forgotten owing to a defensive lapse that resulted in an Italian goal and the Germans losing in the semis, casting a dark shadow on his emerging career. But the fact that the man has used these as leaping pads to become the dominant voice that he is now, both for club and country speaks volumes about his nerve and character.
He was conveniently blamed for being slow on reacting to counters but has convincingly retorted to these slurs with stellar performances against Aubameyang, Ronaldo and Werner, among the fastest in the world. When compared with the best his numbers continue to shine. With a single red card over his entire Bundesliga career and none for his country, he puts the records of compatriots like Pique and Ramos to shame.
He has been a leader throughout his career, his exploits at Dortmund well worthy of mention. With comparisons actively being drawn between him and Beckenbauer, the time is not far before we see him leading Die Mannschaft. The juggernaut continues to roll on and the book continues to add more chapters to its pages!