By Ultan Corcoran@UltanCorcoran

Bundesliga End of Season Awards: Freiburg's Player of the Season

In the tightest of poll among any Bundesliga club, Ritsu Dōan picked up the Player of the Season award for SC Freiburg with 3 votes.

It’s a changing of the guard in Breisgau. After 12 and a half years, the legendary manager Christian Streich has stepped down. A man who took SC Freiburg to soaring heights of UEFA Europa League football will be immortalised forever. It was a tricky season for the club from the Black Forest who experienced their joint-lowest finish in 10th place since 2020/21. Defensive injuries did them no favours – key components of the rearguard like Mattias Ginter and Philipp Lienhart missed considerable chunks of the campaign. The loss of Kevin Schade and Woo-Yeong Jeong to Brentford and Stuttgart respectively shortened the player pool.

Stepping up to the mantle in their place was Ritsu Dōan who made the right wing his own. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Japanese wide man. He endured a quite first half of the season with inconsistent minutes, producing just one goal against Bochum and an assist vs Heidenheim before the winter pause. Dōan would miss Matchdays 17 to 20 on international duty, representing Japan at the 18th edition of the Asian Cup in Qatar. Although it didn’t go to plan crashing out in the quarter-finals to Iran, Dōan returned to Breisgau re-energised and refreshed. 

From February 2024, Freiburg’s winger picked up 9 goal returns in 14 games, ending the season with 7 goals and 4 assists. The best return of any Freiburg player in the Bundesliga ruckrunde. His output is all the more impressive when aforementioned injuries forced Streich to shift Dōan back from an attacking right wing role to right midfield. Defensive duties increased for a naturally offensive player, but the 25-year-old delivered in both regards. Tenacious in the tackle, the winger is equally a menace at the opposing end. His close control dribbling coupled with his low centre of gravity at 5’7” presented a handful for his markers all campaign.

STANDOUT PERFORMANCE:

The highlight of Ritsu Dōan’s season came in a 3-0 defeat of Borussia Monchengladbach on Matchday 27. It was a complete 90-minute cameo for the wide man who tucked into right midfield behind Merlin Röhl and supporting Jannik Keitel in defence. Die Breisgauers surged into a 7th-minute lead as Michael Gregoritsch hooked the ball to the net. While Dōan didn’t feature in the move directly, his awareness was clear to see. Intentionally allowing Merlin Röhl’s pass roll through his legs for Maxi Eggestein, it bought the midfielder enough time to find the Austrian striker at the back post. 

Röhl added a second after the break as Streich’s Freiburg started to fire on all cylinders. The catalyst for the move of the match yet to come. Collecting the ball on halfway, Höler fed Röhl who played Eggestein into space. The midfielder fed Dōan on the right side of the box who checked inside his marker Luca Netz. A snazzy backheel pass against the grain of the attack unlocked room for Eggestein who continued his support run. Ritsu Dōan continued his goalward charge, reaping full reward for his hard work when he received the cut back for an open goal tap-in from 5 yards. A passage of play worthy of a second look for its sheer fluidity. 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

With the biggest variety in voting, Freiburg had a further five nominees who came up just short in the polls. Taking over from Mark Flekken the 22-year-old Noah Atubolu picked up 2 votes in a stellar debut season. The Freiburg-born shot-stopper kept the third-most clean sheets with 10 in 34 appearances, with the seventh highest save count of 112. Elsewhere, Merlin Röhl, Vincenzo Grifo, Philipp Lienhart, and Maximilian Eggestein received a vote each. The latter ranked first in the Bundesliga with 347.1 kilometres clocked up.

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