25-year-old right back Benno Schmitz's road to realize his potential has been somewhat of a bumpy one. A recent form surge suggests he's finally coming into his own.
|Benno Schmitz.||Photo: GEPA Pictures/Sebastian El Saqqa/firosportphoto/POOL via Picture Point|
When the Geißböcke of 1. FC Köln found themselves stumbling somewhat in their first season back in the German top-flight, the club’s board opted to sack manager Achim Beierlorzer at the conclusion of the 2019/20 campaign’s 11th round. At that juncture, the newly-promoted side sat in 17th place with a paltry seven points and minus 13 goal differential.
The turnaround orchestrated by new trainer Markus Gisdol won many plaudits in German footballing circles. The most prominent change under his stewardship featured an immediate dive into the organization’s youth ranks for a nimble restructuring of the staring XI.
Twenty-year-old Ismail Jakobs, 19-year-old Noah Katterbach, and 18-year-old Jan Thielmann were all called forth from the academy and utilized their chances admirably. Gisdol, a former TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Hamburger SV manager, also demonstrated a keen eye for talent in his first January transfer window. Elvis Rexbecaj (from VfL Wolfsburg), Toni Leistner (from QPR), and home-town striker Mark Uth (from Schalke 04), all played important roles in seeing the club well out of the relegation area long before the season concluded.
Reports out of Köln’s training camp now suggest Gisdol is prepared to give a long-overdue chance to something of a late bloomer. Just when it appeared that 25-year-old Benno Schmitz might never breakthrough for the club, German footballing magazine Kicker reports that the former RB Leipzig prodigy has had a very successful camp, beating out Jonas Hector and Kingsley Ehizibue for the starting right fullback position.
Signed from Leipzig two seasons ago, Schmitz was explicitly meant to be the starting right fullback, enabling German national team veteran Hector to move into midfield. Poor form, however, limited him to 14 starts in his first year in the cathedral city. Most of these starts weren’t even at his intended position Given that the team was playing in the second division at that time, this rendered him somewhat of a bust.
Schmitz mostly remaining behind Ehizibue on the depth chart last year. He managed one more start in his second year with the carnival club. Form when he did take the pitch can be described as well below average. Kicker accords him average marks of 4,10 for 15 starts and 18 overall appearances.
An exceptionally strong training camp looks to herald a change in his fortunes. With the exception of one of Köln’s “Test-Spiele”, Schmitz has completed all of the pre-season friendlies. While Ehizibue still exhibits lightning-quick pace, Schmitz appears to be the better tactical fit. The German may be a little less aggressive on physical duels, but has been much more efficient than his Dutch counterpart.
“At the age of 25, I belong to the cohort of older players who have accrued more experience in the professional game,” Schmitz remarked, “For me, it’s about taking on more responsibility and making a bigger statement on the pitch.”