Never was the term ‘overnight sensation’ more applicable than in the case of 23-year-old Hertha Berlin defender Arne Friedrich. Having played just two Bundesliga games, he won his first cap forGermany in August, making him the player with the least top-flight experience ever to appear for the Nationalmannschaft.
On signing for Hertha in the summer from promoted Arminia Bielefeld, the former Under-21 international had been widely expected to start on the bench. But with first-choice defenders such as Marko Rehmer and Dick Van Burik sidelined through injury, coach Huub Stevens turned to Friedrich to fill the vacant berth on the right side of his team’s three-man rearguard.
He would have no cause to regret the youngster’s inclusion. In both the German League Cup (which Hertha won) and the first two Bundesliga games (against Dortmund and Stuttgart) Friedrich cut a most impressive figure, faultless as a marker and even finding time to score in the 1-1 draw with Stuttgart.
Meanwhile, injuries to Jens Nowotny, Christian Worns and Frank Baumann, plus the international retirement of Thomas Linke, had left the Nationalmannschaft seriously short of defensive options. Despite the fact that Friedrich had completed only 180 minutes in the Bundesliga, national coach Rudi Voller had no hesitation in selecting him for the friendly with Bulgaria in Sofia.
His choice would be totally vindicated. After coming on as a second-half substitute, Friedrich was his usual cool and combative self, further enhancing his reputation by firing in a long-range drive that Carsten Jancker deflected home to earn Germany a 2-2 draw.
‘I was completely surprised to be picked,’ said Friedrich. ‘My only thought this season was to establish myself for Hertha. Now I have to maintain myself at Rudi Voller’s high level, and it will not be easy to become a regular for Germany. That’s some way off.’
Friedrich is right to remain level-headed. During his first start for Germany, the Euro 2004 qualifier against the Faroe Islands in Hannover, he headed an own goal in his country’s less-than-convincing 2-1 victory, and at times he looked what he is – an international novice. But Friedrich will be back, and there is no little faith in his ability among those at Hertha.
‘There is so much more to come from him,’ says general manager Dieter Hoeness. ‘I don’t have any doubts. He has a perfect attitude. He will not let his sudden fame go to his head.’
Club Hertha Berlin
Born May 29, 1979, in Bad Oeynhausen
Previous clubs FC Bad Oeynhausen, TuS Lohe, SC Herford, FC Gutersloh, SC Verl, Arminia Bielefeld
International debut August 2002, v Bulgaria
International caps 3 (0 goals)