How fitting that German World Cup revelation Christoph Metzelder should have a lucky charm in the form of afigurine of his boyhood idol – the former Nationalmannschaft star Karl-Heinz Forster. Forster was one of Germany’s best post-war stoppers, winning 81 caps. Judging by 21-year-old Metzelder’s fine defensive performances in South Korea and Japan this summer, a similarly long international career could be his, too.
In normal circumstances, Metzelder, who made his national team debut in August 2001 after only 20 Bundesliga starts for Borussia Dortmund, would not have been on the field in the Far East. But with defensive regulars Jens Nowotny, Christian Worns and Jorg Heinrich ruled out before the tournament and Marko Rehmer struggling with fitness, coach Rudi Voller had no choice but to turn to Metzelder.
The youngster then proved he was up to the mark throughout the competition, accomplished either on the left of a back three or at left-back and defying those who thought he was too raw and too prone to be caught out in one-on-one situations.
It was not solely the brilliance of keeper Oliver Kahn that rendered the German rearguard so watertight and made them surprise World Cup runners-up. The defensive unit of Carsten Ramelow, Thomas Linke and Metzelder was equally outstanding, with the latter deserving special praise for his maturity, pace, combativity and aerial power.
“Christoph was sensational last season as Dortmund won the Bundesliga and he took that form into the World Cup,” says Voller. “He has made a remarkable breakthrough into the national team. He has all the qualities a top-class defender needs. He’s quick, two-footed, strong in the tackle and in the air. We need more players like him in Germany.
“He does lack experience and can give away possession at times. But, above all, there is this great solidity about his defensive game. I don’t think he realises his tremendous potential. He has a fine future.”
No wonder Metzelder admits he has not yet fully come to terms with all he has achieved in his short career. Only two years ago, he was playing in the Third Division for Preussen Munster, but a œ120,000 move to Borussia Dortmund in June 2000 provided him with a vital stepping stone. From there, a combination of talent, drive and good fortune sent him on his way to the very top. The Dortmunder coaches’ original intention was for him to watch and learn from the bench. But injuries to first-team defenders Stefan Reuter and Worns prompted a rethink, and he was thrown in at the deep end at the start of the 2000-01 season. Metzelder performed so competently alongside veteran Jurgen Kohler at the heart of the back line that coach Matthias Sammer simply could not discard him.
Such has been the youngster’s rapid progress over the past two years that Real Madrid were recently rumoured to be preparing a œ13.3million bid for him. However, the Spaniards may find this a hard deal to broker.
“I’m not thinking about a move,” insists Metzelder, a personable, level-headed character who is a church-goer and keen on politics. “I have a contract with Borussia until 2005, and that’s all that counts. I feel very good in Dortmund and I know I owe Borussia an awful lot. I’ve had great teachers in coach Sammer and Jurgen Kohler, who has been a tremendous role model for me.
“Anyway, I’ve still much more to learn. I still need to work on my heading and my tactical appreciation.”
He’s too critical.
Club Borussia Dortmund
Born November 5, 1980, in Haltern
Previous clubs TuS Haltern, Schalke, Preussen Munster
International debut August 2001, v Hungary
International caps 10 (0 goals)
Honours German League 2002