While Bertie Vogts’ time in charge of Scotland can only be described as a failure, he continues to exert influence in the German game.

When asked by new national coach Jurgen Klinsmann how he rated Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, Vogts was full of praise for the 22-year-old’s energy, commitment and left foot. The latter is an instrument for both precision passing and thunderbolt shooting and is the reason he is nicknamed ‘Der Hammer’.

Klinsmann duly gave the youngster his senior debut in the 2-0 friendly win away to Iran in October, and his performance suggested he may be the answer to the Germans’ long-term problem area, left midfield. The coach was certainly impressed, saying: “I was struck by his lack of fear and willingness to learn. He likes to play at a high tempo and is strong.”

Hitzlsperger, brought up on his parents’ farm in the hamlet of Forstinning south of Munich, showed his footballing ability at a very early age, joining Bayern Munich’s schoolboy section at seven.

He was invited to Villa for a trial after catching the eye during an Under-18 international and performed so ably that he was immediately offered a contract. A spell in the reserves and a loan move to lower division Chesterfield gave him a grounding in the English game and by the start of the 2002-03 season he was entrenched in the Villa first team.

Hitzlsperger has spoken about returning to Germany, and with his contract running out next June and no sign of a new one being negotiated, Bundesliga clubs are jostling to take him on a free. If Villa want to keep hold of him, they will have to act – and fast.

This profile originally apppeared in the December 2004 issue of World Soccer