Dortmund's Durm left in the spotlight
In a final Germany squad that has been discussed less than the worrying injuries and the less-than-stellar preparation for the World Cup, Borussia Dortmund left-back Erik Durm certainly is the most surprising name on Joachim Loew's 23-man list.
Durm, 22, won his first cap for Germany on Sunday against Cameroon, but already has every right to think that he will be in the starting XI against Portugal on June 16. The Dortmund star is the only left-back in Loew's squad -- although of course Philipp Lahm can play there -- yet he was only turned into a full-back in the summer of 2013.
As a 19-year old, Durm played his first full season for FSV Mainz 05 in the reserve team and, as an attacker, the Germany under-20 international scored 13 goals in 33 games. But, instead of signing a professional contract at Mainz, he opted to join Dortmund's reserve team, who were trailing the promotion spots in the fourth German tier by 14 points when Durm put pen to paper on February 1, 2012.
"Erik is a fast player with a lot of stamina, he is dangerous in front of the goal and has an extraordinary mentality. He is an attacker in whom he we see a lot of development," BVB youth coordinator Lars Ricken said in the official press release announcing his signing. By the end of the season, Dortmund -- following a stunning end to their campaign -- finished on top of their regional division and won promotion to Bundesliga III. In his first year for Dortmund's reserves, Durm made 28 appearances: first as striker and then in midfield. He scored two goals, failing to live up to expections.
However, in November 2012, Dortmund defender Marcel Schmelzer came under fire from Germany coach Joachim Loew, who bemoaned the state of the national team's left-backs. "We don't have a lot of options -- thus we have to continue to work with him," he said about Schmelzer, and added he "could not carve out players" for the position.
"[Dortmund coach] Juergen Klopp took me aside, and asked me whether I could see myself playing at left or right-back in the future," Durm told Ruhr Nachrichten about a day in the spring of 2013. "When a coach like Klopp offers you a vision, you don't consider for too long."
Klopp was looking for a full-back who could cover for Lukasz Piszczek, as the Poland international was set for a hip surgery that would rule him out for nearly half a year. And, while Dortmund bought the Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, Klopp at least wanted some competition for the full-back positions.
"The coach told me that stamina and speed are very important in that position," Durm later said in another interview with local paper Ruhr Nachrichten. And so the attacker, then aged 21, was invited to the first-team's summer training camp in 2013. He worked hard, and impressed. Then, on the first day of the new season, Durm made his debut for BVB when he was brought on for Robert Lewandowski three minutes from time.
A few weeks later, the youngster prolonged his contract at Dortmund until 2017. This time, the official press release spoke of the former FSV Mainz attacker as a "right-back." And instead of Lars Ricken it was now sporting director Michael Zorc's job to praise the player, saying: "Erik is a very talented young professional, who has once again shown that at Borussia Dortmund players can work their way into the first-team by great performances for the second team."
That summer, Dortmund spent a lot of money in the transfer market to bring in the likes of Sokratis, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but lost out on the highly talented Bochum midfielder Leon Goretzka, who opted for big rivals Schalke and cited first team opportunities as one of the reasons for his decision. The club, who had developed many talents under Klopp, all of a sudden appeared to no longer be regarded as a stepping stone for young talent.
But Durm grabbed his first chance with both hands. He started his first Bundesliga match on September 21 -- playing right-back in Dortmund's 1-1 draw at Nuernberg. Ten days later, with left-back Marcel Schmelzer injured, he started his first Champions League game against Olympique Marseille on the other side of defence, and provided a crucial assist for Robert Lewandowski, who opened the scoring in the 3-0 win.
Yet every time Germany international Schmelzer returned from one of his many minor injuries, Durm was placed on the bench again. In the Champions League quarterfinal against Real Madrid he was given another chance: but, three minutes into the first leg, Karim Benzema nicked the ball off him and Gareth Bale scored. Los Blancos won 3-0 on the night, and in the return leg, Dortmund were clear-cut outsiders. A gritty performance from the German side, Durm included, saw BVB nearly destroy Real's dream of winning La Decima, but it wasn't to be. Then when Schmelzer returned from injury, Durm was benched again, and did not play in the German Cup final defeat to Bayern.
Still his rapid rise, and especially his performances at the Westfalenstadion, were enough to convince Germany coach Loew that he was worth looking at. He called him up for the pre-World Cup training camp, alongside Schmelzer as the only other option at left-back, and while Durm trained hard, Schmelzer was limited to individual training with a knee injury.
In the end Loew went for Durm, taking something of a gamble to place the left-back role in such young hands. But it's not a concern for him teammates though, as Germany and BVB keeper Roman Weidenfeller said: "Erik has experienced more in one year than others in 30."
Following his first cap against Cameroon, Durm admitted: "I'd never have made it here as an attacking player." Now, he gets the chance to show his country why he should be considered the first-choice left-back for years to come.