Little over 12 months ago, Holger Badstuber was learning his trade in the German third division, lining up against the likes of Kickers Emden, Wuppertal and Jahn Regensburg – all worthy enough opponents, but hardly what you would call high calibre. Today, he is a member of the Germany squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and has a better-than-evens chance of starting their opening fixture against Australia in Durban on 13 June.
Badstuber was still uncapped when coach Joachim Low named him in his preliminary squad for South Africa. It was a fitting reward for the young defender after an outstanding first professional season with German double winners Bayern Munich. The call-up in early May "did come as a surprise" though the 21-year-old admits: "I was privately hoping it might happen. Now it has happened, and it's terrific."
The lanky Bayern youth product made his senior international debut on 29 May as a 71st-minute substitute in Germany's 3-0 win over Hungary in Budapest. Five days later, he was in the starting line-up for the 3-1 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in their final pre-tournament warm-up match, and turned in an increasingly assured performance at left-back.
Germany coach Low said of the youngster: "He was still a little nervous to begin with, although that's to be expected when you start for the first time. But he rapidly improved and won all his tackles in the second half, so I'm very pleased. He's not easily ruffled and makes very, very few errors. Even in important games, you sense his great composure."
Along with Bayern team-mate Thomas Muller, Badstuber rates as the shooting star of last season in Germany. Low offered a simple explanation for his decision to include the rookie in his squad: "They've both come through a long campaign and delivered consistently high-quality performances. That indicates that the lads have what it takes."
Badstuber swapped the VfB Stuttgart youth section for the Bayern academy at the age of 13, before appearing at every youth level up to the third-division U-23 reserve team in Munich. Reserve coach Hermann Gerland oversaw the player's development into a solid young pro and his elevation to the Bayern senior squad for the 2009/10 campaign followed almost as a matter of course.
Tracing his progress, the left-footed player recalls how he started out in midfield but "moved further and further back as time went by". His favoured position now is centre-back. "It has a lot to do with your physical development. I kept getting taller, so I don't think I'll end up as a pacy winger," he added.
That said, Badstuber spent long spells of last term at left-back, the position he filled for Germany against the Bosnians, and even played in the third division as a holding midfielder. It is precisely this versatility which earned him a place in Low's squad. With Schalke defender Heiko Westermann ruled out of South Africa a couple of weeks ago with injury, the door may yet open to a place in Low’s starting line-up. "I'm very comfortable at left-back now, I know what to do in the position. I reckon I’m best at centre-half. But it's the coach's decision, I'll play where I'm needed."
Strong in the air and a remarkably good passer of the ball, the 21-year-old claims not to have one particular idol or role model. "There are some great defenders out there, and you can watch and learn from them all the time. I work out their strengths and create my perfect player, if you like." His goal is to become "a really good defender" in the mould of a John Terry, Nemanja Vidic or Lucio. "I’ve set myself ambitious targets, and my aim is to hit them at some point." The FIFA World Cup promises to provide the next step on that journey.
Badstuber played alongside both Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos in the Bayern U-19 team which won the German youth championship in 2007.
Holger’s main leisure pursuits are watching football, and playing football-based console games.
Badstuber declined to take part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009 in order not to endanger his first-team prospects at Bayern.
In his first season with the seniors, Badstuber appeared in 49 of Bayern Munich's 53 matches.