Defender | Stuttgart | Germany
There’s a famous video from 2015 of Stuttgart fans embracing Timo Baumgartl after a horror pass-back that gifted a goal to Marco Reus and a win to Borussia Dortmund, towards the end of a campaign in which relegation had become a daunting possibility. Stuttgart would survive one more year before dropping down to the second division and while such pain was a recurring theme of the defender’s early career, it’s also been the making of him - the bedrock of the progress since.
Although he enjoyed lengthy spells in the first-team previously, relegation saw the youngster quickly emerge as a key cornerstone of a Stuttgart defence that also included future World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard. Since the start of the club’s 2016/17 promotion campaign, Baumgartl has only missed eleven league games - all through injury or suspension - and lasted the full ninety minutes in the rest of them.
Indeed, for a player so young the 22-year-old already has an incredible wealth of experience, and perhaps when combined with those aforementioned heartbreaks, that’s why Baumgartl tends to take a no-nonsense approach to defending. He puts his body where it hurts and while he’s certainly capable of the odd delicate lob over the opposition backline, his protocol is usually to hit Row Z whenever there’s a sniff of danger rather than trying to twist and turn his way out of trouble.
2018 has been…
A mixed bag. Stuttgart finished seventh upon their return to the top flight and Baumgartl played a key part in that, the strong season owing much to the club amassing the second-best goals conceded record in the Bundesliga after champions Bayern Munich.
This season, however, has been a lot tougher. The recurring absence of Holger Badstuber, the most seasoned member of Stuttgart’s defence, has no doubt been a factor, as has the change in management at the southwest club. Stuttgart are now just four goals shy of their entire conceded haul for last season, and Baumgartl was present for a succession of batterings at the hands of Dortmund, Hoffenheim and Frankfurt.
That’s not to say Baumgartl has been part of the problem, though. He’s been amongst the club’s more consistent performers this season, and one of just six players to actually score for them in the Bundesliga. Clearly the Boblingen-born defender needs a little more help.
Inevitably, survival this season as at the very top of the agenda. Another year in the second division won’t to Baumgartl’s development any favours and will probably oblige him to consider a future at a club elsewhere. He’s certainly of top-flight standard.
But the other big question is whether Baumgartl can weave his way into a Germany team that clearly needs an injection of fresh faces. He’s been a regular feature for the U21 side this year, even captaining them against Ireland, but won’t be eligible for much longer.
Becoming a Die Mannschaft mainstay, though, might well require moving to a more stable club - and consistently demonstrating there’s a bit more to his game than headers, blocks and clearances.
C+ - A mixed year but not all circumstances have been within his control