Once a wannabe cop and psychology student, Robin Gosens has become Germany’s unusual savior

Almost ten minutes into Germany’s chaotic encounter with Portugal on Saturday, Robin Gosens had his moment of schadenfreude. Cristiano Ronaldo had stabbed through a maze of defenders and was about to fire the ball towards goal. But Ronaldo ended up wiping the blade of grass, as Gosens appeared out of nowhere and stole the ball from his boot with the slightest tackle, without even brushing the Portuguese’s right boot. He turned around, frowned, and punched the air in gleeful rage.

It was only last year that Ronaldo refused to swap shirts with him or even acknowledge him after a fiery duel between Juventus and Atalanta. “I was injured. I cried,” he said later. Gosens’ night only got better as he scored a lavish goal, saw a spectacular karate goal ruled out because one of his team-mates was slightly offside and scored two more goals to lead Germany to a 4-2 win over Portugal.The next day a German newspaper cried: ‘We have found our saviour.’

The 26-year-old winger is an unseemly saviour. He wanted to be a policeman, but was turned down because his legs were a different height; he never enrolled in a professional club’s youth academy as he was too busy preparing for psychology exams; until a Dutch club scout, Vitesse, bumped into him, he had never attended a top club tryout; and to sum up his contrarian journey to the national team, he never played professionally in Germany.

Germany’s Robin Gosens celebrates his fourth goal with Mats Hummels. (REUTERS/Matthias Hangst)

He does not correspond to the archetype of the German hero, the macabre and indefatigable leader who imposes his personality on the game and on the men who surround him. Like Olivier Kahn or Bastian Schweinsteiger, or if you go back further Lothar Matthaus or Franz Beckenbauer. He’s softer and quieter and wouldn’t command attention unless he has the ball at his feet and is streaking across the left flank like a trail of fire.

His emergence could not have come at a better time for Joachim Loew – the World Cup-winning coach who is now in the vortex of criticism, facing endless derision for Germany’s steep decline after the golden hour in Rio. Gosens was the player Loew frantically sought for most of his 15 years in charge of the national team. A full-back who plays, a role that most German managers make a business of. Look no further than Liverpool’s Juergen Klopp. Or those in the Bundesliga like Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich, Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig and Dortmund’s Edin Terzić. But while clubs could buy any player they wanted, a country could not.

Then came Gosens, whose inclusion for the first time last year was seen as an emblem of the talent shortage and sterility of Loew’s favorite (and maligned) 3-4-3 formation with a full-back and intense man-marking in midfield. The arrival of Gosens allowed them to turn the form into an ultra-aggressive 3-2-5 in attack. Gosens and Joshua Kimmich, waltzing in the wings and picking up the pace, disturb the most economical defenses. Portugal’s solid defense was torn to shreds by Gosens and Kimmich. France also had some scary times, but for Germany’s fortunes and lack of finesse at the start.

The defensive aptitude of the full-backs gives Germany additional lethal aggression equipment. In all-out attack mode, as they were against Portugal, they sometimes formed something of a 1-4-5 with the two wide centre-backs, Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter, widening wide to become almost full-backs.

Once in the opponent’s area, Gosens turns into a spirited attacker. Touch, vision and passing range had compared him to Dani Alves on the right flank. Gosens’ goal came at the end of a 19 passing streak that involved a lot of complex passing patterns like the climax tiki-taka. But the moment he enjoyed the most was snatching the ball from Ronaldo’s feet. And this time, he didn’t care to ask for his jersey. He already had his moment of schadenfreude.

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