The 21-year-old defender Holger Badstuber has pushed aside far more experienced players at Bayern Munich and in the German national team. But he'll need to improve to cement his status.
Badstuber can be confident of Joachim Loew's support
As rises go, Holger Badstuber's was pretty meteoric. In the space of nine months, he went from Bayern's reserve squad to the starting 11 and earned a call-up to the Nationalelf as well.
"You hardly have time to ponder it or review the situation," Badstuber told Deutsche Welle. "Life happens so quickly, and new challenges come."
But he faces a very different challenge this season compared to the last: trying to prove that his breakthrough was no fluke.
The young defender played in all but one of Bayern's Bundesliga matches last season and was a fixture in campaign that saw them reach the final of the Champions League. He also began the 2010 World Cup in Germany's starting line-up, but was benched after his performance in Germany's group-stage loss to Serbia.
Nonetheless, Germany coach Joachim Loew promised to give him another chance.
"Footballers like him are a rarity in Germany," Loew said during the tournament. "We're going to need him, and I'm not going to drop him."
Loew proved as good as his word, starting Badstuber ahead of veteran Heiko Westermann in Germany's first Euro 2010 qualifier against Belgium.
The question is: Can the youngster repay that trust?
Badstuber didn't always get to the ball against Belgium
Badstuber drew mixed reviews for his work against the Belgians. On the one hand, Germany kept a clean sheet in that match, winning 1-0. But early on, Badstuber had trouble containing young Belgian striker Romelo Likaku, and his occasional forays into the opponents' half were tentative and unproductive.
Part of the problem may be that he's playing a different position. For both Germany and Bayern, he's moved into central defense from left back.
"A left-footer can play different sorts of balls, passes have a different sort of spin, so I think it's better to have a left-footer than a right-footer on the left side," Badstuber said. "A left-footer can hit passes while at full sprint. The ideal, of course, is to be equally good with both feet, but that's seldom the case."
The move to the middle, however, came at Badstuber's own request. He sees himself as a central defender - and not without reason.
At 1.89 meters, the youngster has the stature to play in the thick of it, while his size is a disadvantage at a position usually occupied by smaller speedsters like Philipp Lahm.
But playing in the middle also means that mistakes usually have more serious consequences, as Badstuber learned in Bayern's last Bundesliga match. An awkward failed clearance led to opponents Kaiserslautern's second goal and sealed the reigning champions' 2-0 upset defeat at the hands of a newly promoted squad.
The 21-year-old Badstuber is extraordinarily mature
To develop further, Badstuber needs the license to make such mistakes, and for both club and country, it looks as if he'll be given that freedom.
His coaches in both the national team and in Munich have praised his remarkable maturity and his understanding of the game.
He's also completely committed to the sport, admitting that one of his favorite hobbies is spending time on his Playstation - playing virtual football. And he's well aware that a career as a professional football involves more than an ordinary job.
"I knew [when I started] that it was going to be a huge challenge," Badstuber said. "An outsider who doesn't have much to do with football might think, 'They go to practice and then they go home.' But It's not like that. Football is a discipline, and you really have to live for it."
And the competition isn't particularly strong at the moment. At Bayern, Badstuber has successfully supplanted the error-prone Martin Demechelis, and in the national team, the future of Arne Friedrich - a 31-year-old defender with a gimpy back - is an open question.
In addition, central defense is usually a position occupied by experienced players, and the fact that Badstuber has put himself into the mix while still so young is a powerful testimony to his talent.
So the smart money is betting that this likeable, gifted youngster will be able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and establish himself as one of Germany's main men in the middle for many years to come.
Holger Badstuber was interviewed for DW-TV's Bundesliga Kick Off, which airs every Monday/Tuesday.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Chuck Penfold