Paddy Davitt: Christoph Zimmermann is the real deal
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This eulogy from Daniel Farke on what Norwich City fans could expect from new signing Christoph Zimmermann has aged well.
Filter what you know now about the Canaries’ impressive captain through what you still had to discover, when an unheralded German fourth tier defender walked through the same door as Farke from Borussia Dortmund, back in the summer of 2017.
“When I give him tactical instruction he always gets used to it quickly and acts in the right way,” said Farke, after Zimmermann’s arrival.
“At Dortmund he was able to get the group together and build a team spirit. I know we’ve got a really brilliant character with him.
“Christoph knows he’s not in pole position when he comes here, and he knows there are things he needs to improve.
“But he’s a good fit for the squad, he’s still young and is a brilliant character, and has the skills to learn quickly.”
Zimmermann is no longer just the able deputy.
He is front and centre of a thrilling Championship promotion push. His Carrow Road timeline has been a series of peaks.
Each one a new challenge, each one successfully scaled. Given his unassuming character it is the journey of a man who knew he had to get better and who has a voracious work ethic to reach his full potential.
Since the 3-1 home league win against Birmingham City on January 18 this year, Zimmermann has also been entrusted with the captaincy.
A leader of men through thought and deed, perhaps, rather than verbal encouragement; albeit there were plenty of television close ups at Middlesbrough of the 26-year-old imploring team mates for more effort.
Which perhaps underscores he is comfortable in a leadership role Farke clearly identified at Dortmund.
Norwich have lost just one game in Zimmermann’s league captaincy era. That Preston loss sticks out because it is an anomaly in a torrent of consecutive victories propelling the defender and his team mates to the Premier League.
It was also a night when Zimmermann relinquished the captaincy to Alex Tettey.
Speak to him off the pitch and the polite, respectful manner jars a touch with the physically imposing athlete wrapped inside 6ft 4in of muscle that towers over you.
Sir Ian McGeechan famously appointed Martin Johnson to captain the Lions on their winning 1997 rugby union tour of South Africa because he wanted an imposing presence at the head of the line: ‘If I was a player going on to the field in South Africa, I’d want to follow this bloke.’
When Norwich and Championship opponents gather in the tunnel you suspect something similar may be in play.
Tim Krul and the rest stood in his shadow know they are being led into battle by a man who will give everything for the cause.
Perhaps too literally on occasion, if you cast your mind back to that grounded headed tackle at Wolves last season that put any thought of personal safety to one side, as he attempted to deny Morgan Gibbs-White a shooting chance inside his own penalty area.
That hooked goal-saving clearance in the north-east last Saturday was more conventional but no less precious. Or illuminating. Zimmermann sensed danger, as the ball arced towards Stewart Downing, and was in position when the ball bounced towards his goal to launch himself mid-air with a perfectly-timed intervention. It preserved a win that in the context of a push for promotion may well prove defining.
There have been other eye-catching cameos since pulling that armband onto his strapping biceps.
A stunning header at Millwall, crashed home in front of the packed away end. The emotional reaction at the final whistle at what the goal meant to him and his family. The raking pass for Teemu Pukki to seal a rout at Bolton.
But we know enough about Zimmermann to suggest he would dismiss such a focus on his individual contribution.
There was even a modest, self-effacing desire to leave the limelight to Onel Hernandez when he received the television broadcaster’s man-of-the-match award at Middlesbrough.
Zimmermann is the glue that binds on this run in.
He is not about the headlines, he is about hauling his team over the line.
Farke was moved to label his compatriot ‘fantastic’ on Saturday evening, when pushed for a reaction to his latest knock. Captain fantastic.