City report card: The painful truth about Zimbo
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Christoph Zimmermann was a huge miss for City in a Premier League season that exposed glaring defensive vulnerability. In the latest of our report card series, Paddy Davitt focuses on a player who deserves a slice of luck with injuries.
Many things came unstuck in Norwich City’s Premier League quest. Chief among them the painful truth Christoph Zimmermann is not indestructible.
Zimmermann is the antidote when Stuart Webber rues the lack of athleticism and physicality within Daniel Farke’s ranks, which the club’s sporting director certainly felt was a fundamental factor in their decline.
The powerhouse defender is an imposing presence at the head of the yellow line; a leader in deed rather than vocal encouragement.
A man brave enough to put his head literally in the line of fire if you recall that fearless episode a couple of seasons ago defending with every part of his body in his own box at Molineux.
Zimmermann emerged as a talismanic figure in the club’s Championship title-winning surge.
He forged an impenetrable barrier with Ben Godfrey that also saw him range forward to add the type of attacking threat sorely missing too often in the top flight tour.
Who can forget that towering, near-post header from Zimmermann in a keynote away win at Millwall?
The 27-year-old missed only seven league games during the promotion tilt. Grant Hanley shared the trophy-lifting duties at Aston Villa but there were few doubting the critical importance of Zimmermann or his growing maturity.
So to feature only 16 times in the Premier League, through a series of injury setbacks, was a debilitating blow. Farke labelled him his most consistent defensive performer when he returned ahead of schedule for those final two games.
This is a player who followed his head coach from Dortmund’s shadow squad in the same summer Marcel Franke was viewed as the major defensive signing. Who? Exactly.
Zimmermann’s career has been one of overcoming adversity.
First to make it as a professional. Then, as he candidly outlined, to fight back from a career-threatening lunge from Seb Haller on his Premier League debut at West Ham.
That foot injury, and the complications, which arose could have been the end of Zimmermann as a professional.
“It would be an exaggeration to say I needed to learn to walk again but I needed to rebuild some muscle in the leg,” he said, at the time. “If he had hit me then the foot would have been broken because it was in the air, the actual problem was he missed my foot and it landed on the ground again and then his left leg followed through and my foot got trapped a little bit.
“There were so many things it could have been, bone or ligaments.
“When I came in on the following Monday morning the first thing I was told was it was a nasty injury. So I needed some time to process what that meant, whether it was career-threatening or not.”
It is a testament to his character he battled back well ahead of schedule.
But injury struck again following February’s 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool and a fresh hamstring problem. Another comeback which defied the predictions of City’s medical staff followed - aided by football’s three-month lockdown.
A period, let the record show, where Zimmermann volunteered to work as part of the club’s community-led efforts to help those left most vulnerable during the pandemic.
This is a footballer with a well-rounded social conscience.
To keep getting knocked down and getting back up is a trait Norwich will need in abundance when they return to a Championship where clubs will lie in wait to expose any residual flaws from a bruising Premier League relegation campaign.
Zimmermann, by his own honest admission, is perhaps not the most polished or cultured defender on Farke’s books.
But it is hardly an over-statement to argue had he played twice as many Premier League games you feel sure Norwich would not have been tailed off in such graphic fashion. He is more than the sum of his parts.
That is why, irrespective of where Godfrey is plying his trade next season, or the fitness issues around the likes of Grant Hanley and Timm Klose, Zimmermann must be a staple.
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