After a meteoric rise, Kimmich targets success with Bayern and Germany
As a child, growing up in a suburb of the postcard-pretty town of Rottweil in southwest Germany, Joshua Kimmich could not handle defeat.
"I wanted to be the best at everything I did," the 21-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder tells ESPN FC. "I was incredibly ambitious. Too much, sometimes. When I lost a game of football, I always cried. A day had to pass before anyone could speak to me properly again. To be that ambitious has its pros and cons. But on balance, I'd say it helped me more than it slowed me down."
On balance, Kimmich is probably right. Signed by Bayern from RB Leipzig as one of Germany's most promising youngsters in January 2015, his unselfish adaptability saw him break into the first team for club and country.
Pep Guardiola deployed Kimmich in an unfamiliar role as a not overly tall centre-back -- he is listed at five-feet-nine -- at a crucial stage of the Bavarians' Champions League campaign. A couple of months later, Germany coach Joachim Low believed the youngster's dynamism might be utilised best in the right-back position at Euro 2016.
Kimmich had never played as a wide defender in a back four at senior level, yet emerged as one of the tournament's strongest performers and was hailed as the natural successor to Philipp Lahm.
A mistake in the build-up to France's second goal in the 2-0 semifinal defeat in Marseille prevented a happier end -- "I was angry with myself but football is like that, it's uncontrollable at times. I was in fact even angrier for not scoring when I had a chance at the other end. Maybe we could have come back." -- but couldn't detract from his rapid progression.
New Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti has also found Kimmich's services indispensable. Despite the arrival, for €45 million, of Euro 2016-winning wonder kid Renato Sanches from Benfica, Kimmich has featured in his preferred central midfield role in five of his club's six games this season, all of which have yielded wins. (He played at centre-back in Saturday's 3-1 win over Ingolstadt.)
Debut strikes in the Bundesliga and Champions League -- Kimmich netted twice against Rostov -- as well as for Germany in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying win against Norway have ticked three more boxes over the course of the last two weeks. Does he feel the pressure after failing to prolong his scoring run vs. Ingolstadt?
"Yes, I'm very disappointed with myself," he laughs. "But as a centre-back, I noticed it was harder to get up there, into the box, dead balls situation aside. And, I'm not exactly a monster [in the air], either. It's nice to score goals, of course, but it's not everything."
Kimmich is more interested in perfecting his own game and learning the trade, while simultaneously competing with some of the world's best players for places in the Bayern starting XI. He re-watches all of his games in an effort to understand where and how he could have done things better on the pitch.
"You have to give 100 percent even in training; you can never relax at a team like Bayern," he says. "Compared to the average Bundesliga team we also have a lot more games, however, so there's the need to rotate, which helps young players like me."
The constant changes -- some of which have been forced on Ancelotti due to injuries -- don't make it easy to adapt to the Italian's different tactical set-up, Kimmich admits.
"It will take a bit of time until it all comes together and run like clockwork. We were lucky that we only conceded one goal against Ingolstadt; we were also little lucky [in the 2-0 win] at Schalke. We could have done better. But the most important thing is that everyone knows that we have to play better, that we won't always get three points that way. At the same time, it's reassuring to see that we can also win bad games, because the quality we have in the team is so high. That's what distinguishes us from other teams, I think: We can win, even if it's not our day. All in all, six wins with one goal conceded hasn't been that bad a start, I'd say."
Some observers in Munich have used the good results under the easy-going Ancelotti to draw unfavourable comparisons with his predecessor Guardiola, whose aloofness annoyed certain sections of the local media. Kimmich, though, believes the idea is over-blown that everything is new at Sabener Strasse.
"Outsiders try to talk up the differences between the coaches but all successful managers know how to build on the good work of their predecessors," he says. "There is no need to change everything. Perhaps we are bit freer in our attacking play under Ancelotti, who believes and trusts in in our individual quality than under Guardiola, who issued more instructions and was more emotional on the touchline. But these are details."
Kimmich is also well-placed to counter the accusation that Guardiola never talked to the players, having been on the receiving end of what looked like a public dressing down by the coach in the immediate aftermath of Bayern's 0-0 draw at Dortmund in March.
"He talked a lot to me last season, not in his office, but on the pitch, during training," Kimmich says. "Everybody remembers the Dortmund game but it was nothing unusual for me. Guardiola never waits a day or two; he will tell you immediately -- the moment it happened -- if you should have done things differently. It really wasn't a problem at all."
While Kimmich is determined to enjoy his success -- "you have to because everything happens so quickly in football, you can be the villain next month" -- the Champions League and European Championship semifinal defeats with Bayern and Germany last season continue to linger.
"You never know if you'll get the chance to win such big trophies again," he says. "That eats away at you but it also makes you work harder. You want to show that you continue to belong at this level; you want to prove yourself, once more. And after I won my first championship and DFB-Pokal with Bayern, I also understood why the players here never lose their appetite. You want that feeling, again and again."
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian. Twitter: @honigstein.