Manchester United target Christoph Baumgartner has been known as ‘the next Ballack’ after Julian Nagelsmann helped him recover from a red card on his first ever Bundesliga start… but how would the £16m-rated youngster fit in at Old Trafford?
Hoffenheim’s rising star Christoph Baumgartner was thrust into the spotlight this week when it emerged that Manchester United were plotting a summer move for him.
The midfielder is an auspicious talent who is highly regarded in the Bundesliga and has already earned comparisons with German great Michael Ballack.
But little is known about him on these shores so Sportsmail has taken a closer look.
Manchester United are weighing up a summer swoop for Hoffenheim’s Christoph Baumgartner
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has identified him as a target despite his crowded squad of midfielders
WHO IS HE?
Christoph Baumgartner is a 21-year-old Austrian midfielder currently plying his trade at Hoffenheim.
He was born in the small town of Horn, in the north of Austria and began his footballing career at local club SV Horn before moving to AKA St Polten.
The Austria international caught the attention of several clubs around Europe during his time at AKA St Polten and was eventually snapped up by Hoffenheim in 2017 at the age of just 16.
He has been capped five times at international level since breaking through at Hoffenheim, earning his debut last year and scoring his first two goals against Romania and Greece.
Barumgartner’s brother Dominik also plays professionally for Wolfsberger AC, who face Tottenham in the last 32 of the Europa League next month.
Baumgartner (L) pictured playing for Austria’s U16s, began his career in his homeland before joining Hoffenheim as a teenager in 2017
WHAT TYPE OF PLAYER IS HE?
Baumgartner is an intelligent, attack-minded midfielder, who likes to operate in spaces in between the lines.
He is as creative as much as he is a goal-scoring threat and is the man Hoffenheim often turn to to unpick locks in the opposition defence or for a moment of magic.
Predominantly right-footed, Baumgartner is almost just as comfortable on his left foot and is a technically astute midfielder capable of scoring long-range strikes as well as deft flicks in the box.
His other main strength is his ability to run with the ball and create openings to shoot or slip in a pass.
Baummgartner is an attack-minded midfielder who’s been compared with Michael Ballack
The 21-year-old scored a stunning long-ranged striker against Bayer Leverkusen last month
Although his preference is to play in the No 10 role – which best suits his attributes and style – he can be versatile and has been known to operate in a deeper position from time to time.
In his early days at Hoffenheim, he even played some matches out wide and as a centre-forward but insisted he is ‘not a real No 9 with muscles and power’.
Primarily known for his attacking qualities, Baumgartner also likes to indulge in the physical side of the game and is not a player to shy away from a challenge, having picked up six cautions already this season.
The Austrian, who first broke into the Hoffenheim team under Julian Nagelsmann, has developed into a key player for his side and is widely seen as one of the Bundesliga’s best talents, having scored an impressive five goals and chalking up a further seven assists in all competitions this season.
He’s dangerous going forward and already has two goals in five international games for Austria
WHO DOES HE MODEL HIMSELF ON?
Despite being dubbed the next Michael Ballack, Baumgartner revealed earlier this year that his idol is in fact David Alaba.
There are similarities in their career paths with Alaba starting out at his local team in Austria before joining Austria Vienna’s academy and eventually moving to Germany with Bayern.
It was also at Hoffenheim that Alaba first showed the signs of a world-class player during a loan spell there.
Speaking about his admiration for Alaba recently, Baumgartner said: ‘I think David Alaba showed the perfect way of doing it.
‘I think he’s a world-class player and he showed how a young Austrian guy came here, and then to Bayern. He developed really well for a year at Hoffenheim, and now he’s one of the best players in the world.
‘David Alaba is an idol for a lot of young players in Austria because he’s the best-known player.
‘The Bundesliga, in particular, has a really big following in Austria, so everybody watches the Bundesliga. That’s why David is an idol for a lot of young players, including myself.’
Baumgartner idolises his compatriot and Bayern Munich star David Alaba (right)
HOW WOULD HE FIT IN AT UNITED?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is blessed with a number of top quality attacking midfielders in his squad, so it’s hard to see how the £16m-rated Baumgartner would feature in United’s first-team plans.
He is certainly not going to take the No 10 role off Bruno Fernandes.
Solskjaer may well have designs to mould him into a deeper-lying playmaker or he could be viewed as insurance for Paul Pogba, if he ends up leaving at the end of the season.
The Frenchman has said he will not address his contract situation until the summer but his agent Mino Raiola has not given positive indications that his client will choose to stay, with the possibility of a move to Real Madrid or Juventus still on the cards.
The Austrian star would not realistically be able to take the No 10 position off Bruno Fernandes
He should be wary of finding himself in a similar situation to Donny van de Beek if he joins
United’s interest in Baumgartner will have certainly caught his attention but Donny van de Beek’s plight should act as a warning sign for the Austrian.
The Dutch midfielder is second fiddle to Fernandes, who rarely misses a minute, and has been used sparingly this season despite United splashing £40m on him last summer.
Baumgartner’s progression over the past 12 months has been exceptional, and that only comes from exposure to first-team football. Sitting on the bench at United would only undo all the confidence he has built up and could be damaging to his future trajectory.
But certainly there is no question as to why United are interested in him right now. Even if they don’t believe he is ready to step into the starting XI, he has all the hallmarks of a player capable of reaching the top further down the line.
WHAT’S HE LIKE OFF THE PITCH?
A studious and level-headed individual who has shown maturity beyond his years in recent times.
Earlier this year he spoke of how playing in two academies in two different countries as a teenager was important for his development as a person.
He said: ‘Both academies worked really well and it helped me a lot because you get to know different and important things not only for your football career but your personality too, which is also really, really important for your whole life.’
Baumgartner also benefited from having Nagelsmann as his boss earlier on his career.
Baumgartner (far right) benefited from chats with Julian Nagelsmann (L) when he was boss
The 33-year-old, who now manages Leipzig, has established a reputation as one of the best young coaches in the world and played a key role in the advancement of Baumgartner.
He handed the midfielder his debut when he was just 19 and helped him through the ‘hardest moment’ of his life when he was sent off on his first-ever start in the Bundesliga – which contributed to Hoffenheim missing out on a Europa League spot as they were beaten by Mainz.
‘It was really hard. It’s not like I could click my fingers and it would just happen. I thought my mistake was an important way to learn, and I focused on the good things. I spoke to Julian Nagelsmann in the evening and he said that it was bad, of course, but he told me to keep going and keep working like this.
Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann described Baumgartner as a ‘normal, decent boy’
‘He said that I played very well for 40 minutes on the pitch, but this situation can’t happen. Still, he said to keep going and you’ll have a really good career. I always keep that sentence in mind – keep going and you’ll then have a big career.
‘A few days after, when I was back home in Austria with my family, this was the only thing I wanted to keep in mind. Not the red card, but the positive thing.’
Nagelsmann described Baumgartner’s mistake at the time as ‘totally stupid’ but later said: ‘This is a great opportunity for him to develop, it is always good to get a damper so early in his career.’
The midfielder is a popular figure in the Hoffenheim dressing room too. Goalkeeper Oliver Baumann said of him recently: ‘He’s just a normal boy, decent, a full professional. In this world being normal is the greatest compliment you can pay.’
Baumgartner, however, admitted at home he can be untidy at times – much to the annoyance of his girlfriend – and said: ‘I could be more orderly.’
Baumgertner admitted to getting on his girlfriend’s nerves at home for being untidy at times
WHAT HAVE PEOPLE SAID?
A lot of comparisons has been made between Baumgartner and Ballack but some have also drawn parallels with Chelsea’s Kai Havertz.
High-ranking figures at Hoffenheim have always thought highly of Baumgartner while those who have worked with him all believe he has a huge future.
Alfred Schreuder, the man who replaced Nagelsmann in the dugout at Hoffenheim and is now assistant manager at Barcelona, said of the midfielder: ‘Baumi does the work in behind opposing defences very well.
‘In the beginning, the last punch was often missing, but it’s since become more and more successful for him. We’ve always seen his potential.’
The club’s sporting director Alexander Rosen has also been very complimentary of the 21-year-old in the past, recently saying: ‘Baumi’s an extremely gifted player with exceptional technique and good positional awareness in attack.
‘He finds solutions in tight situations and is becoming increasingly dangerous in front of goal.’
Barcelona assistant Alfred Schreuder talked up his potential during his time at Hoffenheim
WHO ELSE IS INTERESTED?
Manchester United are thought to be frontrunners to sign Baumgartner but a number of Premier League clubs are also monitoring him.
Liverpool were briefly interested in Havertz last summer as they looked to find a replacement for Adam Lallana, but were put off by his hefty price tag and turned their attentions to Baumgartner as a possible alternative.
They never pushed ahead with a deal in the end but could revive their interest if Hoffenheim are willing to let him go for a reasonable price.
He is valued in the region of £16m at the moment but his stock is rising with every passing match and Hoffenheim are notoriously tough negotiators, most notably convincing Newcastle to part with £40m to sign Joelinton.
Manchester City, Arsenal and Leeds are also admirers of the midfielder and could pose a threat to United’s chances of signing him in the summer.
Jurgen Klopp may well battle Solskjaer and United for Baumgartner’s signature this summer