Few things last forever, which is why an ex’s name is reportedly the most commonly removed tattoo. The latest ink on David Raum’s chest, a Christmas present to himself, does appear pretty future-proof, however.
Whatever might happen in years to come, the 24-year-old is and will be “Living the Dream”: a football fairytale, going from a Bundesliga 2 squad player to one of Europe’s most effective full-backs within a couple of years.
Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with England in Munich offered yet more proof of the Franconian’s rapid rise. Starting against top-level opposition in competitive international football for the first time, Raum was one of the best players on the pitch alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Jamal Musiala, effectively curbing the attacking instincts of Bukayo Saka and providing a constant crossing threat wide on the left side.
His dynamic performance was impressive enough to offer a tantalizing prospect: at this autumn’s World Cup, Germany could field their first double-proficient left-back since Philipp Lahm switched flanks in 2010.
If that seems like an exaggeration, consider the dearth of options in the national team’s biggest problem position. At best, Joachim Low was able to field defensively solid but offensively guileless players such as Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich, 2012), repurposed centre-back Gregor Howedes (Schalke, 2014) and Cologne stalwart Jonas Hector (2016 and 2018), or wing back Robin Gosens (then Atalanta), the last of whom necessitated an ill fated system change to three at the back at last year’s Euros.
Hansi Flick, too, has been forced to improvise since taking charge 10 months ago, casting right-footed Thilo Kehrer (Paris Saint-Germain) and Jonas Hofmann (Borussia Monchengladbach), a wide forward by trade, on the “wrong” side.
Raum is a different breed. Naturally left-sided and attacking-minded, he tried his hand in a variety of forward roles at second-division Greuther Furth without ever really convincing.
There was talk of him going to a third-division club to get some regular game time in 2019, and he only became a starter after Stefan Leitl’s assistant coach Andre Mijatovic had painstakingly re-educated him to play as a left-back.
“Mijatovic is a defensive expert who explained the back line’s movement and one-vs-ones to me,” Raum said. Crucially, he proved eager to learn.
“David might look like a tough guy from the streets, but he’s actually very calm, very considered, open to new ideas and always willing to listen to good advice,” a long-term friend tells The Athletic.
David #Raum“You can learn so much here, even when it comes to the professionalism of individual players. We’re taking everything on board and are trying to implement it and improve ourselves in those areas.”#DieMannschaft #GERROU pic.twitter.com/kqGxysba2D
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) October 6, 2021
In his new position, Raum was a revelation in 2020-21. His 15 assists and one goal played a big part in helping Furth win promotion to the Bundesliga a year ago, and he played every game in Germany’s triumph at the Under-21s European Championship.
Out of contract last summer, he was able to take his pick from six top-flight offers before opting for Hoffenheim. It only took a handful of games for his new club before Flick called him up for his national team debut against Armenia (a 6-0 win) in September.
In the six games that have followed, including a 1-1 friendly draw with the NetherlandsRaum has been consistently decent, alternating his marauding runs down the flank with good defensive awareness and overall sense of positioning that’s a good example of nominative determinism: his last names translates as “space” in English.
At Hoffenheim, Raum played as a left-back and a wing-back, putting in crosses of astonishing quality and quantity. He registered 13 assists and scored three goals, a tally that comfortably surpasses the efforts of most full-backs not called Trent Alexander-Arnold in Europe.
A look at his underlying numbers (via Statsbomb and fbref.com) shows how close he has been to the world’s best defensive wide players last season — his expected assists (xA) were comfortably ahead of Andy Robertson, whom he considers his big role model . Raum, who is also heavily into yoga, has read the Liverpool defender’s autobiography to find cues for further improvement.
His lack of experience in international club football might work against him starting at the World Cup, but Raum’s form has caught so much attention in recent months that he’s unlikely to spend many more midweek nights in front of the television.
Since ninth-placed Hoffenheim missed out on European participation, the club could be tempted to cash in on him this summer, booking a huge profit after only 12 months.
“I’m thinking about things, that’s natural,” Raum said two weeks ago when asked about a possible move to Borussia Dortmund, whose problems at left-back are nearly as acute as Germany’s. However, they would have to offload one or two well-paid players before they can afford a fee north of €20 million.
“I would have liked to play in Europe with Hoffenheim but unfortunately that didn’t happen. It remains a dream of mine.”
If a transfer to Borussia won’t materialize, sources close to the player expect yet another dream to come true before too long: Raum is a huge Premier League fan. So watch this space. Literally.
(Photo: Sebastian Widmann – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)