New arrival with the Red Stripe: Justin Diehl

Not only did Jeff Cha­b­ot find his way from the Rhi­ne to the Neckar after the sea­son ended, but his team­ma­te Jus­tin Diehl will also be wea­ring the Brust­ring start­ing next sea­son. Howe­ver, under dif­fe­rent cir­cum­s­tances. We spo­ke with Tho­mas Rein­scheid from about him.

The back­drop to the trans­fers of Jeff Cha­b­ot and Jus­tin Diehl from 1. FC Köln to VfB Stutt­gart could­n’t be more dif­fe­rent. On one side is the lea­der who led the fight against rele­ga­ti­on and whom many wish well in his move; on the other side is the local talent who domi­na­ted the Regio­nal­li­ga in the first half of the sea­son but was not play­ed by the pros due to a lack of wil­ling­ness to extend his con­tract, lea­ding to some bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment after his sus­pen­si­on during the rele­ga­ti­on batt­le at the Rhi­ne. With Jus­tin Diehl, after Dar­ko Chur­li­nov and Niko Nar­tey, the third for­mer Köln youth play­er in the span of a few years is moving to VfB. The work in Köln’s NLZ (youth aca­de­my) can­not be prai­sed high­ly enough given the infra­struc­tu­ral chal­lenges — FC also lacks fields and func­tion­al buil­dings — and the some­ti­mes finan­ci­al­ly strong local com­pe­ti­ti­on from Mön­chen­glad­bach, Lever­ku­sen, Dort­mund, or Schal­ke, says Tho­mas. This is also reflec­ted in their sport­ing achie­ve­ments, both in very suc­cessful U19 and U17 teams, and in the fact that many play­ers from the NLZ make it to the Bun­des­li­ga — alt­hough not always with the Bil­ly Goat on their chest.

Diehl was born on Novem­ber 27, 2004, in Colo­gne and joi­n­ed FC at the age of seven, play­ing through their teams up to the pro­fes­sio­nal squad. He won the West-Bun­des­li­ga with the under 17 in 2020 and the DFB Cup last year. At the same time, he also went through the DFB youth teams and curr­ent­ly plays in the U20. In ear­ly 2023, he made his Bun­des­li­ga debut at 18 in FC’s 7–1 win against Wer­der Bre­men, but only had one more brief appearance and two bench places, while con­tri­bu­ting nine goals in 15 league games and nine points, inclu­ding five goals in five cup games, to the U19’s suc­cessful sea­son. Due to his long trai­ning in the NLZ and his Colo­gne ori­gin, the­re was con­sidera­ble pri­de in Diehl’s deve­lo­p­ment, reports Tho­mas. Howe­ver, the hype was limi­t­ed, kno­wing that with his con­tract expi­ring in 2024, he likely would­n’t stay in Colo­gne long, espe­ci­al­ly as his initi­al per­for­man­ces were not out­stan­ding.

Down and Up Again

Long befo­re the last sea­son began, FC had alre­a­dy sought a con­tract exten­si­on, Tho­mas reports, but Diehl’s manage­ment agen­cy rigo­rous­ly blo­cked it, see­ing him as more advan­ced than the club did. It is, as some might have gues­sed, the same manage­ment agen­cy that likely advi­sed Rober­to Mas­si­mo to choo­se the second Por­tu­gue­se league over more appe­al­ing offers from the second Bun­des­li­ga, and which asto­nis­hin­gly has many Hof­fen­heim play­ers under its wing — and unfort­u­na­te­ly, also Den­nis Sei­men. Tho­mas ali­gns more with the club’s view than the agent’s on Diehl’s deve­lo­p­ment and under­stands for­mer coach Stef­fen Baumgart’s decis­i­on to demo­te Diehl to the second team. This would free up a squad place for a talent com­mit­ted to FC’s future. The decis­i­on was con­tro­ver­si­al, though, as Colo­gne strug­g­led with inju­ries to many atta­ckers like Luca Wald­schmidt, Mark Uth, and Davie Sel­ke, while Diehl scored 12 goals in 19 fourth-league games. Tho­mas con­cludes: “In the end, all par­ties lost in this case. FC lost an inte­res­t­ing offen­si­ve opti­on. Jus­tin Diehl missed out on signi­fi­cant Bun­des­li­ga play­ing time. And the manage­ment agen­cy did­n’t reflect the repre­sen­ted player’s mar­ket value accor­din­gly.”

In win­ter, Baum­gart was repla­ced by the now-dis­missed Timo Schultz, who brought Diehl back to the pros. In the second half of the sea­son, he made seven appearan­ces, inclu­ding against VfB (see abo­ve). Tho­mas shares the impres­si­on many VfB fans had of Diehl in that game: In some sce­nes, his poten­ti­al sho­ne through, but over the long term, he still lacked some qua­li­ties for a Bun­des­li­ga play­er, which is no sur­pri­se at 19. Tho­mas doesn’t see Diehl, who was also set back by inju­ries, making a signi­fi­cant dif­fe­rence in the rele­ga­ti­on fight with more appearan­ces, despi­te the under­whel­ming per­for­man­ces of his team­ma­tes. Rever­sing the non-sport­ing demo­ti­on to the Regio­nal­li­ga for sport­ing reasons is also view­ed cri­ti­cal­ly. Simi­lar­ly, Diehl’s beha­vi­or during the Uni­on Ber­lin game, when he pos­ted pic­tures from a wed­ding he atten­ded while FC was brief­ly esca­ping rele­ga­ti­on, was not well recei­ved. Play­ers like Paca­ra­da or Kili­an, on the other hand, stood in the away end to cheer their team­ma­tes.

Fast, Explosive, Persistent

So, what does Diehl bring to Stutt­gart, asi­de from a recent­ly chal­len­ging rela­ti­onship with prio­ri­ties? He is “extre­me­ly fast, explo­si­ve, strong in dribb­ling, and eager to score,” explains Tho­mas, and doesn’t let weak actions get him down, show­ing enough con­fi­dence to keep try­ing. A per­sis­tence that few young play­ers have today. Tho­mas sees him best deploy­ed as a second stri­ker along­side a tar­get man or as a win­ger. Howe­ver, he still needs to work on his defen­si­ve work, tac­ti­cal disci­pli­ne, and decis­i­on-making — a clas­sic set of weak­ne­s­ses often men­tio­ned in recent years in new play­er intro­duc­tions. He also needs to impro­ve his phy­si­cal­i­ty, as he was given lon­ger breaks due to inju­ries in the NLZ. Despi­te recent dif­fe­ren­ces, Tho­mas descri­bes Diehl as a nice, quiet, and reser­ved per­son who is also very devout.

Whe­ther we will see Jus­tin Diehl in the Bun­des­li­ga with Red Stri­pe next sea­son, as in Colo­gne, remains to be seen. Tho­mas would have found a move to a club on Köln’s level more sen­si­ble for gai­ning play­ing time. He could ima­gi­ne Diehl get­ting time in the 3rd league or being loan­ed out to gain this expe­ri­ence, as he does­n’t see him in the Bun­des­li­ga squad given the com­pe­ti­ti­on. That VfB would use a play­er they repor­ted­ly paid a decent sig­ning bonus for in the 3. Liga seems unli­kely after his histo­ry in Colo­gne. A loan seems more plau­si­ble, depen­ding on how the pre-sea­son goes. It’s also pos­si­ble he impres­ses in the pre-sea­son, but repla­cing someone like Chris Füh­rich — Diehl also play­ed on the left attack against us — seems unli­kely in the short term. At VfB, he signed until 2029, for five years, much like Wahid Fag­hir back then, who, like Ömer Bey­az, tur­ned out more as a trans­fer for the sport­ing director’s gal­lery than a pro­mi­sing talent. As alre­a­dy men­tio­ned in the artic­le about Jeff Cha­b­ot, it’s unpro­duc­ti­ve to pige­on­ho­le play­ers around 20 years old. Fabi­an Wohl­ge­muth descri­bed Diehl upon sig­ning as one of the most exci­ting play­ers in his posi­ti­on in Ger­ma­ny. Let’s hope things calm down off the pitch for him and that he gets — and takes — the time to deve­lop.

Pic­tu­re: © Chris­ti­an Kas­par-Bart­ke/­Get­ty Images

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