Spotlight on Freiburg defender Robin Koch if required in Leeds United's centre-back hunt

LEEDS UNITED know exactly who they want to partner skipper Liam Cooper at centre-back upon the club’s return to the Premier League.

By Lee Sobot
Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 5:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 19th August 2020, 12:58 pm

The ever-present centre-back who proved instrumental in getting them there.

Leeds, though, are aware that former Brighton loanee Ben White might ultimately prove unobtainable and will naturally have other targets at centre-back if required.

Over in Germany at SC Freiburg, 24-year-old Robin Koch has been on director of football Victor Orta’s radar for some time.

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COMMANDING: SC Freiburg's German international centre-back Robin Koch. Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP via Getty Images.

Orta used Koch as an example of the players he was looking at for the longer term, in the bigger picture, when speaking at the closure of the January transfer window.

“Koch playing at his level now is really difficult for the Championship, it is another level,” said Orta.

“But we are always evaluating because perhaps, in a moment, he could be available. Or we could get into another league and then he could be available.”

Seven months on, Leeds are indeed in another league, England’s best, and should they need or desire, six-foot-three German international Koch could well fit the bill.

Nobody, of course, within reason anyway, would create quite the same excitement as the permanent capture of White, one of the best young English centre-backs in the game.

The problem now is that everybody knows it, with most of the Premier League big guns interested in securing White’s services, if Brighton sell that is.

And if they do, nobody really knows the going rate, with Leeds so far having seen two bids rejected, of £18m and then £22m.

Leeds chief executive Angus Kinnear has said there is no lack of financial commitment in terms of trying to secure White but admits there would naturally have to be a cut-off point whereby Leeds would have to look elsewhere.

Koch, it appears, would be an option, and while he might not be Ben White, the towering defender has established himself as a leading centre-back in Germany’s top tier.

Having spent his early years in German football’s fourth tier with Eintracht Trier, Koch was handed his big break by FC Kaiserslautern when signing for the second division side in 2015, playing for the club for whom his dad Harry starred.

After making 24 appearances in the 2016-17 campaign, including alongside Whites star Mateusz Klich, Koch then got his move to the Bundesliga in August 2017 by signing for SC Freiburg who had just sealed a seventh-placed finish in their first season back in the top flight.

That meant qualification for the Europa League.

Koch did not feature as Freiburg went out to Slovenian outfit Domzale at their first hurdle in the third qualifying round, and he had to wait until the home clash against Hertha Berlin on October 22 before making his top-flight debut as an 85th minute substitute.

But a full debut arrived just four days later in the German Cup victory at home to Dynamo Dresden before a full league debut the following weekend in the 3-0 loss at Stuttgart.

Koch, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, made 21 league starts and five outings from the bench for Freiburg during the 2017-18 campaign, scoring twice, with his side finishing 15th.

Another 21 league starts and three outings from the bench followed in the 2018-19 season as Freiburg finished 14th.

And last season was Koch’s best yet with the centre-back making his international debut as part of a campaign that featured two outings for Germany, playing the full 90 minutes of both the October friendly against Argentina and the European Championships qualifier against Belarus the following month.

Domestically, Koch made a season’s best 31 league starts last term plus one outing off the bench, playing 2,708 minutes of football and scoring once.

Freiburg finished the season in eighth, missing out on qualification for the Europa League by a place and a point to VFL Wolfsburg.

This is a league whose champions Bayern Munich are now odds-on favourites to be crowned Champions League winners having trounced Barcelona in the quarter-finals. Red Bull Leipzig, who finished third, have also made the semis.

A strong division, in which ball-playing centre-back Koch is excelling as he enters the final year of his contract with Freiburg.

He ain’t Ben White.

But if, needs be and if Leeds so desire, the German international could be a very good alternative.

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Thank you Laura Collins