As debut seasons in the German capital go, Dedryck Boyata’s first year in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin went very well indeed. The Belgian centre back immediately became the cornerstone of the Alte Dame’s backline and 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall is building new defensive one at the Olympiastadion.
Signed on a free transfer from Scottish club Celtic, the 29-year-old had a tentative start at the club but went from strength to strength as the season progressed. He missed the first three games with a thigh injury before making his debut a full six months after his last appearance for the Hoops. He didn’t exactly cover himself in glory when conceding a late penalty in the first Berlin derby on matchday 10 to hand victory to Union, but such errors have been largely absent from the rest of the season.
He scored his first goal on matchday 6 against Köln and notched up a total of four during the whole campaign. Jürgen Klinsmann may be persona non grata at Hertha right now, but when he took over the club earlier in the season, he was instantly taken with the quality of Boyata,
“For me, Dedryck Boyata is one of Europe’s best defenders at the moment” he explained in January. “He’s at the top of his game and he’s been absolutely terrific for me. Since I arrived here, at every training session and every game he’s been inspirational.
“He makes a difference to us in every match he plays. He reads the game and is a great leader and the rest of the team have recognised that. He’s been excellent.”
True words spoken from the former Nationalmannschaft trainer, even if since them much of what he has said has been hotly disputed by everyone at Hertha.
This season as Hertha improved a little under Klinsmann before flourishing with Bruno Labbadia at the helm, Boyata has stood out in his defensive role. He was very calm on the ball, strong in tackle and very vocal in his organisation of the defensive line. He has revealed that his new nickname at the club is ‘The General’ due to his constant barking of instructions to team-mates. His German language skills are coming along, but this hasn’t stopped him instantly becoming one of the team leaders at the Olympiastadion.
One player to have particularly benefitted from Boyata’s arrival has been Jordan Torunarigha, who has quickly formed a great understanding with the Belgian and has forged a top defensive partnership.
Boyata led Hertha for interceptions (61) and clearances (192) this season. His 90.6% pass completion was a club high (and 2nd overall in the league) as was his progressive distance on his passing (6620 yards). He won 77.3% of his aerial duels, had the most carries of any Hertha player (1080) and the highest progressive distance carrying the ball (3263 yards).
He went a long way to redeeming himself for the first Berlin derby in the return fixture in May by heading in the final goal in Hertha’s 4-0 win. He did concede three penalties this season and his red card against Eintracht Frankfurt was a blip on his disciplinary record.
In any debate as to Hertha’s best signing this season, you’d have a few supporters of Matheus Cunha, but the hands down winner would be Boyata. He may be called the General, but the ‘Berliner Wall’ might be more apt as a nickname.