''Little George'' with big goals

It may be early in the season, but Georginio Rutter has already shown that he chooses his words carefully. Prior to the start of the new campaign, the Frenchman, who moved to Hoffenheim in January, said: ''TSG is the ideal club for me,'' - and out on the pitch he's shown exactly why that's the case. The 19-year-old has made a great start to the season, posing a threat both as a goalscorer and assist-provider. The youngster, whose name translates as ''little George'', is at the beginning of what promises to be a great career, and he's hoping to take important steps on his journey this year.

As an old saying goes, he who carries the sun in his heart is never dependent on the weather. This holds true for Giorginio Rutter - the Frenchman is in such high spirits that even the rainy summer in Germany this year couldn't dampen his mood. After all, there were more important things to worry about. These were - as Adi Preißler would say - ''Out on the pitch.'' Such are the highs the 19-year-old has experienced in recent times that the smile won't leave his face. Not for a second has he regretted the bold decision to leave his homeland and move to TSG in January. Quite the opposite in fact: ''I feel really at home here. The club is just perfect for me,'' says Rutter, adding: ''The team and all the staff have welcomed me with open arms.''

Since his arrival in the Kraichgau, everything has fallen into place for the Brittany-born attacking player - both on and off the pitch. He lives in Neckargemünd, where he spends most of his free time with teammate Melayro Bogarde. His family come to visit him every couple of weeks. His parents have been surprised to hear a lack of complaints about homesickness or distance from the family. As Rutter himself says: ''I'm really very happy. That's what I tell everyone. When I came to Germany, I couldn't imagine everything going so well. It's something my family are obviously delighted about.''

Dream debut in February

Rutter had initially expected to just get playing experience with the U23s. By playing in the Regionalliga he hoped to regain the confidence that had made him one of the best youth players in France. At his previous club, Stade Rennes, he was only used sparingly. ''I immediately felt at peace here. I was looked after very well,'' says Rutter as he reflects on the start of his time in Hoffenheim. The support and trust placed in him paved the way for strong performances in training, which led to a call-up to the Bundesliga squad after three weeks. His path to the first team was unexpectedly direct, and so it continued, as the youngster soon made a dream debut in the Bundesliga. In the game against Werder Bremen on 21 February, Rutter was brought on as a substitute in the 87th minute. Just three minutes later, he scored with his left foot to make it 4-0. ''That made me really proud. Achieving both those things at once filled me with desire for more. It's not normal to experience something like that,'' he says.

Rutter's combination of can-do spirit, footballing talent and committed playing style proved an instant hit with teammates and coach Sebastian Hoeness. It isn't just in goal celebrations that Rutter is embraced and applauded; everyone can see that the attacker is a well-liked member of the TSG collective. ''A little bit of youthful energy and love,'' read the caption that Andrej Kramarić posted on Instagram (including a winking-face emoji) alongside a picture of the two teammates. And coach Sebastian Hoeness has the following words to say about the young Frenchman: ''He's a good guy who has his heart in the right place and is therefore well-accepted in the team.''

Language lessons in the academy

The son of a mother from the French overseas department La Réunion and a father from Alsace with roots in the Caribbean worked hard on integrating right from the get-go. ''I think another reason for the adjustment going well is because I want to learn German. It was pretty complicated to begin with. But I'm finding my feet more and more,'' says Rutter, who is getting language lessons in the TSG academy. This explains why communication on the training ground and in the dressing room is working so well - and the results are there to see on the pitch: ''The others let me know what I'm doing well and what I'm not doing so well. I'm learning a lot, for example how to combine with my teammates. There are a lot of moves we practice in training that I wasn't aware of previously. It's a massive plus for me, being able to play together with such experienced players. It's really fantastic. I didn't expect to take on such an important role in the team so quickly at TSG. Before coming here, I had barely played.''

Although he made his debut in senior football in September 2020 for the historic Breton Ligue 1 club Stade Rennes, he would only make four further cameo appearances from the bench. That said, he still gave a demonstration of his goalscoring prowess: in December 2020, after coming on as a substitute in a UEFA Champions League match with Sevilla, he scored his side's only goal in a 3-1 loss. A big moment on football's biggest stage. ''That was really emotional, as I didn't have an easy time in Rennes,'' says Rutter. His first senior goal proved to be his parting gift to the club. After three-and-a-half years in Rennes, he wanted out. He turned down the offer of a new contract and soon made the switch to TSG.

Praise from Rosen and Hoeness

His progress so far at Hoffenheim shows that sporting director Alexander Rosen's transfer instincts were on target once again. Rutter's move was initially not supposed to be completed until the summer, but it was pushed forward at short notice on deadline day of the winter transfer window. "Georginio is one of the most promising talents in French football and has chosen Hoffenheim for his further development," Rosen said after putting pen to paper on a contract which runs until 2025. Rutter was highly sought-after on the transfer market. In the summer of 2020, the renowned French sports newspaper "L'Equipe" wrote that Arsenal, Newcastle United and "half the Bundesliga" were looking to sign him. And with good reason: he has showcased his qualities in his regular appearances in all French youth national teams from U16 level upwards - especially at the U17 World Cup in 2019, where he scored three goals as Les Bleus finished third. 

Sebastian Hoeness knows exactly what his number 33 has to offer. ''Georginio is very athletic, a good striker of a football and can play in a variety of forward roles. His combination of speed, athleticism and shooting ability with both feet means he has huge potential,'' says the TSG head coach. And he isn't the only one with words of praise; back in March, ''kicker'' magazine wrote an article about the TSG talent with the headline: ''In the footsteps of Roberto Firmino.'' The Brasilian first came to the Kraichgau in the winter of 2011 as a more or less unknown talent. During his time at the club he developed into the player who would become a global star following his move to Liverpool in 2015. 

No-one is expecting a similar development, but Rutter's story so far suggests he is at the start of a glittering career. Scouts first became aware of Georginio Rutter's exceptional talent at the age of 12. This led to a move from neighbourhood club AS Mènimur, who he first joined as a five-year-old, to the bigger OC Vannes. His former youth coach Frederic Lagadec said the following about him last year: ''George reminds me of Neymar, but not for the wrong reasons. Rather because he loves football and just wants to have fun out on the pitch. He's always trying to achieve his maximum.''

After training at the elite Pole Espoirs Football de Ploufragan academy, he was signed at 15 by Stade Rennes, known for their excellent youth development. But Rennes is now in the past, and Rutter is completely focused on "Hoffe". His first name appears on his jersey, which the DFL permits as it was something he had previously been allowed to do in France. But he doesn't want this and his striking hairstyles ("When I used to wear it long, I was teased because I looked like a girl") to be what he's most famous for: "I came here to win as many games as possible with the team." He also has another goal firmly in his sights: "I want to play in the France team competing for the Gold Medal at the 2024 Olympics in Paris."

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