Jonas Hector has been chased by some of the biggest clubs in Europe this year – but he has snubbed them all in favour of playing second division football this season.
Hector is an established German international who featured at the World Cup and was courted by the likes of Liverpool. Bayern Munich and Juventus.
But the 28-year-old has rejected all advances for his signature because he believes he owes a debt of loyalty to Cologne for putting him on the path to international football.
Cologne suffered the nightmare of relegation from the Bundesliga last season, but even at such an important time in his career, the left-back decided there was no way he could turn his back on the club in their hour of need.
He knows he is putting his Germany place at risk, and missing out on the chance of a lucrative new deal elsewhere. But for him, leading Cologne’s bid for promotion and an immediate return to the top flight is more important than personal opportunity.
Hector said: “I’ve had eight years with this club, and since I’ve been it here there it has been a good time - and I don’t want to go if the times are bad, because that’s life.
“There are good times, there are bad times, and when that’s the case you have stay and you have to work your way through it. I owe it to them.
“For me, I made the decision to sign a new contract two years ago and I want to be part of this club. If we go down, I have to, I want to go with it because it is the way I live.
“That’s my personal character, the club gave me something eight years ago, and now for me it would be hard to say goodbye because I want to play in another league or another club.”
Hector added: “I am very happy in this club, my family, my girlfriend, we are happy to be in Cologne. I am happy to be in the club.
“For me it’s the best decision to stay there and live a lucky life.
“I heard about interest from the Premier League and other leagues, but in this moment no, I am happy to play and to be in Germany, and that’s the reason why other clubs from England is not attractive for me.
“I have had people over the last few weeks a lot saying it is not a common trait in a footballer.
“Since the decision to stay in Cologne, there have been a lot of people come and say ‘respect’, a ‘good decision’, and that ‘it’s nice to see that in footballers’.
“It’s not the normal way but for me it is the best way.
“I don’t know how it will be with Germany next season. The focus was only on the World Cup, now afterwards we will see.”
Ironically, Hector is not the only player who was on duty at Russia 2018 who has found himself in the second tier of club football this season.
Belgium’s Nacer Chadli has been kept by West Brom following their relegation to the Championship, and England’s understudy goalkeeper Jack Butland has remained at Stoke.
But they are with their respective clubs largely due to know interested sides stumping up the kind of money it would have taken to tempt their managers into selling – and it remains open to question whether if Liverpool or Juve came calling they would stay loyal.
Hector has done just that. Now Cologne just need to secure promotion this season to ensure it was all worthwhile.