Since his move to Paderborn last year, it's only got better for the former-Dortmund defender and he's loving every minute of it.
Starting off at DJK Bokel and FC Gütersloh in the early part of his footballing life, Uwe Hünemeier was a product of Borussia Dortmund's youth academy and broke into their reserves at 18. He made 150 appearances, in total, for BVB II; but first team opportunities were extremely sparse. His debut, somewhat surprisingly, came against Bayern Munich. Playing the full ninety minutes and making quite the impression in the 1-2 defeat to the Bavarians, the future looked bright for young Hünemeier. With Nuri Sahin getting regular first team football in that Dortmund side, the possibility of the defender getting minutes seemed promising.
However, just one more appearance for the first team would follow. Despite being on the bench virtually all season, the only game time he received was with the reserves. Tall, strong, calm on the ball and with enough pace to get by, Hünemeier may have felt hard done by to not see more Bundesliga action. So after a decade of service at die Schwarzgelben, the centre-back made the switch to Energie Cottbus for a minimal fee.
He made an immediate impression at the 2.Bundesliga side. Despite conceding 52 goals that campaign, Hünemeier earned himself the best rating out of all the Cottbus back-line. Only Nils Petersen - who managed an incredible 25 goals - beat the Gütersloh-born defender's score of 3.27 (Kicker rank from 1-6, with one being the highest). Nine goals, three assists and a fifth placed finish was more than satisfactory for a player in search of regular first team football. A much worse season was to follow, as Cottbus stayed up by two points. However, Hünemeier still remained the East German club's best defender.
Another fall in game time meant Hünemeier was rated as Cottbus' "worst" defender for the 2012/13 season. That would, in many people's opinion, probably show a fall in interest compared to the near-double figure goal haul of two years previous. Those doubters would be proven wrong at the end of that season, as Hünemeier joined SC Paderborn on a costless transfer. This was arguably one of the best pieces of business by André Breitenreiter, who turned the club’s fortunes around massively in his first year in charge.
With the move back to Westphalia, just an hour away from his first ever club, came a dramatic increase in his form. Hünemeier commented on his move, back in 2013: "My contract ran out and I was looking for a new challenge. I included my family in the decision. In Cottbus it was far away from my parents is not easy for my wife and two children, because I travel a lot in my profession. Now we are back home and I can continue my career with a really good feeling. Now I want to help continue what has been created here in Paderborn in recent years."
Paderborn were quickly becoming a second chance for players, Süleyman Koç in particular, and Hünemeier took his opportunity with both hands. Seemingly motivated by the passion of representing his local club, he was named captain. After a shaky start to the season - one win in six games - a fantastic turn around saw the club rise from 12th to 2nd and earn a place in the Bundesliga proper. Conceding 48 goals and having two of the top goalscorers in the league, Alban Meha and Mahir Sağlık, one would think that Hünemeier and the defence had little of nothing to do with promotion.
This is not the case, with the Paderborn captain picking up a 3.02 kicker rating and earning a place in the coveted 'kicker Elf des Jahres' for the 2.Bundesliga. His two goals won four points for his side. Without the winner against his old Cottbus team-mates and last gasp equaliser against Union Berlin, Paderborn would not be enjoying their first ever Bundesliga campaign. Hünemeier's presence in both boxes was essential last term, and he's continued it into the current campaign. Combining that, alongside his strong connection with the supporters, has made him an instant cult-hero.
Now fully settled as the Westphalians' first Bundesliga captain, he set about building his home with his wife and two children. A self-proclaimed family man, he is happy to be home and has plans to finish the new house in early 2015. Hünemeier has specified that one room will be solely for Bundesliga viewing, with his personal footballing memorabilia in the 'football cave'. While things are going well off the pitch - the centre-back has been fully involved with the planning and building of his new home - events on it have been even better.
Hünemeier has been an inspirational figure this season, surpasing his efforts from the previous year. After eight games at the plateau of German football, Paderborn sit seventh on 12 points. It is quite the incredible achievement for a club that are just happy to keep their heads above water. Ahead of Westphalian rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, it's been a dream start for Breitenreiter's men. At the heart of that success is Hünemeier's fantastic leadership and determination. Contuining his great goal-getting record has been a big part of that, scoring twice; both vital goals against Mainz and Eintracht Frankfurt.
His defensive numbers are even more impressive, however. His performances have earned him a palce in WhoScored's Bundesliga Team of the Season (so far) and a kicker grade of 3.06. A staggering 30 interceptions and 52 clearances have come from Hünemeier this year, and his knack of breaking up the play has been vital to Paderborn's brilliant start. Alongside that, his passing has been much improved and he even has two assists to his name already. Winning 77% of aerial duals make him a force to be reckoned with, and overall he is fully deserving of the captaincy. Without doubt, Hünemeier has been one of the Bundesliga's surprise packages this year.
Things couldn't be going much better for Hünemeier at the moment, in all honesty. He is settled, a supportive circle round him and a club that are heading in the right direction. Despite being a 28-year-old, many leaky defences in the Bundesliga would be desperate to have him in their team. A move doesn't seem on the horizon for a player who is keen to establish himself in Paderborn's folklore.