Alexander Merkel 20 Midfielder Genoa
Alexander Merkel was a man in demand during the summer just past. Reportedly valued at €15m by Genoa, the 20-year-old midfielder attracted interest from the Rossoblu's Serie A rivals Roma as well as Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow in Russia, where the subject of the young German has extended beyond his club football whereabouts. Merkel was born in Kazakhstan and once stated that he would like to represent Russia at international level.
But his parents are both German, and he is not eligible for Russia. In any case, the player is now ready to knuckle down and embrace the not inconsiderable task of breaking into the German senior team. He has played for die Mannschaft at every level from Under-15 to Under-20, but is yet to make any kind of mark for the Under-21s or the first team. Regardless, he insists that his focus is Germany and he now has the domestic football foundation to make that happen.
Spotted by AC Milan playing for Stuttgart's youth team, Merkel made the switch to the peninsula at the age of 16. Two years later, he was part of the Rossoneri side that won the Coppa Italia Primavera for the first time in over two decades. In 2011, a co-ownership deal took him to Genoa. Merkel's 2012 began with a loan move back to San Siro, where he began to really come into his own at senior level. He had previously made his first foray into the first team at 2011's Emirates Cup, and although he has had to bide his time he's certainly begun to show what he's all about.
When Merkel and his shock of blond hair returned to the port city of Genoa this summer, it was to finalise the remainder of his transfer to the Rossoblu, where he is now a 100% owned player. Nevertheless, Stefano Capozucca and Gigi De Canio appeared willing to listen to offers this summer, and apparently had to rebuff enquiries that fell short. Merkel is just getting on with his football, insisting that he is happy to be back at Genoa, doesn't intend to move on any time soon, and - perhaps most importantly - isn't pining for Milan.
Why would Zenit, the club where all the money from down the back of every sofa in the world seems to have ended up, go after a raw midfielder from Kazakhstan? Firstly, he's a superb prospect. Secondly, there's a good chance he will make somebody a lot of money some day.
He has a fabulous first touch and top class passing ability, coupled with the maturity to make sure he selects the right ball more often than not. He's a player in front of whom the field of play just seems to open up, and he sees the lot. He passes and crosses well with both feet and is forever on the move, bursting or ghosting into spaces to ensure that he is always available for a pass. As a result, he pops up all over the midfield and when he's on song it's difficult to pick him up.
Merkel works hard, passes well, creates space and likes to get forward and try to score goals, an area where his stars are not quite yet aligned but undoubtedly will be eventually.
While his work so far is impressive, Merkel is being used sparingly this term after starting ten matches for Genoa before being loaned back to Milan at the beginning of the year. He scored his first Serie A goal (he did score for Milan in the Coppa Italia) against Cagliari in August, attacking the box at exactly the right moment to crack home a loose ball. It was a strike that highlighted why Merkel is a player with many goals in his future. His timing in arriving on the edge of the penalty area is excellent, and his movement once he gets there is intelligent and tricky to track.
When Genoa, now under new management, start to let him off the leash more frequently, Alexander Merkel is a name we'll be hearing plenty more of in the coming years. The rawness of youth remains - the occasional indecision, the rough edges, the palpable inexperience - but anyone keeping an eye on Merkel is likely to enjoy what they see.
“Two-footed and intelligent, the German seems to have all the tools to succeed but became a victim of Milan’s cost cutting this summer. His willingness in defence and good use of the ball should be seen at a much bigger club than Genoa." - Adam Digby (ESPN, Sports Illustrated)
C+ Brimming with quality and has time on his side