Julian Draxler 19 MidfielderSchalke
In the course of writing last year’s reports for the 100 it quickly became very evident just how embarrassingly blessed Germany were, particularly in the midfield positions. With their vast array of options across the middle of the park (Özil, Müller, Reus, Kroos, Bender x 2, Khedira, Götze, Rolfes, Schweinsteiger and – frighteningly - we could go on) earning a place in their international squad could be viewed as one of the toughest jobs in football. I think it’s fair to say that to crack that particular nut you would have to be quite some player, to do that at just 18 years of age? Almost impossible.
Happily ‘impossible’ doesn’t seem to be a word that fazes Julian Draxler much, now the proud owner of (to date) two full international caps. So precocious is his talent that he made his debut for Die Mannschaft at the age of 18 years, 8 months, and 7 days in a pre-Euro 2012 friendly against Switzerland, one U21 game against Cyprus (in which he also scored) deemed enough of a gateway into the full side.
Draxler’s rise has been meteoric. At Schalke from the age of nine, he excelled at every youth level and was fast-tracked through to the reserve side and then on to becoming the fourth youngest Bundesliga debutant in history. From the moment he made his first appearance as a substitute in a home defeat to Hamburg he was never away from senior match-day squad barring injury, making 21 further appearances in the 2010/11 season and scoring his first league and cup goals (including one in the DfB-Pokal final). The following year he was a teenage first team regular and his form remained consistent, securing his place in the IBWM 100 and across several back pages accordingly.
Now we may be majoring a bit on his tender years here but paradoxically, the first thing that comes to mind when watching Draxler is maturity and confidence. This is a player who within five minutes of his debut cut inside, drifted past his man with a near-perfect step-over, then proceeded to knock the ball out to the winger with a beautifully flighted chip played with the outside of his right foot. Now this shouldn’t be confused with arrogance, this was just the first signs of a footballer at ease in his surroundings and confident in his ability to perform.
His coaches speak of a footballer who has worked hard to get to this point, is always willing to learn and is essentially a dream to work with. You can see the effort in his game, genuinely two-footed, comfortable playing wide, central or off the striker, his range of passing is continually excellent and he could teach an England player or two a thing or two about hitting the Hollywood ball effectively and at the right time. Don’t get the wrong impression, he’s not constantly looking for the headline pass, the simple things are done just as often and just as efficiently.
As well as the passing it’s impossible to ignore the shooting from distance. Draxler doesn’t tend to do tap ins and building the case for the prosecution I would submit his goals against FC Nuremberg, Duisburg (the opening goal of Schalke’s triumphant 2011 DFB-Pokal final) and Greuther Furth amongst others to prove the point. For a player who is relatively slight in build the power he can generate is outstanding, the baby face hiding the assassin. While he can’t yet be classed as a regular on the score-sheet he is more than capable of chipping in with goals from midfield, and as everyone knows in these days of striker-less systems and the evolution of midfielder’s role this is essential to his long term success at the higher end of European football.
Now it has to be said that Mario Goetze has been hogging the young-German-midfielder-tipped-to-reach-the-very-top headlines, but in researching Draxler’s progress and speaking to several people who watch and study the Bundesliga religiously, I was incredibly surprised how many people shared my view. You see while Goetze is an outstanding talent and of that there is and can be no doubt, Draxler is motoring along behind him a little lower under the radar, progressing faster, is yet to have the injury problems or body issues Goetze has already had to confront, and is becoming a more complete player in a shorter space of time. We don’t know in the longer term who will go on to be the better player, but we’re going to enjoy watching them along the way.
This talent and progress has not gone un-noticed in the scouting networks, particularly in England. Among his suitors he can list Manchester United against whom he emerged unscathed in a thoroughly professional Champions League semi-final mauling in 2011, Arsenal who have followed his career from youth football and considered a €9m bid last January, Sunderland, Chelsea, and he is reportedly on a list of long-term targets drawn up by Brendan Rodgers and presented to the Liverpool board upon his arrival in the summer.
As well as those suspects Real Madrid are reported to be monitoring his career and any potential future moves. Interestingly Draxler, while maintaining he is happy in Schalke and at the club he ‘loves’, has also spoken of his admiration of Spanish football and how if Barcelona or Real Madrid did make a move for him it would be a ‘dream’. He has also talked openly about how flattered he is by interest from Inter Milan and others.
While a man totally at ease in his surroundings currently, it appears he may be readying himself for a future at one’s of European football’s biggest names. If that move does come don’t be surprised if Draxler takes it all in his stride and begins to impress immediately, after all, that’s exactly what he’s been doing up to this point of his career anyway.
“Even in in Germany's seemingly youth obsessed and centered footballing atmosphere 17 year olds seldom get the attention that Draxler has gotten in the past 12 months but his call up to Löw's preliminary EURO 2012 squad and his status as a starter for Schalke speak volumes of his abilities and quick development.”– Cristian Nyari (Bundesliga Fanatic)
“After exploding into view as a 17-year-old in 2010/11 - a season bookended with a goal in the DfB Pokal final - Draxler consolidated well in his first full season as a first-teamer. Normally, a teenager wouldn't get a sniff among Schalke's myriad attacking talents, but there's nothing normal about Draxler. Tall but blessed with a winger's grace and balance plus two great feet, it's not hard to see why he made his full Germany debut at 18 versus Switzerland in the build-up to Euro 2012.”– Andy Brassell (UEFA, The Independent, BBC)
B Undeniably one of the premier young talents in German football (a competitive field to say the least) and now a full international - the sky is the limit
FC Schalke 04
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