“20 Under 20” German Football’s Next Wave of Talent – Part IV

We finally break into the top five.  These players are the creme of the crop of their generation, players that should become household names around the world.  And in many ways, they are already ahead of seasoned veterans in the league.  At least as far as their raw talent and potential is concerned, these five players could very well define German football for the next decade.

We meet a free kick specialist deemed the “next Mesut Özil”, a defender who has half of Europe’s top clubs after him, an attacker who came seemingly out of nowhere to become a first choice player and key component of his club this season, a prodigious young talent who is very reminiscent of Lionel Messi and arguably the most complete players on this countdown.

5. Hakan Çalhanoğlu (Hamburger SV): One of the few bright sparks of the season for Bert van Marwijk’s side, Çalhanoğlu made the jump from the 3. Liga to the Bundesliga after being Karlsruhe’s star player and the transition has almost been painless. With his best position being behind the striker, the Turkish U21 international has a peach of a right foot that is a huge threat from set pieces but is also a proven goalscorer, getting 17 last season and 5 already this campaign. His leadership skills for KSC have not yet translated to his new club but he’s already asserting his status as a regular set-piece taker. One cannot help but feel that he will thrive even more when Rafael van der Vaart is not in the frame anymore due to the positional clash but there is no doubt already that Çalhanoğlu is a reality, not a promise, and is in line to becoming one of the best players in the Bundesliga in the near future.

4. Timo Werner (VfB Stuttgart): Werner was always considered talented but no one expected him to break into the first team the way he did this season.  Within 53 days, he broke three club records. Now Werner is undroppable and one of the bright spots of Stuttgart’s season. Reminiscent of Thomas Müller in his never-say-die attitude and running, Werner is relentless on the field.  He constantly seeks to take on players and use his speed and cleverness to get a step or two ahead of his opponents.  Werner also has a lethal touch in front of goal, as displayed by an impressive record at youth level.  It would be a cliche to say Werner is mature beyond his years but there is no question that he can keep up, and even outshine, most of his older peers. A big future lay ahead for young Timo Werner, and VfB fans are happy to have him in Stuttgart.

3. Matthias Ginter (SC Freiburg): Freiburg’s 19-year-old centerback is already a well-seasoned pro with 53 appearances in the Bundesliga – possibly the most experience player on this list. Don’t blink: Ginter can also line up central attacking midfielder. Plus, as centerbacks must be these days, Ginter is a high volume passer- 2nd on his club with 54 passes per match. Currently, transfermarkt.com values the teenager at 7 million euros, a testament to his quick ascendancy in the Bundesliga.  Ginter’s defensive sense, coupled with versatility as an occasional attacking midfielder, mark him as the type of invaluable and versatile contemporary footballer, who will surely attract attention from some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

2. Max Meyer (Schalke 04): that Meyer (18 years old) makes this list is no surprise. Already, he seems like a well-worn fixture in Schalke’s attack. His sensational attacking runs and passes as Schalke’s starting central attacking midfielder are absolutely crucial to S04’s attack. Meyer possesses remarkable speed and exceptional vision in placing passes. Through the Hinrunde, Meyer has 3 assists (10 attempted assists) and a goal this season. He completes about 86% of his passes, which, considering that these many of these passes are played around the opponent’s box, is a very impressive rate. Given Meyer’s immediate and big impact, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 18 years old – certainly he’s one of the very best U20 players in the world right now. Schalke and the German national team have a blessed future.

1. Leon Goretzka (Schalke 04): The transfer saga of the summer, Goretzka finally signed for Schalke from VfL Bochum after he filed a lawsuit against his former club for not allowing him to sign for the Gelsenkirchen club. Goretzka was captain of the U17 German side but at the age of 18 he is already a regular feature of the U-21s. A central midfielder, his former manager Peter Neururer dubbed him “the talent of the century” but he has yet to perform at that level for Schalke, with niggling injuries having hampered his progress so far, limiting him only to one start (in late August) and 264 minutes of Bundesliga football in 8 matches, scoring one goal in the process. However, Goretzka is one of the most talented footballers of his generation, with his passing and creative skills at the fore of his talents, and he will no doubt grow as a player with experience and confidence to become a pillar for Schalke and the National Team in the years to come.

Catch the rest of the series here.

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