They say that the grass is always greener on the other side, and this philosophy may be what prompts so many talented players to give up their Bundesliga home for the glitz, glamour and wage packets of the English Premier League. That, and perhaps seeing Leroy Sane tear it up for the insatiable Manchester City attack.
Management at FC Schalke 04 and their many supporters know this lingering feeling more than any other team – this feeling that they may lose out on another player who thinks that it is best for his career to move on. Leon Goretzka is the latest to enter into that arena of thought, as he has said that his future will be determined by the end of January.
Hidden in the shadow of the Goretzka transfer saga is a similar saga for Max Meyer. Once touted as the next great German creative midfielder, Meyer fell on some hard times between injuries and not being able to work his way onto the pitch. It was enough to make him question his Schalke existence and that all came to a head when Tottenham were reportedly on the brink of landing the German in the summer transfer window.
But unlike Benedikt Höwedes, Domenico Tedesco must have struck a chord with Meyer, because it was decided that he would stay at Schalke and reinvent himself to the new manager’s vision.
The result has been nothing short of superb. On the surface, if you were to look at his 700+ minutes played and see zero goals and zero assists, you’d think that he’d kicked the bucket; that his Schalke days are over. But it’s been nothing of the sort. Meyer has been reinvented in the Tedesco system as a deep-lying play-maker with a surprising affinity for winning the ball back.
In fact, his affinity hasn’t just been a fun and games, “oh look how good he’s doing,” kind of thing. No midfielder in the Bundesliga is averaging more interceptions per appearance than Max Meyer. His average of 2.8 is only equaled by Wolfsburg’s Josuha Guilavogui. Denis Zakaria emerges with 2.6 further down the list and Naby Keita follows with 2.5, but it is a retooled Max Meyer who takes the German cake. Add to that his 1.7 completed tackles per appearance and the seemingly out-the-door Schalke midfielder is averaging 4.5 ball-winning plays per appearance.
That, too, ranks him up there with the best of all central midfielders in Germany.
Think of him like how Arsenal reinvented Santi Cazorla. No one expected the miniature Spaniard to make a go out of sitting deep in the midfield of a top Premier League side, but lo and behold, he did it, and he did it remarkably well. His goals and assists dropped off, but his contribution levels arguably rose higher than they had ever been. He became the midfield pivot, a role that no one realized how badly it was missing until they saw how well he did it.
Like Cazorla, Meyer never gave any indication that he would be good at this role. He had never registered one completed tackle or one completed interception per appearance in his entire career. The best defensive season he had was in 2014/15 when he was averaging 0.8 tackles and 0.6 interceptions per appearance.
This year, he has maximized talents that many didn’t even know he had. But Tedesco did. Or, at the very least, he was willing to discover if he had them. Amazing what happens when those sorts of experiments pan out after a coach dares taking risks.
Now, however, the question revolves around his continued stay at Schalke. With Tottenham likely to be snapping again and plenty others joining them, given that he is facing a free transfer, Meyer will have plenty of options, many of which will promise him a great, grand paradise that will be hard to pass up.
For Meyer, though, that paradise is at Schalke. Here he is a centerpiece of a side returning to glory, a side that had enough faith in him, through Tedesco, to give him another shot at transforming his play and making himself even better than he was before, when he was thought of as just an attacker and nothing more.
There aren’t any other clubs out there that would be willing to give Meyer the keys to a European-competition club like Schalke have done. Besides, when Tottenham were after him, they were after him before his grand transition. They wanted him for that attacking potential, but now that he has shown more, how would it effect this budding, all-purpose talent that Meyer has become?
Leaving after a year of thriving in a new role upsets that progress. At just 22 years of age, it’s understandable that Meyer is still finding his footing, but with Tedesco, he at least knows that he will have the same ground to work with. Trading that is a dicey endeavor that doesn’t seem ripe with the same rewards that it once had.
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