Poor old Jadon Sancho, eh?
Fresh off the back of another majestic Bundesliga campaign with Borussia Dortmund, the England international was readying himself for an unprecedented transfer window in which he was the name on the tip of everybody’s tongues.
Jadon Sancho is also set to depart the Bundesliga this summer | Lars Baron/Getty Images
However, some German fella barely 60 kilometres south of Dortmund in Leverkusen is set to steal the limelight.
Kai Havertz’s resurgence in the Rückrunde’s and the ease at which he passed his showcase to the wider footballing world following German football’s early return – compared to everyone else – from the COVID-19 hiatus in May saw him emerge from Hinrunde obscurity to become the protagonist of transfer rumour mills this summer.
Sure, Sancho’s potential move to Manchester United is cool and all that, but working out Havertz’s future destination is akin to someone attempting to memorise the quartic formula. It’s nigh on impossible.
Europe’s elite are at the kid’s doorstep this summer, and despite the German’s immense talent persistently being on display ever since he emerged into Roger Schmidt’s first-team set-up in 2016, a pretty dire start to the 2019/20 campaign meant only few would’ve foreshadowed the attention Havertz would receive in a few months time.
Kai Havertz struggled to produce in the first-half of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season | DeFodi Images/Getty Images
This was a player who was the prime target of abuse from his own fans in the build-up to fixtures, as the lofty heights Havertz had hit a season prior ensured he was the obvious scapegoat when things weren’t going too well for Die Werkself.
He struggled to deal with the greater burden placed on his shoulders from a creative perspective following the departure of partner in crime Julian Brandt, and initially found it difficult to build relationships with new midfield signings Nadiem Amiri and Kerem Demirbay.
And, of course, there was the disappointment of failing to secure a big-money move in the summer.
However, it wasn’t at all surprising to see Havertz endure such a sustained blip early on his career.
His profile and style resemble the likes of Thomas Muller and Dele Alli in that they’re space invaders. Their main source of creativity is their movement and capacity to exploit space.
Havertz’s style can be likened somewhat to Bayern’s imperious Raumdeuter Thomas Muller | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
The same thrills Paul Pogba and Neymar get out of bamboozling opponents with spellbinding brilliance with the ball at their feet, Havertz and co. get out of discovering pockets of space between opposition lines. It’s all about manipulating and unbalancing the opponent’s defensive structure via space exploitation and due to their inferior aesthetics compared to other supreme talents, they’re the sorts of players who aren’t appreciated unless they’re providing goals and assists.
And with his three goal contributions in 20 games to start the campaign, that’s exactly what happened with Havertz.
Nevertheless, while it’s not all about aesthetics with the Germany international, there’s no doubting his technique. There’s a reason he notched 43 goals and 30 assists for Leverkusen before his 21st birthday earlier this month.
“Young technical players sometimes struggle to adapt but there was a strong sense of purpose to everything he did,” said former Bayer boss Schmidt of Havertz. “Everybody respected him for his quality and mental fortitude. Instantly.”
The enterprising German boss handed Havertz his professional debut in October 2016 with a seven-minute cameo in a 2-1 defeat at Werder Bremen, and amid a campaign in which Havertz notched four goals and six assists in 24 Bundesliga appearances – being deployed in a plethora of roles – the then-17-year-old was entrusted to start Bayer’s Champions League round of 16 first leg fixture against Atletico.
Havertz made his Champions League debut against Atletico in Febraury 2017 | TF-Images/Getty Images
A-Level commitments ruled him out for the second leg as Bayer crashed out, but his 16/17 season was just the start of something brilliant. His rise somewhat stagnated during Heiko Herrlich’s forgettable reign but he’d reemerge as one of the continent’s hottest prospects following the arrival of Guardiola disciple Peter Bosz in late 2018.
And while his 17-goal Bundesliga campaign in 2018/19 was pretty majestic – with Frank Lampard-like late runs into the box a fixture – the German international’s aforementioned Rückrunde remontada this term has been nothing short of mesmeric.
21 games. 13 goals. Seven assists. It’s fair to say Havertz has once again turned the heads of the factions of the Bayer crowd who labelled him “a son of a wh*re” and were questioning why he was still here prior to their 1-0 defeat to Hertha Berlin in December.
Havertz’s imperious run of form since the turn of the year has seen Bayer reach the DFB-Pokal final and establish themselves among the favourites for the Europa League crown. Four goal contributions over the two legs against Porto helped his side into the last 16 of the competition, while his strike from the spot against Rangers in a 3-1 first-leg victory in Glasgow has put Bosz’s side in an advantageous position to reach the last eight.
A star in the making ?
The only way is up for @kaihavertz29 ? pic.twitter.com/OIdU8QFjws
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) June 29, 2020
Bosz’s use of a 3-4-2-1 and the deployment of Havertz in an inside forward role squeezed out every bit the supreme ability he possesses, as he was able to occupy his favourite area on the pitch – the half-spaces – and wreak havoc from a zone that most formations don’t tend to cover.
However, since German football returned from its COVID-19 hiatus in May, Havertz was often utilised in a false nine role. and he shone in this role too.
Whether it be the target man-esque headed brace against Werder, the sumptuous outside the foot pass for Karim Bellarabi against Gladbach, or the expertly taken winner from an acute angle against Freiburg, we saw the very best out of this 6’2″ specimen.
The supreme athleticism, the variety in his finishes, the versatility and the willingness to contribute to Bosz’s ideals out of possession. Exceptional.
Havertz squeezed home his side’s winner in a 1-0 victory over Freiburg | Pool/Getty Images
The financial strains brought about by the global pandemic has added further mystique to his career path and his potential fee.
Nevertheless, while considerable doubt remains as to whether the German will be house hunting in west London, Bavaria or the Spanish capital this summer, there’s little questioning the unparalleled talent of the 21-year-old.
Not only is Kai Havertz an undoubted contender for multiple Ballon d’Or awards as his career progresses, but he’s one of the very few who’s earned the right to be tagged a generational talent. He’s a talent who has the capacity to define an era of football history.