Kai Havertz: a natural talent

He made Bayer Leverkusen history. More times in a month.

On 15th October 2016 Kai Havertz replaced Charles Aránguiz in a league match against Werder Bremen and became the youngest Bundesliga debutant in the history of the club, beating Levin Öztunali‘s previous record. In the following weeks the midfielder, born in 1999, became the youngest Bayer player who made his debut in the starting eleven in Bundesliga and in Champions League.

These records are the first chapters of a football career that seems sealed.

(Foto Twitter)

(Foto Twitter)

Kai’s talent is in his bones. Literally.

Havertz comes from Mariadorf, a little neighbourhood of Alsdorf a city located in North Rhine-Westphalia in that part of Germany between Belgium and the Netherlands. Both grandfathers are linked with football. His paternal one was a discrete footballer, playing with future German national team coach Jupp Derwall (1980 European championship winner), his maternal one, Richard Weidenhaut-Pelzer was a Christian-democratic politician and for 21 years he served as Alemannia Mariadorf president (the club dedicated him also a youth football tournament)

Alemannia Mariadorf is also first Kai‘s club. He joined “Bambini” team (team with kids under 7 years old) and he trained at “Südpark”, the home of this club which celebrated his 100th birthday in 2016.

Almost everyone understood that Havertz is a gifted young footballer. His coaches made him playing with older kids and his performances are good.

At 9 also outside Alsdorf people noticed Havertz‘s skills. Alemannia Mariadorf were invited to “Geißbock-Cup”, a youth tournament held in Cologne and organised by “The Billy Goats” club. Kai‘s side achieved the final stage of the competition and Havertz played a main role. Bundesliga scouts watched and wrote down his name.

Although it was Alemannia Aachen that put the young player under contract. Now the club played in Regionalliga West, the fourth tier of German football and in the past they played also in Bundesliga achieving the second place in 1969 and three times German Cup final (the last one in 2004), There in Aachen, near Tivoli Stadium, he played two season coached by Daniel Heyman and now head of Alemannia youth academy Horst Mohr .

Havertz is a central midfielder with good technique and offensive skills.

He scored. A lot. In 2010, at 11, Kai signed for Bayer Leverkusen, joining one of the best youth football academies in Germany. In 2000 Werkself inaugurated “Kurtekotten”, their new Youth Centre and in the second half of 2000’s the club has relied so much on the development of young players under the guidance of then youth coordinator Jürgen Gelsdorf .

A great investment made by Leverkusen executives (before most of Bundesliga clubs) that have brought many players grown up at Kurtekotten to play in the three top German divisions (according to a report 70 in 2005).

Here in our academy we don’t make super players as Mario Götze, but the spread of our homegrown footballers showed the quality of our concept”

said Gelsdorf in a interview .

A “offensive, success-oriented, spectacular style of play based on technical skills”, as Bayer Leverkusen youth coaches explained on Werkself website, mixed with school formation (Havertz attends “Landrat-Lucas-Gymnasium”, an institution related to the club). This mix brought to first team squad youngsters like Gonzalo Castro, Benjamin Henrichs and Kai Havertz.

(Foto Twitter)

(Foto Twitter)

Until now the turning point of Havertz’s career has been in 2014, when at 15 Kai joined U17 Bayer team, coaced by Markus Anfang and Polish-born Thomas Cichon.

After a pretty opening season (seven goals in 23 matches), the midfielder born in Alsdorf is of the team leaders. Together with him played Atakan Akkaynak, the captain of the side. Defensive midfielder with discrete technique but a great stamina and insight into the game. Akki, as anyone called Akkaynak, led with Havertz the team to the final stage of U17 German championship. Kai is the team goalscorer and in the final against title holders Borussia Dortmund he scored in the second half the opening goal thanks to a wonderful pass by his friend Akkaynak. Jakub Bednarczyk made 2-0 and Bayer Leverkusen won a national youth title after a 25-year dought.

This historic title for Leverkusen is the overture of UEFA European Under-17 Championship held in Azerbaijan, the first great international tournament for Havertz. German national side, which had won 2009 edition, was one of the favorite teams to win. The formation coached by Meikel Schönweitz, who in an interesting interview published on Spox.com explained how he worked with guys, is full of talented players like former Eintracht striker Renat Dadashov or Leverkusen attacking midfielder Sam Schreck. Together with them played the couple from Werkself: Akkaynak and Havertz.

havertz_akkaynak

Kai, whose football hero is Mesut Özil, adores Akki’s way of playing.

Atakan covers free spaces, so I can focus more on attacking, If I lose the ball, he runs and recovers it”

said Havertz in a interview on German Football Federation website.

Althrough Germany didn’t win the tournament (they lost to runners-up Spain in semifinals), Kai scored a goals and the side led by Schönweitz showed a brillant way of playing.

That was a manifesto of “Erfolg durch Variabilität”, the football philosophy of German national teams that emphatizes the importance of variability in the game and in the players positions.

The ability to play in different position and roles (central midfielder, attacking midfielder, inside midfielder, winger in a 4-4-2 formation), his good physical skills (he is 1.87 tall) pushed Bayer Leverkusen senior team manager Roger Schmidt to call up him for the first part of summer camp together with Akkaynak and Schreck. After few days this hit-and-run ended and the young trio came back to the U19 team. They began a new challenge under Markus von Ahlen‘s guidance, the same coach who during his spell at 1860 Munich launched in the first team Julian Weigl.

Senior coach Schmidt didn’t lose sight of the guy, who earned the second place in U19 category at Fritz Walter Medal, the most important youth football prize awarded by German Federation.

havertz_fritz_walter

In the first days of October Schmidt called up Havertz for Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund. He remained on the bench but he debuted as substitute player two weeks later. Kai replaced Charles Aránguiz against Werder Bremen and on 25th October he made also his first appeareance in German Cup. Leverkusen were eliminated by Sportfreunde Lotte but Havertz, who played only in extratime, scored from the spot in the penalty shoot out. Roger appreciates Kai, considering him an eccellent and “complete” player. In Bundesliga match against Darmstadt the 17-years-old midfielder made his debut in the starting eleven and provided a really good performance.

Now Havertz isn’t yet oficially a first team member (he keeps on playing with U19 side in German championship) but Havertz’s fate is sealed. He appeared in the starting eleven in the last two matches against Bayern Munchen and SC Freiburg. Another sign that age isn’t a real problem. Not in Leverkusen.