DFB’s investment in youth academies has already proven its worth on the global stage, nurturing a range of talents who have caught the attention of superior leagues as well. Last year the world saw the rise of exceptional talents like Mario Götze, Andre Schürrle, Shinji Kagawa, Lewis Holtby and others. Here’s a look at the players who have it in them to make it large in this season’s Bundesliga.
Moritz Leitner (Borussia Dortmund)
The Austria-born teenager has been an academy product of 1860 Munich since he was 6. Following a series of scintillating performances with the German U-19 performances, which included a 35-yard screamer and three assists, the playmaker became the most sought-after youngster back home with clubs like Bayern and Leverkusen rumored to be interested in signing him. But it was Klopp’s Dortmund who won the race to acquire his services and immediately loaned him out to then Bundesliga 2 outfit Augsburg for further development.
According to Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc, “He is a huge talent, who can play many positions in midfield, behind the strikers, as offensive winger or on the offensive 6.” During his stay with Augsburg, Leitner played in eight games and has one assist under his belt but his development was hampered because of an injury that prevented him from taking any further part in last season.
Leitner has a good eye for the fellow team-mates and is quite precise in releasing the ball at the right time. His pace, dribbling and constant hounding of opponents at this tender age is evidence enough of what the future holds for him and German football.
Julian Draxler (Schalke)
Just like Son, Draxler came to the limelight only during last season. This whizkid has been a Schalke footballer since he was eight. Felix Magath, the Schalke coach at that time did everything to keep the player with Schalke and prevent a possible move to Dortmund. The move did wonders to the confidence of the boy who later made his debut against Hannover in a 1-0 victory, making him Schalke’s youngest ever player to have represented Bundesliga, 2nd only to Sahin to ever start a Bundesliga game.
Claim to fame: Schalke 2-2 Nürnberg in DFB Pokal quarter final, 28th minute of extra-time. The teenager, who was introduced just a couple of minutes prior, fired in a 23-yard thunderbolt to take his team to the semifinal. In his words, “To come on, five minutes before the end in a stadium where you have always dreamt of playing and to score such a goal with such a shot in the last minute is just amazing.”
Draxler, who was honored with the Fritz Walter medal (gold) in the U18 category for his exploits with Schalke in last season’s DFB Pokal, is a technically sound midfielder with a great vision. His with-the-ball and off-the-ball movements are interesting and he often works the right angle for a clever move forward. He has good passing ability as well and all the ingredients to become a complete midfielder as he matures.
Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Dubbed as the ‘new Marko Marin’, Marco Reus is another young sensation who has been a rage for the Foals. The ex-Dortmund midfielder joined Rot Weiss Ahlen’s youth academy in 2006. 2008/09 became his breakthrough season when he scored four goals in 27 appearances and was duly snapped up by the Foals to replace Marko Marin.
From then it has only been a case of the rise and rise of Reus. Reus is an attack-minded player with electric pace and acceleration. What makes him even more dangerous is that, unlike Marin, Reus has got great control over the ball while running with it and leaving opposition defenders dead in his wake. He is soon becoming an irresistible midfielder to watch out for, with his bag of tricks: his silky dribbling, mazy runs, dangerous presence in the box, his vision to create chances, his work-rate to help his team in defense and his penchant for incredible solo runs. He scored his first Bundesliga goal against Mainz with one such 50m solo run in last season.
At just 22 Reus has still a long way to go. With more exposure, he’ll only get better, improving his decision-making skills in the process. He also needs to become strong to aid against robust defenders. He has had a great start to this season as well, featuring in two victories in three games, out of which one was against Bayern and one against Wolfsburg, a game in which he scored a couple and assisted in another goal, making it clear that he is not a flash in the pan.
Heung-Min Son (Hamburg)
The precocious Korean Müller could have made a name for him last season only if injury had not become the main talking point of his career. The talented attacking all-rounder joined Hamburg’s youth academy in 2008 at the age of 16 and since then has seen a steady progress for him at the club. Last year his exceptional pre-season, in which he scored 9 goals in 10 games including a howitzer against Chelsea, earned accolades from team-mate Ruud Van Nistelrooy who referred to him as ‘something special’. Even Bayern Munich Legend Beckenbauer has tipped him to become the next Cha Bum Kun.
After coming back from injury, Son scored in his debut Bundesliga game, against Köln, making him the youngest ever goalscorer for Hamburg by breaking Manfred Kaltz’s 39-year old record. This season has been promising so far – having scored 18 goals in 9 pre-season games. He has also scored one third of Hamburg’s goal so far in this Bundesliga campaign.
Son is an attacking all-rounder who can play as a striker, an attacking midfielder as well as a winger on either of the flanks. He has got good dribbling ability and has got exceptional close control of the ball with both feet. He likes to take on defenders and often breaks the offside traps with his startling pace. Standing tall at 1.83m, if the lanky attacker can improve on his physicality and assert himself as good header, he could become one of the best of the game.
Marc-André ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
The Foals were almost relegated, owing much of it to their leaky defense and eccentric goalie, Logan Bailley. They were up against an insurmountable task of staying up and staying put. New coach Lucien Favre summoned Mönchengladbach goalie, German U-19 star ter Stegen to replace Logan Bailley and the rest is history. They managed to win three of their last four fixtures, which included incredible victories over Dortmund and Hannover to book a berth for relegation-playoff.
ter Stegen has been impressive right from the first game he played at the top flight. The game against Dortmund actually turned into a contest between Dortmund and ter Stegen with the latter prevailing after pulling of a string of spectacular saves against the Champions. Having already proved that he’s no slouch under the goalpost, ter Stegen repeated his last-man-standing act against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in the first game of this season as well; helping his side beat the Bavarians 1-0.
The shot-stopper has already won himself a Fritz Walter medal (Gold) in the U-19 category for his heroics in the last season. If he continues his growth at this rate, he might soon land up in the dugout of the national team, deputizing for Manuel Neuer. See for yourself:
Noted omissions: Itay Shechter, Julian Koch, Ivan Perišić, Takashi Usami, Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Kevin Trapp.
Also, Mario Götze, Andre Schürrle, Shinji Kagawa, Lewis Holtby and Ilkay Gündoğan have been excluded from this list as they featured in last season’s edition.