Even at a club known for giving youth a chance, Kai Havertz has proved a record-breaking prodigy for Bayer Leverkusen – and at 17 he is just getting started.
Bayer Leverkusen have been quick to promote young talent in the recent past and teenager Kai Havertz is the latest to come off the production line. After becoming the club’s youngest-ever Bundesliga player in October, he soon broke into the starting line-up and appeared twice in the UEFA Champions League as well as aiding the Werkself’s UEFA Youth League bid.
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Debut: 15 October 2016 v Werder Bremen
Born: 11 June 1999
Preferred foot: left
They say …
“He’s a proper player for us, despite being only 17. We gave him some playing time to see what effect this had on him. It quickly became evident that playing in front of a full stadium doesn’t faze him. He’s an excellent footballer with good technique, speed, strength in one-on-one situations and even a decent aerial game. Those kind of players are a huge joy to me.”
Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt
“We are happy that Kai Havertz is the next home-grown player to make a long-term commitment to the club. It underlines our ambition to bring more and more talented youngsters through to the first team. If his development continues at this pace then he will a brilliant addition to our squad.”
Sporting director Rudi Völler commenting on Havertz signing a professional contract in August
Aachen-born Havertz grew up near the Dutch border, getting his first taste of club football at Alemannia Mariadorf. In 2008 his talent was discovered by former Bundesliga outfit Alemannia Aachen, who managed to keep him for two years. At 11, though, Havertz joined Leverkusen and four years later he was part of Germany’s Under-16 side.
He was invited to Leverkusen’s senior pre-season training camp last summer and took full advantage of his chance, bypassing U19 level altogether. Come the autumn, Roger Schmidt used Havertz in 12 competitive matches, three of those appearances lasting the full 90 minutes.
Playing style …
At youth level, Havertz excelled as the main strategist in central midfield. However, when playing for the seniors, he has mainly been utilised as a wide midfielder and demonstrated a fine understanding of the game. It will be interesting to see if this 17-year-old can hold his own amid big internal competition for central midfield spots, or whether his flexibility will mean he fits in elsewhere.
Shades of …
Havertz is no specialist like Leverkusen’s speedy winger Karim Bellarabi or creative mastermind Hakan Çalhanoğlu. Instead, he is a superbly educated midfield tactician with qualities at both ends of the pitch. Michael Ballack had a similar box-to-box style which was once of tremendous value to Bayer.
Eureka moment …
It’s the overall impression of several weeks which makes you sit up and take note. Havertz was 17 years and 126 days old when he became Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga player. Several fine displays in the league followed and he delivered a remarkably mature showing during Leverkusen’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in November.
Best-case scenario …
In the next few months, Havertz must deal with the balancing act of finishing his high-school education and training with Schmidt’s team. Also, key player Bellarabi returns from injury and regular starts on the right side cannot be taken for granted either.
Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine Schmidt regarding this raw diamond as a mere stop-gap. Time is on the teenager’s side, but if he continues to use the fast lane, perhaps he could make Germany’s squad for the 2017 UEFA European U21 Championship in Poland, having helped his country to last year’s U17 semis. After all, Benjamin Henrichs’s meteoric rise all the way to a full Germany debut is an example of how rapidly a Leverkusen youngster can reach the top.
He says …
“Inside I am certainly a bit nervous still, but that’s just part of what’s happening at the moment. During training I see how much potential I still have to realise.”
Havertz following his first outings for Bayer
“Mesut Özil is my role model. I think our playing styles are similar and that’s why I am trying to learn as much from his game as I can.”
Havertz in an interview on dfb.de