Bundesliga: 'Jack of all trades' Kai Havertz teases Europe's biggest clubs with his creativity and grit

A hybrid player, Havertz is both a number nine and a number 10. He is a player sui generis. Hence, the name Alleskonner, a player, who can do everything.

Samindra Kunti May 31, 2020 11:04:22 IST
Bundesliga: 'Jack of all trades' Kai Havertz teases Europe's biggest clubs with his creativity and grit

Kai Havertz doesn’t allow you to blink. You often require a replay to understand how he interprets the game, exploits space, roams across the frontline and finishes with the cool of a seasoned striker. Ungainly like Thomas Muller, the 20-year-old Bayer Leverkusen player is an upgrade from the ‘Raumdeuter.’ Havertz is an ‘Alleskonner’ or simply a jack-of-all-trades, a somewhat crass and insufficient generalisation for a player of his refinement.

On Friday, Havertz became the first player in Bundesliga history to score 35 goals before turning 21 to help his club get past hosts Freiburg. Again, you wondered how he had done it? How had he worked out such a lovely goal in a tedious match?

Bundesliga Jack of all trades Kai Havertz teases Europes biggest clubs with his creativity and grit

Kai Havertz is the first player in the history of Bundesliga to reach 35 goals before turning 21 years old. AP

Dropping deeper from his central position, he flicked the ball to Leon Bailey, who drew his man and backheeled into space. Inside the left-channel, the ball was out of Havertz’s reach; the angle seemed to tight as well. With Freiburg’s keeper barreling at him, Havertz couldn’t possibly score. Then, with the lightest of touches and an outstretched leg, he toe-poked the ball between Alexander Schwolow’s legs for the game’s winning goal.

After a restraint celebration, he almost seemed to limp away. His physique isn’t that of a contemporary lithe athlete, yet his game is superlative. His goal served as the perfect illustration and an elongation of his fine form in the post-shutdown Bundesliga.

Against Werder Bremen, he scored a brace before repeating the feat against Borussia Monchengladbach, delivering a masterclass in how difficult it is for opponents to monitor him. Did the central defenders need to track the false nine and his movements? If they did, their backline would become vulnerable. The alternative — doing nothing — was as devastating. Roaming free, Havertz’s vertical passing picked Monchengladbach apart. It also allowed him to create 3v2 or 2v1 situations. Whatever Monchengladbach’s central pairing decided, they seemed impotent. It was little use of strategising; Havertz’s always had an answer.

Is he perhaps just another fine product from Bayer Leverkusen’s conveyor belt of talents? Yes and no, Havertz has the creativity of both Michael Ballack and Toni Kroos as well as the grit of Carsten Ramelow, but he is more versatile than his illustrious predecessors at the Bay Arena. A hybrid player, Havertz is both a number nine and a number 10. He is a player sui generis. Hence, the name Alleskonner, a player, who can do everything. Last season, he combined excellently with Julian Brandt, but the latter’s departure to nearby giants Borussia Dortmund has expanded Havertz’s role at Leverkusen. Today, he is both the team’s focal point and lodestar.

Will he follow Brandt to BVB? By general consensus — read scouts, media and fans — Havertz is a generational talent, a player who will conquer European football and leave an inedible mark on the German national team. Leverkusen, a somewhat artificial construct in North Rhine-Westphalia and frowned upon by the traditional clubs from the Ruhr heartlands, is a potent Bundesliga outfit, but at the same time constricted to a role of selling club by the economic realities of European football.

In fact, it is an active strategy of the club to produce talent and sell its brightest players. The benefits are simple: selling your players to elite clubs generates income that can be allocated to maintaining or even improving the quality of Leverkusen’s squad. Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid are among Havertz’s suitors. Europe’s elite are simply in thrall.

Next Saturday, Leverkusen host Bayern Munich. The almighty Bavarians, with the ever-prolific Robert Lewandowski and rejuvenated Muller, are on the cusp of an eight consecutive domestic crown. In Germany, the highest degree of achievement and pinnacle of a player’s career is wearing the Bayern shirt. At the same time, moving to Bayern as a once-in-generation talent offers a cautionary tale. It could be a dangerous path to embark on, something Mario Gotze can confirm. After netting the World-Cup-winning goal against Argentina in 2014, Gotze had the world at his feet, but for a panoply of reasons his career went slowly off the rails under Pep Guardiola in Munich.

At least, the match against the defending champions will offer Havertz another stage to prove just how good he is, keep football fans around the world distracted amid the global coronavirus pandemic, and tease Europe’s top clubs with his frightening potential.

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