FEATURE | The swagger of Kai Havertz – the German phenomenon that’s been told he can walk on water

‘Havertz can walk on water’ read Bild’s headline after the teenage German’s calm, intelligent finish gave his Bayer Leverkusen side the lead at FC Nürnberg in December. At just 19, Kai Havertz has more than 100 senior appearances, including three national team caps, having become Bayer’s youngest ever Bundesliga player and the club’s youngest ever goalscorer before becoming the youngest in the league’s history to reach 50 games. Given that Havertz is already a talismanic figure at Leverkusen, being likened to Franz Beckenbauer and carrying a nine-figure price tag, ‘walking on water’ seems about right.

For one so young Havertz has an unusually mature persona. Son of a lawyer and a police officer, he has been taught, as kicker reported in January, that ‘arrogance is not a desirable attribute’. And it shows. Havertz admitted in January that he and fellow forward Julian Brandt still had “to do a bit more work” defensively. “Kai is a good lad, he knows what he wants,” explains Leverkusen sporting director, and former midfielder, Simon Rolfes, “he’s down-to-earth, purposeful and ambitious.” Carrying an air of intelligence and calm, famously missing Bundesliga games to work on his high school exams during his initial run in the first team, Havertz has recently taken up the piano as a “distraction” and “to clear his head” – the teenager says.

Despite his height and lanky frame, Havertz plays with an effortless swagger and grace reminiscent of compatriot Julian Draxler. Games seem to move in slow motion when he’s on the ball in full flow. His broad range of passing, a direct and pacey dribbling ability and an astute use of possession have become crucial to a recovering Leverkusen side under former Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Bosz. Former coach Heiko Herrlich was sacked at the turn of the year as Bayer struggled in midtable.

Bosz tends to deploy Havertz either wide on the right or as a forward-thinking midfielder in a 4-3-3 set up and the young German’s form and development has only accelerated of late while adding a degree of consistency not present previously. Havertz explained in February that “many things are different under Bosz… you can say that we are getting better and better from game to game.” Favouring a more possession based approach with Havertz’s creativity to the fore, Kicker likened Bosz’s new Leverkusen to Pep Guardiola’s incarnation of Bayern Munich having made more than a thousand passes in beating Fortuna Dusseldorf earlier this year. Bosz meanwhile described his star man as “a special player… who still has much to learn. ”

Crucially for Bayer, their teenage midfielder’s influence has started to equal goals. Havertz has shown an ability to score various types of goals this season, reaching 13 in the league already as the club’s top scorer; an ice cool penalty against Stuttgart earlier this month, a graceful spinning half volley to take the lead against Leipzig, a clever snap header to beat Hannover in the March snow, a composed dink over Bremen keeper Jiri Pavlenka in a 6-2 away win, his Michael Ballack-esque late run into the box and precise header to see off Mainz back in September, a brace from the edge of the area to drag Leverkusen past Ludogorets in the Europa League and a raft of stylishly neat finishes besides. Speaking on German television, former Germany and Dortmund defender Matthias Sammer described his clever finish at Nuremberg as “just world-class… this is an extraordinary player.” His unthoradox finish “was the only way” said Havertz simply.

After beating Dusseldorf, Leverkusen director and former German international forward Rudi Völler said “his style reminds me of Mesut Özil. He has this self-confidence… and does simple things with complete serenity.” Former Bayer Leverkusen director and TV personality Reiner Calmund meanwhile went as far as to say he has “a little bit of Franz, the elegance of Franz Beckenbauer and he has a little bit of Ballack.” Having already edged into Joachim Löw’s national team squad this season, an impressed Löw explained that “Kai is very far along for his age and gives a very mature impression, everything looks easy for him.”

“He’s the greatest talent I’ve seen since Toni Kroos,” said former manager Herrlich.

As is the case for all exciting young Bundesliga players, reported links between Havertz and Bayern Munich have been common this season. With Munich’s squad aging rapidly and the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery already of their way out this summer, the league leaders have been looking to invest in youth. With French defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, both 23, arriving soon and winger Serge Gnabry, also 23, plus former Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka (24) already captured, not to mention the club’s high-profile pursuit of Chelsea teenage forward Callum Hudson-Odoi, Bayern’s aim is obvious. Fellow international Joshua Kimmich even stated earlier this year: “I can not buy him, but Kai is already a player who would fit in at Bayern.”

Leverkusen, particularly via Völler and Rolfes, have remain steadfast on Havertz’s continued stay at the BayArena into next season however. “Kai will stay with us, regardless of the outcome of the season,” said Völler this month despite previously admitting on Sky Germany in January that as “a talent of the century, as Kai is, he will someday have different ambitions.” The player meanwhile remains typically laid back. “What the future brings, I don’t worry about it. My focus is on the here and now.” said Havertz “I will deal with my contract only at the end of the season. In summer you’ll know more.”

With his deal running until 2022 Leverkusen are in no rush to sell, while Havertz is hardly to type to engineer a move. “The club is very relaxed, and Kai is too,” Rolfes told Eurosport. Nevertheless, Sport Blid reported that Bayern were considering a €75 million bid even though those at Leverkusen, Sport Bild say, have agreed they will not accept less than €100m. Even so wherever he ends up or whenever he moves, Havertz is destined for the top.

By Adam White.

This piece was extracted from Onside Inzaghi, an exquisite European Football Journal.


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