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OPINION | When does Kai Havertz outgrow Bayer Leverkusen and seek new pastures for progression?

Aachen; the city where Emperors were crowned. Dating back to the days of Charlemagne, when the city was named as the Imperial capital of the Carolingian Empire, Aachen was a major city center for over five centuries.  

As the traditional city where Holy Roman Emperors were crowned, its legacy in the annals of German history had been established. A major production center of high quality textiles and historical manuscripts, it remained an important city until its decline began during the 17th century.  

Despite playing host to congresses and peace talks – most notably the treaty that ended the War of Austrian Succession – it would eventually no longer be considered a free imperial city around the time of the French Revolution.  It found rebirth in the 19th century – again as a production center – for rail locomotives, tobacco, woolen and silk goods, and assorted smaller items such as buttons and needles, before yet again fading into relative obscurity.   

It does not have the long-standing history of the great central European cities like Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Milan, and Rome, but Aachen had its day in the sun. One worthy of the history books.  

When it comes to football, however, Aachen is but a small footnote in the larger catalogue of German achievement. Kai Havertz may well change all that.  

A son of the border city, Havertz didn’t end up in the Bayer Leverkusen academy until 2010, spending time with Alemannia Mariadorf and Alemannia Aachen previously. Four years on he made his debut for the German U16 national side, and subsequently rose through the national and domestic tiers before making his full debut for Die Werkself in 2016. 

To date, his CV reads as if it was edited into FIFA or Football Manager; two Fritz Walter Medals (U17; Silver in 2016, and U19; Gold in 2018), Leverkusen’s youngest ever Bundesliga debutant (17 years and 126 days), and the clubs youngest ever Bundesliga goalscorer during the same campaign.

Described as an Alleskönner, Havertz has drawn comparisons with the likes of Michael Ballack and Toni Kroos, while admitting his admiration of Mesut Özil. Lovely on the ball, strong in the air, and intellectually beyond his years, there are some that say that Havertz can develop into one of the best players that Germany has ever produced in its history.  

High praise indeed, which unsurprisingly has led to wandering eyes cast in his direction from all corners of Europe, and from domestic rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

But the question everyone will ask is certainly the obvious elephant in the room; when does Kai Havertz outgrow Leverkusen and seek new pastures for progression? The hard truth remains that Havertz is on course to develop into an elite-level footballer, and that is a level that Leverkusen – regardless of their potential as a club – cannot hope to achieve.

Recent history reflects this as well. Dating back to 2011/12, Bayer has seen the departures of Arturo Vidal, André Schürrle, Daniel Carvajal, Emre Can, Heung-min Son, Arkadiusz Milik, Christoph Kramer, Hakan Calhanoglu, Benjamin Henrichs, and Julian Brandt. All promising young(er) players who have gone on to bigger clubs; some with varying degrees of success.

It is inevitable that Havertz will walk that same path, but what is important to consider is the notion that there have been bright young talents before him to jump to seemingly greener pastures too early, which subsequently hampered their development.

For a young player of his current ability and potential, it is easy to jump to one of Europe’s best and brightest, but another road even more trodden on could be a better option.  

Marco Reus, Leon Goretzka, Julian Brandt, and Timo Werner are just a few current examples of players who could have very easily fielded overtures from abroad and left the country with ease. But leaving the country for a bigger club cannot just be about ambition, which so often ends up being the ruin of many.  

There is something to be said with being settled in a country, its culture, your surroundings, and knowing what is expected of you both on and off the pitch. In Germany, and any nation of someone’s birth, where a natural inherent level of comfort exists. Top Italian players historically do not leave Serie A for the same reason, and much of the same can be said – until recent years – about the best Spain had to offer.

Coming out of one’s comfort zone too soon can be detrimental to a players career; Lewis Holtby is a prime example of this. And while it is a near guarantee that Liverpool, and the Spanish giants are sure to be heavily interested come next summer window, the more prudent career move for Havertz could well be – I’m sorry to say – a move to a domestic juggernaut and follow in Brandt’s footsteps.

Like Havertz, Brandt fielded interest from big clubs abroad; Liverpool being one of the heavily interested, along with murmurings of Arsenal being keen. Instead, Brandt chose to remain in more familiar surroundings and moved to Dortmund, despite the champions of Europe having him on their radar.

Though the Premier League is arguably the best league in the world, where a gifted young player will get immeasurable exposure, the Bundesliga remains one of the best competitions in the world, featuring world class players, and clubs who have ambitions bigger than league trophies. The perfect stepping stone, if further steps are desired. 

Reaching the top echelon of football can still easily be achieved while remaining in-country. The list of German internationals that play for Bayern, Dortmund, and RB Leipzig, while competing in continental competitions, remains extensive. This too – in theory – provides an easier time remaining cognizant of tactical and technical expectations for the national team as well.

As it stands, the immense pressure that Havertz is sure to face moving forward will undoubtedly play a role in whatever decision he makes regarding his career path. Whether or not he remains in Germany, or goes the path of Toni Kroos and eventually stars for one of the biggest clubs in the history of the sport, remains to be seen.  

One thing is for certain, however; that Aachen is once again ramping up to be the city where kings were crowned.

By Andrew Thompson.

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