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Rising Ballers: Florian Wirtz – Leverkusen’s young jewel for the breakthrough year

Germany’s recent performances at international tournaments have been disappointing and shaky to say the least. The national team is being rebuilt, Hansi Flick takes over and new players like Jamaal Musiala and Karim Adeyemi are added to the squad for the latest World Cup qualifiers.

The undisputed leader of the next generation for Germany, however, is Florian Wirtz, the young attacker from Bayer Leverkusen, who led the U21 national team to European Championship success in the summer. Wirtz established himself as an integral part of the Leverkusen setup at the age of 18 and quickly became a household name.

He started the Bundesliga season 2021/22 in brilliant form, scored two goals and assisted three times in just three appearances. Partly because of his playing style and partly because he is a young German breakthrough star at Bayer, Wirtz is compared to a certain Kai Havertz and based on what we know so far, he can imitate, if not even surpass, the performance of the Chelsea star.

PLAYING CAREER SO PREVIOUSLY

The attacking midfielder has long been considered a potential star in the German line-up. After moving in 2010, Wirtz spent his formative years at FC Köln. He represented them in the U17 Bundesliga-West and impressed on every level.

Cologne knew that it would only take a while for the big clubs to knock and after almost a decade at the club, Wirtz decided to move to Leverkusen in January 2020. After a few months with the youth teams it was clear that he was ready for promotion to the senior national team and made his debut in May 2020. He became the youngest player to appear for Leverkusen and broke the aforementioned Havertz record.

Courtesy: Bayer Leverkusen / Twitter

He continued to impress in the 2020/21 season, scoring five goals and preparing another six in the Bundesliga in 29 appearances. Florian Wirtz also scored twice goals and assists in the Europa League last season.

Wirtz also represented Germany in all youth classes from the U15 up to his A debut against Lichtenstein in the last international break in early September 2021.

STATISTICS

For someone who recently turned 18, Wirtz’s direct goal performance of 11 goals and 11 assists in 51 games is very healthy, especially since many of these appearances were on the bench. His goal per 90 minutes plus assists is 0.58 in Leverkusen, which is comparable to Luis Alberto at Lazio and Bernardo Silva at Manchester City.

Wirtz’s underlying statistics show how much creative power he is. His 3.48 shot-generating actions and 0.4 goal-generating actions per 90 are both in the 90th percentile or above in the 2020-21 Bundesliga for all midfielders.

In addition, he has two important aspects to be a modern attacking midfielder: pressure on the opponents and progressive attacks. The former is important for tactical solidity and Wirtz’s numbers (6.88 per 90 in the last third and 10.64 in the middle third) are good. The latter reflects the connection between the lines and Wirtz was above the 85 for all three variants last season.

His numbers show a well-rounded talent and Wirtz will only grow in size over time.

WHAT THE STATISTICS DO NOT SAY

One of the few things that still needs to be put into numbers is the space for you and your teammates, which happens to be one of Wirtz’s greatest strengths. Germany has made a habit of producing players with a greater spatial awareness, with Thomas Müller and Havertz being the best examples and Wirtz next in line.

However, Müller, who has been Bavaria’s and Germany’s talisman for over a decade, isn’t as technically solid as Wirtz (or Havertz). The technology used by the 18-year-old attacker enables him to make better use of the space he has created. A low center of gravity helps him dribble past opponents, while his passing range and quality get better and better as he matures.

WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL

Wirtz’s combination of technique and tactical acumen is unmatched in his peer group. He is any coach’s dream in terms of adaptability and he can play anywhere on the front, although his best role is undoubtedly in the hole behind the striker.

His eye for goals is extremely valuable in attacking midfield and if he can add timely runs into the box to his arsenal he can do the prime scorer role as Bruno Fernandes was for Manchester United.

POTENTIAL

As discussed, Wirtz has all the tools he needs to be among the best in the world in just a few years. For the next couple of seasons, you can expect him to continue wearing the Leverkusen jersey to build on his breakthrough. However, it is hard to imagine that he will stay at the club for the rest of his career, especially when performances fluctuate like they have been in recent years.

FC Bayern Munich would still be interested in the young German, especially since Müller is entering the twilight of his career. Stylistically, you can hardly imagine a player who is better suited to replace him than Wirtz. In addition to Jamaal Musiala, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry, he could form the (German) core of the next big Bayern team.

Liverpool would also be an interesting option for Wirtz, even if he would most likely not play in his favored role in attacking midfield. However, he could be the long overdue replacement for Roberto Firmino in the withdrawn striker role. Whether Klopp will be at Anfield in a few years and whether he will play the same system would likely determine the outcome of this move.

Wirtz had his first major success this summer with the U21 European Championship, but it will certainly not be his last trophy. Everything is going well, he should be the linchpin at Germany’s side for the next few years.

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