Schalke is one of the most popular soccer teams in Germany, and one of the top 20 biggest clubs in the world. Many great players have competed for Die Knappen including the legendary Spanish forward Raúl, current Germany stopper Manuel Neuer, German legends Olaf Thon, Fritz Szepan, Klaus Fischer and Belgian legend and current Belgian national team manager Marc Wilmots.
Over the last 7 years, the popular German side has given birth to several extremely talented attacking midfielders while hosting some brilliant players for their developing talent to emulate. Some of these talents have gone on to play for even bigger clubs and their legacy has left Schalke with young starlets who are eager to fill those shoes and impress top European teams like their predecessors. Usually it’s Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ajax, who are at the forefront of developing young talent, but programs like Schalke are often overlooked. Recently they have been producing some of the finest talents in the game. Currently they sit in sixth place in the Bundesliga, only two points behind fourth place, but that will soon change thanks to the emergence of some extremely gifted young players.
The most notable of Schalke’s products is German star Mesut Özil. Schalke was Özil’s first professional club. And in his two season stint with them, he thoroughly impressed and became the next big thing of German football. While he only played 39 matches for Schalke and only scored 1 goal, his talent could not be ignored. Özil broke into the first team after some spectacular performances in league cup competition and his playmaking ability allowed Schalke to finish second in the league in the 2006 season. After refusing to sign a new contract, he was transferred to Werder Bremen where he made a significant impact and gained a great deal of attention. Since then he’s gone on to play for Real Madrid and Arsenal, and has become one of the most talented attacking midfielders in the game.
In 2009, Schalke would find another young German starlet to fill the number 10 role and breathe some life into their midfield. It took some time before Holtby would take the helm at Schalke and he was loaned out for half of the 2009 season before being loaned out for the entire 2010 season. When Holtby returned in 2011, he took over the midfield and helped Schalke to finish third in the league. He made 49 appearances for the team and scored 9 goals in the process. His playmaking abilities attracted attention from Premier League teams including Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham. And halfway through the 2012 season, he was transferred to Tottenham for a small fee of €1.75 million, which was a steal for a player with his passing acumen and attacking vision. It took him some time to fit into Spurs system, but he’s recently been a regular for them and has been one of their best players as of late.
In the 2011 season, Holtby played a central role while another German starlet played on the left side. Julian Draxler was only 18 at the time, but he was already beginning to raise eyebrows. His combination play with Holtby was a big reason Schalke finished third that year. At 187cm, the tall youngster proved to be a big aerial threat and his dribbling ability, long shooting and passing prowess earned him a starting role in nearly every game. When Holtby left for England, there was no adjustment period needed as Draxler was given the number 10 shirt and allowed to play centrally where he would continue to shine. Now that he has been able to orchestrate Schalke’s attacks, Draxler has garnered even more attention and is on the radar of big name clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund. The young German has already made 9 appearances for the German national team and is developing into a fine attacking midfielder who will surely be a great asset to any team if he decides to leave Schalke.
Draxler is under the watchful eye of many big clubs and even though he is not yet gone it’s apparent that Schalke have another wonderkid ready to fill his shoes. Max Meyer had made 9 league appearances for Schalke this term and in those caps he’s scored 3 goals and recorded an assist. He possesses the same passing ability and vision that Draxler does and he likes to dribble just as much. Last summer during the U17 Euros, Meyer put on an absolute clinic and it’s becoming increasingly evident that he along with Draxler are the next German phenomenon. Meyer scored the only goal for Schalke in a 3-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund last week. He dribbled past two defenders inside the box before making a perfect pass in traffic and when Adam Szalai couldn’t finish, Meyer fired the rebounded shot into the back of the net. He’s already been linked with Chelsea, but it’s unlikely that Meyer will be leaving Schalke anytime soon and he will look to grow at Schalke over the next couple of years.
With Draxler and Meyer at the forefront of the conversation, it’s easy to overlook yet another bright young talent amongst their already starlet-studded cast of midfielders. Eighteen-year-old Leon Goretzka has impressed this season albeit a little bit under the radar. Schalke signed Goretzka from VfL Bochum, a second division German team, earlier this year for a fee of around €3 million. He captained his U17 side during the 2012 Euros where he played alongside Meyer and although Meyer made the headlines it was Goretzka who won the Fritz Walter gold medal ahead of Meyer who won the silver. The Fritz Walter medal is awarded to the nation’s most outstanding youth footballers and notable past recipients have been Mario Götze, Marko Marin, Manuel Neuer, Lewis Holtby, Julian Draxler and Marc-André ter Stegen. Schalke had to fight off the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Manchester United to secure his signature and understandably so. In 6 league appearances Goretzka has scored a goal and shares all of the traits of Meyer and Draxler.
If Schalke are able to hold onto these three youngsters they will be in good hands for quite some time, as each one of these talents are developing into extremely promising attacking midfielders. They can all dribble, shoot and pass with great accuracy and their recent form has attracted many top teams across Europe, which is worrying for Schalke’s manager Jens Keller. These developments in the Schalke midfield bring to light a program that has been a talent factory as of late and has quietly produced some of the games most exciting young players. With German football as powerful as it’s been in the last few years there is hope for Schalke in keeping their young stars, as they currently have Champions League football and will all be granted a good amount of playing time whereas they would certainly ride the bench at bigger clubs. It remains to be seen just how good these players will be, but the past points to big things for these young German starlets and the German national side will surely benefit from all this young talent.
Editor’s note: Read the latest news, opinion and analysis on our Bundesliga page.
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