The modern era of European soccer has put a premium on young players dominating. In Spain, Lamine Yamal, Pau Cubarsi and the rest of the La Masia graduates have helped turn a dire situation around at Barcelona. The Premier League has seen players like Cole Palmer, Kobbie Mainoo, Alejandro Garnacho and Harvey Elliott. Yet, 20-year-old sensation Florian Wirtz at Bayer Leverkusen may top all of them in terms of talent and ability. The German has played a starring role in a history-making season for Bayer Leverkusen en route to the side’s first-ever Bundesliga title.

Xabi Alonso’s side has yet to lose a game this season, and Wirtz has played in all but two of those games. With Wirtz regularly working out of a central attacking position in the midfield, he leads the team in assists while ranking second in goals. In his 41 appearances this season, Wirtz has scored 17 goals and provided 18 assists in all competitions. He ranks fourth in the Bundesliga in terms of assists while sitting in a tie for seventh in the goals department.

While those stats jump off the page, perhaps the best part of Wirtz’s game is his dribbling ability. The midfielder ranks toward the top of all players in Europe in terms of dribbling success rate. In terms of deeper stats, Wirtz ranks fourth in the Bundesliga in both progressive carries and progressive passes. This stat comes down to advancing the ball 10 yards whether that be through dribbling or passing. In total, he has 348 progressive actions in the Bundesliga this season, or roughly 12 per game. That has a profound impact on how aggressive a team can be particularly given Xabi Alonso’s attacking nature.

Mind you, Wirtz is still just 20 years old. Showing this level of confidence is only going to allow Wirtz to get more comfortable in top-level contests. That has paid off for Leverkusen this season with the Meisterschale. It could take the club even higher over future seasons.

Leverkusen helps Florian Wirtz reach potential

This success did not come as a surprise to the German though. Touted from a young age as one of Germany’s top youth talents, Wirtz rose through the ranks at Koln before Leverkusen captured the teenager in 2020. As a 16-year-old, Wirtz was the subject of a transfer worth just over $200,000 to join the youth system in Leverkusen. It took him a mere four months to make his debut with the Leverkusen first team, a start as a 17-year-old against Werder Bremen. Less than one month later, he scored his first goal for Leverkusen, which came against Bayern Munich in an eventual loss. At the time, he was the youngest goal-scorer in Bundesliga history.

That youth saw consistent development from season to season. In his first full campaign with Bayer Leverkusen, Wirtz played 29 league games and notched five goals and six assists, a decent return for an 18-year-old in the 2020/21 season.

Leverkusen’s 2022/23 season got off to a dismal start, and that extends back to the 2021/22 campaign. Wirtz had a serious knee injury that prematurely ended that campaign. Consequently, he eased back into the season with Xabi Alonso at the helm last campaign. Upon returning to full fitness, Wirtz only improved. Now, the German is on an upward trend of success that is helping his club. Bayer Leverkusen remains on pace for the treble, and Wirtz has had his hand in every competition.

He has three goals and four assists in seven Europa League games. Bayer Leverkusen is carrying a 2-0 advantage into London when it plays West Ham on April 18. In the DFB-Pokal semifinal against Dusseldorf, Wirtz scored twice and tacked on an assist. Finally, his hat trick from off the bench against Werder Bremen this past weekend started the long-awaited party for Bayer Leverkusen’s first league title.

Leverkusen secures its future, for now

Garnering interest from Europe’s elite clubs, namely Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid, Wirtz denied the spotlight move. Instead, club CEO Fernando Carro confirmed that Florian Wirtz will call the BayArena home next season. He would not be willing to let go of a talent he said could lift the Ballon d’Or in the future.

Xabi Alonso will have at least one more season with Wirtz leading the way. The manager understands the potential at the feet of the 20-year-old sensation, going so far as to compare him to Lionel Messi.

“There are beautiful and good players,” Xabi Alonso said. “Pretty is he who does pretty things, but that is not efficient. Why is Messi good? Because he knows how to make the simple pass. Give it to the one who is in the best position. That’s being good, not always doing the most brilliant thing. Florian does it. That’s why he’s so good.”