Leverkusen (Germany) (AFP) – Florian Wirtz only turned 18 last May and is already attracting the attention of Europe’s top clubs with eye-catching performances, but Bayer Leverkusen have plans in place to keep hold of their rising teenage star.

Wirtz’s deft chip set up Moussa Diaby’s late winner in Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Celtic to put Leverkusen in the Europa League’s last 16.

Wirtz’s ascendancy has been nothing short of meteoric since Leverkusen signed him from the Cologne Under-17 team in January 2020.

His seven goals and nine assists in 16 games for Leverkusen this season speaks volumes.

“I have learnt so much – the (senior) game is so different to youth football,” the teenage attacking midfielder told AFP.

“Against big clubs like Celtic, you have to prove yourself on a different level.

“When you manage to make a comeback like that,” he added as Leverkusen scored two late goals against the Scottish giants, “it gives you some momentum which we want to carry into the Leipzig game on Sunday.”

Leverkusen, who are fourth in the Bundesliga and on course for the Champions League next season, have a history of losing talent to bigger clubs.

Michael Ballack was 25 when he left on a free transfer for Bayern Munich in 2002, then went onto captain Germany and star for Chelsea.

Kai Havertz, still only 22, joined the Blues for 80 million euros ($90 million) in September 2020, then scored the winning goal for Chelsea in last season’s Champions League final.

Having seen Havertz’s shine in the Premier League, Wirtz knows he is already on the path to similar success.

“Every small boy dreams of playing for a really big club, I don’t know what will happen in the next few years, I only know that my head is fully focused on Leverkusen,” he said.

“I have a long contract and therefore want to give my best here.”

There are obvious comparisons with Havertz, whose previous record Wirtz broke when he became the club’s youngest player to make his Bundesliga debut – aged 17 years, 15 days – in May 2020.

Just weeks before Havertz’s Champions League heroics in Lisbon, Wirtz marked his 18th birthday by signing a contract extension with Leverkusen until 2026.

“He has a really long contract – that’s good – but it’s also about (giving him) the feeling, that this is the best place to develop,” said Leverkusen sports director Simon Rolfes.

“We have other young players who can reach a world-class level” such as the 22-year-old Diaby “and we want to keep them as long as possible, so they grow together – here in Leverkusen.”

Leverkusen’s Barcelona-born CEO Fernando Carro sees it as his job to be able to offer Wirtz the chance to be successful and win titles with Leverkusen.

“We want to create the resources and build a team with sporting success so that he will stay a long time,” Carro told AFP.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, plus German giants Bayern Munich, are all reportedly tracking Wirtz. 

Rolfes raised an eyebrow when he saw the lengthy list of scouts who watched the win over Celtic.

He is, however, realistic.

“I’m not afraid of success and if one of our players goes to one of the top fives clubs in the world, that is a successful story,” he added.

Wirtz could be a name to watch at next year’s World Cup.

After helping the German juniors win the Under-21 European Championship in June, Wirtz made his senior debut in September’s 2-0 win over Liechtenstein.

He then set up Timo Werner’s goal during a 4-0 win over North Macedonia in October which punched Germany’s ticket to the World Cup finals.

Having trained alongside childhood heroes like Thomas Mueller and Manuel Neuer, Wirtz sees being involved in the Germany set up as a “huge honour”.

His goal is to be on the plane to Qatar next November. 

“It’s one of my biggest dreams to play at a World Cup for Germany, I hope I get a few more games and it’d be a highlight to be there.”