A common trend amongst Bundesliga clubs have been their consistent success in producing the stars of tomorrow, and while Bayer Leverkusen cannot often match the might of their fellow domestic giants in this respect, there is an evident aura of talent present for all to see at the BayArena.
Breaking into the first-team at the incredibly young age of just 17, it’s fair to say Kai Havertz has a potentially big future ahead of him. Joining Leverkusen’s youth program in 2010, Havertz established himself as an influential box-to-box midfielder and, in a variety of positions, notched an incredible 18 goals to help his team claim the B-Junioren Bundesliga title. The following summer, the 6ft2 youngster was awarded the prestigious Fritz Walter silver medal at under-17 level.
Despite playing the bulk of is football in the under-19s, Havertz signed his first professional contract with the club after impressing the hierarchy, making his debut in the Bundesliga defeat to Werder Bremen in mid-October. Content to ply his trade on the either wing, with the ye for a good cross, the German youth international announced his capabilities to the world with a fine performance away to rivals 1. FC Köln, assisting Wendell’s equaliser.
It’s no secret Leverkusen have endured an abnormally poor Hinrunde, but one of few to act as a glimmer of hope in an underperforming squad has been none other than Benjamin Henrichs. While only two years older than his aforementioned compatriot, Henrichs has enjoyed a substantially more productive start to his professional career, whilst being awarded gold in the Fritz Walter for under-19s. In his first game of the season, the Bocholt-born star was pivotal to Leverkusen’s fightback against Hamburger SV in which he assisted one of Joel Pohjanpalo three whirl-winding goals to turn the match on its head.
Being incredibly versatile at such a young age, Henrichs followed up on his impressively creative displays at wing-back for youth level by sitting deeper at full-back in manager Roger Schmidt’s side. Fully incorporating the modern full-back role, Henrichs can play on either flank and has the ability to surge forward effectively, but is also no stranger to ‘getting stuck in’ with fine tackles and possession-recycling interceptions adding to his plethora of talents. Such maturity has understandably seen Henrichs feature in 15 out of 17 Bundesliga matches this season, as well as being called up by Joachim Löw for matches against Italy and San Marino — in which featured against the latter.
Joining a then defender-deprived Leverkusen side in the summer of 2014, Tin Jedvaj enjoyed a fine a debut season in Germany, playing predominantly at right-back, and, although his second season wasn’t as credible, his loan from AS Roma was made permanent. While often criticised for his poor positioning and mistake-prone nature, typically in the form of high-risk passes from the back, the Croatian international has impressed on the attacking front.
Under the tutelage of Schmidt’s philosophy, Jedvaj has been encouraged to participate in overlapping runs to aid forwards. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for the Dinamo Zagreb academy graduate to find himself in promising positions to play a key pass for a teammate. Although this comes at the price of much tracking to and fro across the park, the work rate only seems to motivate an already-motivated Jedvaj, whom shows a calm nature in the face of what others may deem a nervous situation.
Overall, the Croat is a raw, but promising defender which can be owed to the faults listed above, but also his ability to mark and defend in tight encounters, with a strong aerial presence to suit, put him rightfully amongst Leverkusen’s most cherished.
The standout attacking youngster in the BayArena side’s arsenal comes in the form of one Julian Brandt. With Stefan Kießling and Kevin Volland having been out of favour, and Karim Bellarabi out injured for months, Brandt has stood up well to the growing pressure on his young shoulders and, like Henrichs, has been a positive in what has been a largely poor season to date.
Understandably, Brandt is only suited to his coach’s style of high-octane play, having only represented Leverkusen in his senior career and being thrown into the fray soon after signing for a small fee from fellow Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg. The winger became an integral part of Schmidt’s plans after the departure of Heung-Min Son and has since went from strength-to-strength in becoming a strongly versatile player capable of featuring across the Werkself’s attacking line.
Predominantly playing on the left, Brandt uses his stronger right foot to cut in with devastating effect, notching eight goalsists in 17 Bundesliga matches, with one more coming in the win over AS Monaco in the Champions League. Unlike most traditional wingers, the 20-year-old is as clinical as he is tall, and uses height to his advantage — standing at 6ft1 means Brandt can control long balls more easily, whilst also winning duels in the air, as per the typical full-back being smaller. Such towering superiority does not dampen his speed, however, with defenders often being overwhelmed and unable to mark the mobile winger.
It may come as no surprise to realise while Brandt has not been as praised as much as fellow international Leroy Sané, he has performed impressively and consistently at such a high level in competitions where other fellow prospects may have faltered and stumbled. Already having played for his country at senior level, as well as winning silver at the Olympics, it is no exaggeration to say this particular individual has a fine future ahead.
By far the most experienced of his fellow defender fledglings, Jonathan Tah’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of admirable. Arriving from the frequent Leverkusen shopping market of Hamburger SV in 2015, the young centre-back adapted well from his loan spell with Fortuna Düsseldorf, in the 2. Bundesliga, to life in the top flight. Forming a strong partnership with Ömer Toprak, Tah has announced himself as one of Germany’s future defenders and has quickly risen through the country’s youth system, including earning a trip to Euro 2016 in France.
Unlike many defenders, Tah has always featured in the backline and certainly has the stature to keep things on their course standing at 6ft3 and weighing 15st. An ideal size for any centre-back, Tah, naturally, excels in all classical defending roles, including, but not limited to, tackling, aerial presence and positioning, but also possesses an admirable tactical mind to boast, despite his modesty.
While succeeding in these areas, the Hamburg-born star also is more than competent at one-on-one situations, utilising his strength to outmuscle opponents off of the ball, and slow down his rivals’ attacks. This, in conjunction with his deceptively fast legs and athleticism, will undoubtedly put Tah on the radar of several of Europe’s heavyweights, if not so already.
There are plenty of more talents developing at Bayer Leverkusen, but the club is witnessing a surge in talent, and using the common notion of mixing youngsters with their more experienced counterparts, potential will no doubt come round for many and all.