Goretzka, Werner, Kimmich, Brandt and Sule: Germany’s next golden generation
There will be no Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski or Bastian Schweinsteiger in the Germany squad that Joachim Löw hopes will be able to defend his nation’s title at next summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup.
As Löw begins putting the finishing touches to his plans with this month’s friendlies against England and France, bundesliga.com looks at the trails blazed since Die Nationalmannschaft’s global triumph in Brazil four years ago by a Bundesliga wunderkind quintet who could make you forget the famous faces who will not be there.
Leon Goretzka (Schalke, born: 6 February, 1995)
Then: Another one for whom 2013/14 heralded his arrival on the biggest domestic stage, Goretzka — fashioned at hometown club Bochum — replaced Julian Draxler to make his debut in a Royal Blue shirt.
Not quite as precocious as Schalke’s then-terrace darling, Goretzka still made a significant impact, scoring four goals in 25 league games to help the team clinch UEFA Champions League football with a third-placed finish while he had already caught Löw’s eye.
Named in the provisional World Cup squad, he made his senior international debut against Poland in Hamburg only to suffer an injury that reduced his already slim chances of going to Brazil to nothing.
Now: Goretzka eventually did go to Brazil — as captain of the Olympic squad in 2016 — though injury meant he played only a minor role in their silver medal triumph. He was much more central to the Confederations Cup win 12 months later, notably scoring the quickest-ever brace by a Germany international with two goals in three minutes of the semi-final win over Mexico. “He has made a good impression,” said Bayern president Uli Hoeness of the midfielder’s summer displays.
While Hoeness was impressed, Goretzka’s displays raised fewer eyebrows than they might have done earlier as his ability with and without the ball had already been showcased at Schalke throughout the 2016/17 season. Now just a game shy of a century of Bundesliga appearances, he has a disciple in Löw.
“He has good technique, a lot of tempo with and without the ball, and he already has a lot of character,” said the Germany boss, who rates the youngster as “one of the most talented” of his generation.
2018 replacement for: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Timo Werner (Leipzig, born: 6 March, 1996)
Then: The 2013/14 season did not see Werner so much break through as smash his way onto the Bundesliga scene with hometown club Stuttgart, churning out record after record faster than a success-hungry X-Factor winner: youngest VfB first-team debutant in any competition at 17 years and four months, youngest Bundesliga debutant soon after and — within four top-flight appearances — VfB’s most baby-faced top-flight goalscorer.
Now: He got the same length of contract when he moved to Leipzig following Stuttgart’s relegation in 2016, a switch that has proven wildly beneficial for Werner and his new club. A weighty return of 21 goals in 31 Bundesliga outings in 2016/17 has been followed by him firing six in nine to start the current campaign.
He would surely have had more but for a neck injury that sidelined him for two Matchdays, though it did not stop him becoming the youngest player to record a century of top-flight appearances earlier this season. Yet another record… Called up by Jogi Löw last season, Werner is now a shoo-in — if fit — for the squad next summer.
“He’s hard to predict and difficult to defend against,” Germany’s all-time leading scorer Miroslav Klose, the man Werner is touted to replace and now part of Löw’s coaching crew, said. “I like that he’s a nice kid with a good character. I have no doubts he’ll take off.” Given Werner’s jet-heeled pace, that may mean literally.
2018 replacement for: Miroslav Klose
Watch: Werner inspires Leipzig to Matchday 11 win against Hannover 96
Joshua Kimmich (Bayern, born: 8 February 1995)
Then: The first season after his move from Stuttgart to Leipzig could not have gone better. A first professional goal gave his 26 third-tier appearances added shine as Kimmich, then 18, played his part in his club’s promotion to Bundesliga 2 as a midfielder. In a first step towards emulating his idols Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gündogan, he was central to a Germany squad also featuring Niklas Stark, Julian Brandt and Davie Selke that lifted the Under-19 EURO title.
Now: Then-Stuttgart boss Alexander Zorniger scolded his bosses for having allowed Kimmich to join Bayern Munich during the 2015 summer window. The “fatal bad decision” as Zorniger called it was Bayern’s boon as they purchased a veritable Swiss Army knife of a player. Converted to right-back when Pep Guardiola decided to play Lahm in midfield, Kimmich has racked up over 60 Bundesliga appearances, shining notably in Lahm’s old position — where he is now billed to star for club and country. He was the only man to play every minute of each game at last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup where — as a right-back — he even wore the captain’s armband: sound like anyone you may know? And to think Guardiola told him he was “perhaps one of the best centre-backs in the world… He’s got absolutely everything.”
2018 replacement for: Philipp Lahm
Watch: Kimmich vs. Goretzka & others for October Goal of the Month
Julian Brandt (Leverkusen, born: 2 May, 1996)
Then: After joining Wolfsburg in 2011, the baby-faced blonde must have thought the Volkswagen Arena would provide the stage for his professional debut. Midway through the 2013/14 season, the Wolves let one of their pack slip away, however, and Brandt moved to Leverkusen where sporting director Rudi Völler hailed the arrival of “one of the most talented young players in German football”.
Within a month, he had made his Bundesliga debut, and three days later got his first more-ish taste of the UEFA Champions League against a Paris Saint-Germain side boasting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Marco Verratti — a heady rise for a 17-year-old who had been playing junior football earlier in the campaign.
After initially using him as a substitute, boss Sami Hyypiä gave Brandt his first start on Matchday 29 and kept him in the starting line-up, eventually being rewarded with two goals and three assists in a dozen league appearances before Brandt joined forces with Kimmich & Co. to win Under-19 UEFA EURO 2014.
Now: Brandt now has a century of Bundesliga games under his belt and 12 senior caps for his country, just under half those collected by his idol, Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus. And he’s still only 21.
His last two seasons as a bona fide first-teamer have seen him involved in 14 goals in each, and his 11 assists last term were bettered by just five Bundesliga players, including Bayern’s Thomas Müller and Arjen Robben, a vastly more experienced duo. His three goals and as many assists already this season suggest 2017/18 could be the FIFA Confederations Cup winner’s most fruitful year yet.
2018 replacement for: Lukas Podolski
Niklas Süle (Bayern, born: 3 September, 1995)
Then: An unfamiliar name that had journalists scrambling when he was named in the Hoffenheim line-up in the dwindling light of the 2012/13 season, Süle was a much more significant fixture in the team in World Cup year as Markus Gisdol saw the potential in his powerful 6’5″ physique, handing him 25 Bundesliga appearances.
An Under-19 international at the time, Süle had received a call from the Turkish FA wondering if he would consider playing for them, because — as the Frankfurt-born centre-back, whose grandfather was Hungarian, himself explained — “they thought my name sounded Turkish.”
Now: Eintracht Frankfurt and Darmstadt will be kicking themselves. Süle was on their books as a youngster, but then joined Hoffenheim in 2010. Since last summer and having been the immovable rock on which Hoffenheim’s third-placed finish was built, he is now a Bayern Munich player.
“There’s nothing better for a young player like me than to learn from the best in the world,” he said, referring to club team-mates Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, whom he joined at international level shortly after UEFA EURO 2016.
Süle, another to have added Confederations Cup victory to Olympic silver, is already developing into an imposing mixture of both: clean, firm and accurate in both the tackle and the pass. Draw the ideal modern-day centre-back, and you draw Niklas Süle.
2018 replacement for: Per Mertesacker