Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz takes centre stage in German Cup final
Bayern Munich will be watching the 21-year-old closely on Saturday
The prize-givings may have been delayed, by circumstances beyond their control, but Bayern Munich still bring a haste and urgency to their work. The Bundesliga title was seized, with maximum efficiency, once the season resumed. The transfer market has been crowbarred open, with Bayern making Leroy Sane theirs, some 12 months after they first convinced him to swap Manchester for Munich.
On Saturday, the Bayern juggernaut speeds on to the next target, in Berlin, where they are confident of competing a domestic double in a Cup final against Bayer Leverkusen.
For Sane, who will be watching, the event should provide ample evidence that German football is as accommodating a place as any for a young, exceptionally talented footballer to thrive.
On the left flank which Sane, 24, expects to be gliding along for Bayern in 2020-21, he will see 19-year-old Alphonso Davies, the Canadian whom Bayern have channeled with great success into a role as an attacking full-back.
Sane will watch Serge Gnabry, 25, whose career has soared since he exchanged a Premier League apprenticeship – with Arsenal – for the Bundesliga. And if Kingsley Coman, 24, takes his recent form to Berlin, Sane will be reminded that competition for starting places on either wing at Bayern will be stiff next season. Sane will also see his former Schalke 04 colleague, Leon Goretzka, 25, putting on show his enhanced repertoire as an true all-terrain midfielder.
Bayern’s unceasing command of German club football – their latest title was their eighth on the trot; they have been in seven of the last 10 Cup finals, winning five – has long been accompanied by the belief that all the best German players should eventually gravitate to Munich, and that personal ambition and Bayern’s financial muscle will combine to entice them there.
Hence the interest in Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, the 21-year-old last week found himself on the podium for the Bundesliga’s Player of the Year, behind Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, scorer of 34 league goals, and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
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Havertz will outgrow Leverkusen, very possibly within the next two months, and while there is a resigned sadness at the club that a homegrown talent is already restless, Leverkusen know the drill.
Julian Brandt left them for Dortmund last summer, Bernd Leno for Arsenal 12 months earlier, both part of a long list that goes back through Toni Kroos to Michael Ballack, who both moved from Leverkusen to Bayern. It is not fanciful to suggest Havertz may become as influential a footballer as Ballack and Kroos.
Nor is it fanciful to imagine Leverkusen might haul in the sort of transfer fee that, in the age of the coronavirus crisis, was thought to be a thing of the past. They value Havertz at a massive €100m (Dh414m), and have been made aware that, beyond Bayern, there are several potential suitors in the Premier League, Chelsea among them.
Leverkusen have also looked at the deal taking Sane from City to Bayern for a fee that might rise to over €60m with add-ons, and calculate that even in a recession, that represents a high benchmark. Sane has been out injured for most of the last year.
In that period Havertz has eclipsed the winger as probably the most thrilling young Germany footballer to watch, two-footed, confident in the excellence of his technique and, head up, eyes forward, a creator with the same knack for seeing the perfect pass as Kroos.
He has a turn of speed, too, and the height and strength to make an impact at centre-forward, though his best role is probably playing off the striker, or attacking from wide positions.
“He has a world-class career ahead of him,” said Rudi Voller, the former Germany striker and head coach, and now a director at Leverkusen.
“You look at the way he was elegantly stroking the ball around and scoring important goals for us since the restart, and you know one of his great assets is how he responds to pressure.”
Leverkusen finished the season in a tight battle to clinch a top four place. It failed only on the last day of the campaign. Havertz, who only turned 21 this month, captained the club several times in the run-in, and scored six goals in his eight league outings after the restart.
Missing out on next season’s Champions League was a blow to Leverkusen, and to the chances of their retaining their jewel of a talent for next season. Voller is keen to emphasise Havertz can still end this campaign gloriously, with a Cup final and a Europa League run. Leverkusen are 3-1 up on Glasgow Rangers from the first leg of their last-16 tie, and Uefa plan to stage the remainder of the tournament next month in Germany. “Things are coming together beautifully for him,” said Voller.
Published: July 3, 2020 11:16 AM