Kai Havertz: The rising star chased by Manchester United, City and Liverpool
"He is a player who combines excellent physical qualities with great technical skills."
So said none other than Maurizio Sarri himself, a man who knows a thing or two about technical football.
Born just before the turn of the century in 1999 in Aachen, Germany, Kai grew up in a family with his mother working as a lawyer and his father as a policeman. Football was always part of the equation with the game being a passion shared within the Havertz family – both his dad and grandad were involved in amateur football and he credits his grandad for introducing him to the Beautiful Game. Additionally, living in close proximity to a football field used by the local teams certainly helped.
Kai's football journey began when he enrolled to play for his local team Alemannia Mariadorf at age four. Seven years later, aged 11, Kai joined Bayern Leverkusen and it was here that he would truly make a mark on the game demonstrating skill and ability as a midfielder. His efforts earned him the nickname 'Alleskönner' meaning 'Jack of all trades'.
As his development continued, a special day began to draw closer. The 15th of October, 2016 – Kai was called up to the Leverkusen senior squad and he came on as a substitute in a game against Werder Bremen, becoming the youngest Leverkusen debutant in the league at the age of 17 years and 126 days. The game finished 2-1 in favour of Werder Bremen but it was a day that marked an important step in a young star's rise. Havertz belied his youth with his team performances, contributing four goals and five assists in his first season. Can any among us remember being that productive at 17?
His progression would continue the following year as he was rewarded with greater prominence in the team. He scored three goals and assisted a further eight as yet another record came tumbling – he became the youngest player (18 years and 307 days) to have notched 50 appearances in the history of the Bundesliga.
Last season, however, was when he truly announced himself to the footballing world. The tapestry of Havertz's brilliance began to be woven as his name, stature and skill began to emanate with increasing intensity. By the end of the 2018-19 season, he had scored 17 goals along with three assists in 34 league appearances, nine of those goals were the opening strikes of the game – a league-high. He finished with the league's third-highest goal tally behind only Robert Lewandowski (22) and Paco Alcacer (18).
RECORD: Kai Havertz is the first teenager in Bundesliga history to score 17 goals in a single season.
— Squawka (@Squawka) May 18, 2019
He got off an impressive 2.6 shots per game while averaging a pass accuracy of 87.2%. His efforts played no small part in depositing Bayer Leverkusen back to the Champions League after their fourth-place finish. Worth remembering at this point that he was still only 19.
The young German is quite versatile in his play, being at home in the midfield or even on the wing from where he contributed seven goals last season. His precision, passing and deftness with the ball routinely drops jaws and stymies opposition defence.
His pace certainly helps, he's been clocked at 35 km/h and his comfort on the ball allows him to collect a pass at speed without breaking stride, storming into the penalty box to get a shot away. His footballing brain also comes into play as he scopes the field around him, anticipating any possible space to exploit for an attack. When building play from the midfield, he exudes a sangfroid state of mind to evade opposition press in order to find teammates and progress the ball. Not unlike a certain Toni Kroos, he demonstrates alertness in the centre of the park to think a step ahead and act as an outlet for his teammates.
Kai Havertz is the first teenager since Dieter Müller (1973-74) to score 12+ goals in a single Bundesliga campaign.
The first in 45 years. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/pauN0rb4Ko
— Squawka (@Squawka) April 6, 2019
Jonathan Tah, his Leverkusen and international teammate shared his thoughts on the rising star:
"In terms of his talent, there's no limit."
"I think if he keeps working hard and doesn't rest on his laurels, he can make it to the very top."
And so we arrive at the current 2019-20 season. The young midfielder is going strong despite losing his partner in crime Julian Brandt to Borussia Dortmund over the summer. In 10 appearances for Leverkusen, he's managed four goals and an assist. His exploits with his club side saw him called up for national duty and he's done well with Die Mannschaft with a goal and two assists in six matches so far.
In a recent interview, he said:
"Yes, it's clear that of course many people said back then that I have the potential to succeed, that I have the talent to make it."
"but that's still 10-12 years you have to work hard in order to really end up in the Bundesliga or somewhere else."
It's that last sentence that sticks out, offering a glimpse into his mindset – taking nothing for granted and assured in his responsibility to work in order to reap the rewards of his God-given talent. And he's still only 20.
Given his turbocharged progression and confident performances, is it any wonder that clubs all around Europe are pinging calls to his agent appealing for his signature?
Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid are among the clubs interested in his services. Although, given his self-confessed admiration of Barcelona growing up, there could be a top-notch German donning the Blaugrana colours in a few years' time.
In any case, there is little doubt that the Aachen native's future lies away from his current home, the question remains as to when and where he will move to when the opportunity does come calling.
"He is a complete player who could also play as a midfielder. He is a player born in 1999... with those qualities and with that personality, it is certain he will become... one of the most important players in Europe."
Few would argue with that assessment, Mr Sarri.