By Obiajulu Chiagoziem
Simon Rolfes, German former professional football and sporting director, in an interview, spoke about the improving form of youngster, Florian Wirtz.
Chelsea paid a huge amount in landing Kai Havertz from BayArena at the start of 2020-21 and thus left a hole for Bayer Leverkusen to fill. Rather than splashing the money scouting for a replacement, they went back into their junior team and picked out Florian Wirtz who has been in a great form this season.
“If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That’s why it’s a great story for Florian but also for us as a club,” Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform.
Florian Wirtz has made a tremendous impact at the club while still on an improvement.
Leverkusen’s faith in youth and their clearly defined philosophy has served them well previously, and they’re being rewarded once again by the club’s latest wonderkid, who has put Havertz well and truly in the rear-view mirror as Europe’s elite queue for his signature.
From records, in his junior days, Florian Wirtz has been great at exploiting gaps and creating space in midfield, while churning out goalscoring chances.
“Extraordinary player,” Rolfes told Stats Perform. “I saw him the first time when he was 13 and followed him all the time. Spoke with him before he moved to us, with the parents a lot of times and tried to convince them that it was the right step to come to us and accelerate his development.
“I and the whole club are very happy that he is with us. That’s the interesting thing, I watched him the first time at 13 and he is still playing the same. 14,15, 16, always in that kind of style.”
Comparing Havertz and Wirtz, the latter has an equal split between goals and assists (10 each), averaging his 20 goal involvements once every 148 minutes across his top-flight career so far.
That’s quicker than Havertz managed at the same stage of his Bundesliga career, with his 16 goal involvements in his first 42 apps coming at an average of 165 minutes.
Wirtz also proved a shade more productive in front of goal, with an expected goals per 90 average of 0.16 compared to Havertz’s 0.14, but the now-Chelsea forward was able to get more involved in the average game with 65 touches per 90 compared to Wirtz’s 58 per 90.
“I wouldn’t say they’re similar. They’re for sure similar in terms of extraordinary qualities and potential for really big careers,” Rolfes said.
“I would say at the end, Kai plays a little bit more forward and is very good in going deep with a lot of speed. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because he is so tall but he is incredibly fast. Very direct, fantastic shot with his left foot and a good header. With his height, a very good header of the ball.
“With Florian, I think from a positional sense he is a little bit deeper. More technique in small spaces I would say. Kai likes to use his speed. They are quite different. They unfortunately only played/trained half a year together. It would be nice to have them both together in the squad at the moment because one right foot, one left. They would fit very good together.”
“The attitude is very good. With players and we could see it with Kai Havertz, they know their quality. They are 18 and self-confident because they know about their quality. Special players have that – they can feel that, feel it directly on the pitch. Playing with other good players, they’re able to handle it and adapt to the different speed of the game,” said Rolfes.
“In that case, they are quite far [developed] and they know there’s interest in them because also with 14, 15, 16 it’s normal big clubs watched him play. With Florian and Kai, it’s quite the same. They always know they’re interesting and extraordinary players.”
Wirtz has been involved in goals across all competitions every 47 minutes so far this term – it is the best ratio of minutes per goal involvement of all players in Europe’s top-five leagues with at least 500 minutes, ahead of Haaland (51 mins), Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema (52 mins), Bayern talisman Robert Lewandowski (60 mins) and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah (65 mins).
“In the youth teams, the difference in the quality between him and others was much higher. The game in the youth is around them. Now, he also has a big influence on the game, but he has to position himself better to get the ball and use his quality.
“Players with extraordinary quality have the ability to find the right spaces but in professional teams they have to wait a little bit in their position and then use their quality,” former Leverkusen midfielder Rolfes said.
“Compared to the youth where they are doing everything.”
Wirtz is improving day by day as times goes on and is definitely going to be amongst the best with time.
“He will improve year by year. Although he already has a high level. His biggest strength and you could see that in all the years in the youth team, is that he gives his best in each game,” added Rolfes.
“Doesn’t matter where he was playing or which team-mates he was playing with. The first team, U19, U13 etc, he was always giving his best. That is a key element in his development that he is able to adapt at higher levels but he has ambition to always improve and you have to improve.
“Sometimes improvement is also a little bit about changing your game. For sure the opponents want to defend him and watch him, so improvement is sometimes changing a little bit. I’m totally convinced he will have a great career because he has the right mindset to develop.
“If he keeps that, he is 18 and young, it’s a really young guy and he has strengthen his personality etc – that’s normal. We all know how we’ve been at 18 but if he keeps his mindset and development, he will have a fantastic career.” he concluded.