Any naïve hopes of an England World Cup triumph in Russia next year were eviscerated last night by the Confederations Cup final, which witnessed a Germany team containing just three members of the squad that lifted the title in Brazil and seven members of the squad that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 connive its way past a full-strength Chile.
Pre-tournament, Joachim Lowe described his Confederations Cup cohort as a look to the future. But in practical terms, it was Die Mannschaft’s second string, a combination of Germany’s most promising youngsters and players on the fringes of the senior squad with a few regulars thrown in to provide continuity.
Julian Draxler was the most decorated member of the squad with just 35 caps, and the captain at the age of 23. Yet, Germany still had the quality, organisation, leadership and guile to see off the threat of a two-time Copa America winning Chile side that are currently ranked fourth in the world in a calm and calculated 1-0 win.
Germany are not only luxury to a wealth of top-class players at their footballing peaks, but also an incredible rabble of youngsters breaking through who may well have just forced their way into Lowe’s World Cup plans for 2018 – none more so than alleged Arsenal target Leon Goretzka.
At a personal level, Goretzka will feel last night’s final was a missed opportunity. He was one of Germany’s most effective players on the pitch over the course of the ninety minutes, but two glorious chances to directly impact the scoreline passed him by.
Draxler picked up on a loose ball inside Chile’s defensive third and instantly laid it onto Goretzka as he charged into the penalty area, but the Schalke star refused to use his left foot and although his first touch set him up well for a right-footed curler, it also gave Claudio Bravo enough time to come off his line and snuff out a strike that would have put Germany 2-0 up.
Not long after, it was Goetzka’s turn to play provider, producing one of the best passes of the match as his drilled, curling effort whilst marauding towards the area cut out the Chile defence and unleashed a team-mate, who once again refrained from using his weaker foot – allowing La Roja’s backline to recover in time to kill off the chance.
But the fact Goretzka got himself into such dangerous positions – he also had a speculative effort from the inside right channel fizz past the left post – despite being primarily part of the midfield and Germany finishing the final with just 34% of the ball speaks volumes about his intelligence as a footballer, especially when coupled with some huge contributions at the other end.
Indeed, in addition to proving a real force going forward at the Confederations Cup, finishing the tournament with three goals – the joint-most of any player in Russia – Goretzka’s efforts defensively were vital to Chile not getting back into the final after going a goal down, winning crucial headers and tackles and perhaps most pivotally, producing a last-ditch challenge that forced Alexis Sanchez to take an extra touch and eventually have his late attempt to equalise cut out by Sebastian Rudy.
Those juxtaposing contributions highlight what Goertzka truly offers; an incredibly well-rounded game and the physicality to utilise it in an array of different capacities. Throughout his Schalke career, which now spans 116 games, he’s featured as a right winger, an attacking midfielder, a central midfielder and even a defensive midfielder, scoring goals from each position.
Advanced central midfield as a traditional No.8 appears to be the role Goertzka’s naturally gravitating towards long-term. But at the age of 22 and offering an incredibly holistic skillset, what should excite interested managers most is Goretzka’s tactical flexibility and how he can be adapted to the needs of the team, reminiscent of Germany great Michael Ballack – an inside left forward for Bayer Leverkusen, a goalscoring midfield talisman for Bayern Munich and a title-winning anchorman at Chelsea. Amid an era in which top Premier League sides are constantly switching between 3-4-3, 4-5-1 and various other systems, Goretzka could be an incredibly useful tool.
With twelve months remaining on his Schalke contract following a fine season at the Veltins Arena, in theory Goretzka should be there for the taking for Premier League suitors this summer – Transfermarkt value him at £19.55million.
Schalke insist their prodigious youngster isn’t for sale but considering the money English clubs can now put on the table, they’ll struggle to turn down a big offer for a player who could leave for free at the end of next season. And with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the same situation, Goretzka’s emerging as a prime candidate to help the Gunners replace their two star entities.
“We’ll definitely go into the next season with Leon. Maybe he is the most important player for us. It makes no sense to us to let him leave ahead of this season. It does not have to be a European club, a Chinese one can come in. That does not matter to us.”
Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel, 2017
Yet, as is often the case with promising young Germans, the idea of a move to Bayern Munich continues to linger in the background. They have no need to swoop for him this summer – in fact, another year at Schalke will not only further aid Goretzka’s development but also save Bayern a transfer fee.
That is the challenge Arsenal face in bringing Goretzka to the Emirates Stadium this summer; convincing him he’d be better off as a key player in north London rather than trying to earn such status amid the wealth of competition at the Allianz Arena.
Nonetheless, Goretzka is shaping up to be a top-class talent in the making and amid a summer in which Arsenal could be losing two of theirs, the 22-year-old seems as wise a long-term investment as any.
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