Not long ago, the English footballing public could not believe the fact Tottenham Hotspur star Dele Alli had only just turned 21 years of age, such was his standing in the game. Clearly, Alli is one of the most promising young talents in Europe, though it would be all to remiss of us on these shores to ignore the England international’s stunning contemporaries.
For today marks the same milestone in the life of Bayer Leverkusen and Germany forward Julian Brandt. The 21-year-old has been making waves in the European game with Die Werkself, forcing himself into Joachim Löw’s thinking at international level regularly enough of late, earning five caps with the world champions.
As a result of his burgeoning reputation in the Bundesliga, the Bremen-born forward has been touted as a potential target for both Liverpool and Tottenham in recent months, as well as Bayern Munich in his homeland. So, who exactly is Brandt? What would the Premier League be getting should they see him move to one of their biggest clubs?
Brandt was born on the 2nd May 1996 in Bremen, quickly joining SC Borgfeld in his hometown in 2001 at the age of five, before joining FC Oberneuland eight years later, where he was picked up by the academy of VfL Wolfsburg. During his time Die Wölfe, Brandt scored a wonderfully impressive 27 goals in 48 games as his side won the youth league, though the forward was attracting interest from elsewhere thanks to his form in front of goal.
In 2013, Leverkusen stumped up the equivalent of £350,000 to bring the 17-year-old to the BayArena. During his first season with the club, Brandt largely operated as a back-up to the Spurs-bound Heung min-Son, though really kicked on following the South Korean’s departure in the summer of 2015.
Mainly deployed as a left-winger, it’s easy to see him fitting in at either Liverpool or Tottenham. Giving his team natural width, the Germany star can provide a wonderfully direct option in a variety of systems such a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3. That sort of tactical flexibility lends itself to coaches like Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, who would surely love to boast a wide forward of such blistering pace.
Having seen just how much Sadio Mane – a similar type of player when Brandt is deployed on the wing – improved the Reds upon his arrival, it’s easy to see why he’s been touted as a potential target. Still, direct comparisons with the searingly quick Senegalese are unfair on Brandt.
As devastating a player as Mane is, he only really has one facet to his game. Giving the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino a devastating outlet, he’s only ever likely to do exactly that. Meanwhile, Brandt offers more in the way of dictating play from central position should he drift inside.
Able to operate as a playmaker behind a central striker, or on the right. Two footed and skilful, he stretches the opposition and creates space for his teammates, particularly excelling in a fluid frontline.
If Liverpool do indeed make it into the Champions League, Klopp will obviously need alternatives to his frontline. Injuries and absences for the likes of Mane and Philippe Coutinho have shown just how fragile his squad is on Merseyside, with Brandt seemingly a natural fit for the Reds’ style of play.
For Tottenham, he’d be an interesting alternative to reported target Wilfried Zaha. Though not as diligent a defender as the Crystal Palace star, the Eagles’ supposed £40m price tag on the Ivory Coast international would put him in a similar price range as Brandt, though the latter is both younger and has experience playing in the Champions League.
That’s not to say he’s perfect, however. Brandt himself has revealed his main deficiencies lay in both his defensive work and his aerial ability. With both Spurs and Liverpool demanding their players to work hard to recover possession, the 21-year-old will need to see a marked improvement in his work off the ball. As for his ability in the air, though neither of the aforementioned clubs play in a way that requires a huge amount of heading, it is a major part of the English game and certainly something the opposition could act upon.
Still, what wingers of his age are perfect? The nature of the position will see 21-year-old’s go through stages of inconsitency, though Brandt certainly has the talent to improve under managers like Pochettino or Klopp.
Whether or not Liverpool or Tottenham are able to stave off Bayern Munich’s reported interest in Brandt remains to be seen, though he’s exactly the sort of player both Premier League powerhouses should be targeting this summer.