The 17-year-old midfielder has been a force to reckon with in the Bundesliga this season.
Havertz was understandably a fan favourite at the BayArena, and when sporting director Rudi Völler described the youngster as Leverkusen’s best ever player, there was, perhaps surprisingly, little public pushback against the 21-year-old’s claim in favour of Florian Wirtz.
This is a side that have been second in the Bundesliga five times and finished as runners-up to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final in 2002; a club who have boasted Michael Ballack, Toni Kroos and Arturo Vidal over the years – in Havertz’s very position!
But such was King Kai’s impact: Havertz left for Chelsea at the start of September with 46 goals and 31 assists in 150 appearances in all competitions with Leverkusen under his belt – plundered, for the most part, from midfield.
If there is some argument as to whether he is Leverkusen’s greatest ever player, there can be very little that he is one of the most promising midfielders on the planet.
But fret not, Leverkusen fans. For in Wirtz, Die Werkself have a player on an alarmingly similar trajectory.
Havertz won the Fritz Walter Gold medal, an award recognising the most promising youth talents in Germany, at U19 level in 2018. Wirtz has already collected gold at U17 level. Havertz was also Leverkusen’s youngest debutant and goalscorer, until Wirtz came along.
Just two weeks past his 17th birthday when he made his debut in a 4-1 win at Werder Bremen in May, Wirtz overtook Havertz as Leverkusen’s youngest scorer when he found the target in a 4-2 loss to champions Bayern Munich at the tender age of 17 years and 34 days.
The result may not have gone Leverkusen’s way, but the manner of Wirtz’s goal was cause enough for optimism. Havertz missed the game with injury, and Bayer were trailing 4-1 with a minute to play. Wirtz’s head never went down, though, and his consolation strike was one to remember.
He had the wherewithal to find space in behind Lucas Hernandez, the technique to work the ball onto his supposedly weaker left foot, and the confidence to steer the ball beyond a Manuel Neuer who has a rather robust claim to be considered the greatest goalkeeper of all time.
“Flo can do everything,” explained Jörg Jakobs, academy director at Wirtz’s former club Cologne and perhaps the only person watching not surprised by what the youngster had done. “He’s playful, has great technique, incredible game intelligence, is fast with the ball and is a great dribbler. If he stays fit, he’s at least in the same category as Havertz.”
Germany legend Lotthar Mätthaus doubled-down on Jakob’s comments, saying: “He will be the second Kai Havertz… He will go the same way as Havertz. In a few years, we will see him play for the German national team and we’ll see him play for a big, big team in Europe.”
It’s a big claim, but Wirtz himself has the ambition to continue surpassing his former teammate after becoming the first 17-year-old to five Bundesliga goals when Leverkusen despatched Stuttgart on Matchday 20 of the 2020/21 campaign.
“In training, I try to emulate how [Havertz] acts in front of goal and how he moves between the spaces,” Wirtz told Sport Bild at the turn of 2021. “It’s an incentive for me to become even better than Kai. I always want to be the best and hate to lose.”
Havertz’s pass completion last season stood at 87.5 percent; Wirtz’s wasn’t far behind at 82.5 percent. Consider also that Havertz lined up centrally, with a wider range of recipients than Wirtz enjoyed on the right. Havertz had 67 touches per 90 minutes set against Wirtz’s 58, but perhaps where the younger man comes into his own is for duels won.
Zweikämpfe is German footballing parlance for all duels won – an agricultural challenge from a defender, an opponent dribbled past, an aerial challenge won at a corner – a term that may require some unpacking, but once it has been, reveals quite how effective a player Wirtz is.
Havertz beat his man an average of 12 times per game last season. Wirtz, despite still being in school, outdid players – sometimes nearly twice his age – an average of 16 times per 90. Combining steel and silk, Leverkusen might well have replaced Havertz’s leadership qualities as well as his obvious attacking talent.
“He has a combination of potential and extreme determination which is extremely rare,” Jakobs continued. “I’ve rarely seen an attacking player who works so hard at tracking back, despite the fact he could rely solely on his offensive ability. He wants to win every defensive duel as well, and that makes him a complete player.”
Kevin Volland has joined Havertz in the BayArena departures lounge in recent weeks, the forward following former Bayern coach Niko Kovac to Monaco. Those two players accounted for 22 league goals last term, but Leverkusen fans worried about where next season’s attacking verve might come from can rest assured.
Lucas Alario is an Argentina international striker, while Moussa Diaby and Leon Bailey are two of the most exciting wingers in the league. But in Wirtz, Leverkusen may have already found a player ready to pull past them all – including King Kai.