These players have taken the German top flight league by storm.
Quality, experience and luck are often cited as the chief ingredients for success at major tournaments, but an element of the unexpected can also play its part. And with the likes of Youssufa Moukoko, Jamal Musial and Florian Wirtz, Joachim Löw could have plenty of that in his Germany squad at the rescheduled Euro 2020 next year.
Bundesliga media examines five players who could yet sneak into the reckoning as Die Mannschaft bid for continental glory next summer.
5. Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Still just 17 – Wirtz doesn’t legally become an adult until May 2021 – the attacking midfielder already looks the real deal. Recruited from the U17 team of local rivals Cologne in January 2020 and thrust in with the Bayer Leverkusen pros, Wirtz was already a first-team regular long before the summer departure of Kai Havertz meant he was given even greater responsibility in the Werkself midfield in 2020/21.
He has not shirked that challenge, chipping in with three assists from five Bundesliga starts this term to keep Peter Bosz’s side just three points behind leaders Bayern Munich, while adding two goals and another assist in three UEFA Europa League outings. Bosz also called him “the best player on the pitch” following his goal and all-round superb display in the DFB Cup first round win over Eintracht Norderstedt.
Operating chiefly as a central playmaker but also able to wreak havoc off either flank, the Leverkusen No.27 is the third-youngest Bundesliga debutant of all time, the youngest goalscorer in the league’s history – after cutting inside World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez and lashing past Manuel Neuer, no less – and in October 2020 he became the youngest player ever to represent Germany U21s, at the age of 17 years, five months and seven days.
It appears to be a matter of when, rather than if, Wirtz will be called up to Löw’s squad then, especially with game-changing players being the highest-prized commodity in world football.
It would not be out of character for the Germany boss to include him at Euro 2020 either; after all he has previous in this regard. Erik Durm, Christoph Kramer and Shkodran Mustafi all made the final cut for the 2014 World Cup squad, despite only making their senior debuts a couple of weeks before the tournament started, and in the case of the former two, having only had one season of top-flight football behind them.
4. Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich)
Let’s be honest: if you can break into the treble-winning first team at Bayern, you’re already better than most players in the world. If you can do so at the age of 17, well, you get the picture…
Musiala is little more than two months older than Wirtz and also already a serial record-breaker. He became the youngest Bayern player of all time when he made his Bundesliga debut on 20 June 2020, coming off the bench in a 3-1 win over Freiburg at the age of just 17, three months and 26 days.
He also became Bayern’s all-time youngest goalscorer when he hit the net against Schalke on Matchday 1 and has so far scored twice across six Bundesliga appearances totaling 82 minutes in 2020/21. The twinkle-toed attacker enhanced his reputation further with a mature display in his senior starting debut in the DFB Cup first round, standing out with a memorable moment of skill in which he dribbled past three defenders before hitting the post.
“Everyone can see that he’s got tremendous quality on the ball, is good in one-on-one situations and plays with self-confidence and boldness,” praised head coach Hansi Flick, who has made him a permanent member of his first team this season.
Musiala was born in Stuttgart to a German mother, but spent much of his childhood in England, and joined Bayern in summer 2019 from Chelsea. He holds dual citizenship for both countries and although he played for the England U21s in the most recent international break, he represented Germany at U16 level in 2018. The prospect of earning an early first competitive cap at senior level under Löw might just swing the international tug-of-war Germany’s way.
3. Ismail Jakobs (Cologne)
A Cologne player in the Germany squad? But aren’t they near the bottom of the table? The Billy Goats may have struggled in the Bundesliga so far in 2020/21, but what ultimately interests Löw is the quality and form of the player, rather than his team’s league position.
After all, Jonas Hector was a long-time favourite of the Germany boss, even after Cologne were relegated to Bundesliga 2, while recent call-ups Felix Uduokhai (Augsburg), Ridle Baku (Wolfsburg) and Robin Koch (Leeds United) have all impressed individually despite some mixed results at mid-table clubs.
There is plenty to like about Jakobs. Naturally left-footed players are always of interest to provide width in a game dominated by righties, and the 21-year-old can play at full-back, as a left winger or as a left wing-back, giving Löw the versatility he prizes in a position Germany have struggled to fill in recent years. Marcel Halstenberg (Leipzig), Robin Gosens (Atalanta) and now Philipp Max (PSV Eindhoven) are all ahead of Jakobs in the pecking order currently, but injuries and form can make the panorama shift very quickly.
Now in his second full season with the Cologne first team – Jakobs recorded two goals and two assists after breaking into Markus Gisdol’s side in the Bundesliga last term – he is back in the side after being sidelined by injury at the start of this campaign.
“He’s a real weapon for us,” purred Gisdol after Jakobs’ impressive display in a narrow 2-1 defeat at home to Bayern on Matchday 6. “After the game I saw Benjamin Pavard swearing. That tells you everything about Iso’s performance. He was fantastic.”
Jakobs already has a foot in the door of the national set-up, having made the first of three appearances to date for the U21s in September 2020. “I had a lot of injuries as a youngster, so I wasn’t on the DFB’s radar,” he told kicker. “Last year I was able to establish myself at Cologne, which is why I’m only just getting to the U21s now.”
2. Youssufa Moukoko (Borussia Dortmund)
As extraordinary as it may seem to be highlighting a 15-year-old who has never played a single minute of professional football as a potential option for the senior Germany team, there is very little about Moukoko that is ordinary.
The striker has not so much broken goalscoring records in the Dortmund youth academy as utterly devastated them, hitting 141 goals in 88 games across various age categories.
Moukoko has two caps for the Germany U20s already, and has been training with the BVB first team for several months. He could even make his Bundesliga debut on Matchday 8, the day after he turns 16, following a rule change earlier this year from the DFL.
“Youssoufa must now take the next step – the U19s is too easy for him,” said former Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin, currently the youngest ever player in Bundesliga history. Erling Haaland is also a fan: “Moukoko is much better than I was at his age. I’ve never seen such a good 15-year-old in my life.”
But could he really be an option for Löw? If Moukoko takes to the Bundesliga over the coming weeks and months, then why not? Apart from Timo Werner and Luca Waldschmidt, Die Mannschaft do not currently have any other out-and-out forwards, and if they need a goal in a tight game, Moukoko could prove to be much more than a teenage wildcard.
1. Marc-Oliver Kempf (VfB Stuttgart)
The elder statesman of this bunch, Kempf will be 26 by the time Euro 2020 kicks off in the summer. There is competition for places at centre-back in Löw’s squad given the presence of Niklas Süle, Matthias Ginter, Niklas Stark, Uduokhai, Jonathan Tah and Antonio Rüdiger, but Kempf could have a chance.
Tah and Rüdiger are no longer regulars for their clubs, while Uduokhai, like Kempf, is the only other naturally left-footed player of those listed. Small details matter at international level, and even more so during major tournaments, so that is not an insignificant factor to be easily overlooked.
Furthermore, Kempf has started all seven of Stuttgart’s Bundesliga games so far this season and, as the team’s defensive rock, and has played his part in VfB conceding just nine times – fewer even than the likes of Bayern and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
“He’s shown how important he is for us with his speed, his physicality and also in his build-up play,” said head coach Pellegerino Matarazzo. Previously part of Germany’s U21 set-up, those attributes could well be on display for a wider international audience next summer if his performances continue.