Much has been spoken about the German wonderkid, Kai Havertz in recent weeks. Since the start of 2020 in particular, he’s grabbed the headlines with his scintillating performances for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.
The global lockdown has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the German international as earlier. Less fans were aware of his exploits in the league which date back to October 2016 when he debuted for Leverkusen. When this happened, he then became the youngest player to debut for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, aged just 17 years and 126 days.
Who really is Kai Havertz?
Havertz comes from the small village of Mariadorf, just north of Aachen in Germany. Coming from a football-obsessed family, his introduction to the game came at a tender age thanks to his grandfather. He joined his first club, Alemannia Mariadorf, at the age of 4, thanks to his grandfather (again) Richard, who was the long term Chairman at the club.
Havertz went on to join Alemannia Aachen in 2009 aged 10 – his first huge step in the German footballing pyramid. He spent just a year at his new club though, as his talent caught the eye of scouts, who were already keeping an eye on him since his days at Mariadorf. Havertz joined Leverkusen in the summer of 2010 and instantly became one of their best youth prospects.
Havertz was a key cog for Leverkusen’s youth, helping them win the German U17 Bundesliga title in 2015/16. As the key creative threat for the junior Werkself, he scored 18 goals in 26 games, winning the Silver U17 Fritz Walter medal.
The following season, he broke into the first team. He made 24 Bundesliga appearances in his debut season for the club, as well as three in the UEFA Champions League attracting attention from across the globe. He ended his first senior season with four goals and six assists, confirming his
Wunderkind status for fans and teammates alike.
Style of play
Havertz is a very versatile player is but what sets him apart from other similar players is the quality that he brings in to every position he can play. Despite his young age, he is composed and never looks out of place, ensuring he can adapt to whatever his team needs.
His natural position could be described as the ‘Number 10 role’ but that he is equally capable of playing anywhere across the midfield and forward positions. During matches, he often drifts to the right side when more traditional wingers such as Leon Bailey or Moussa Diaby occupy the inner channel. He’s also played as ‘No. 8’ and even ‘No. 6’ at times. This is chiefly due to the abundance of talent and football IQ that he possesses. Though Havertz is an impressive creator and a frequent goal scorer, he’s also an excellent reader of the game and has a wide range of passing ability. Regardless of where he plays, he loves to drop deep and link up with the centre backs and the deep-lying midfielder. This is one of the reasons why he has racked up so many assists.
Talking about assists, it’s not just through balls that Havertz specialises in. His crosses are often delivered with pinpoint accuracy and more often than not, he finds his teammates in the box waiting for an opportunity. Havertz himself is also effective inside the box himself. At 6′ 2″, he takes full advantage of his height and is always looking for opportunities to get on the end of crosses. When needed at the other end, Havertz is not against often dropping deep to help his team defend opposing set-pieces.
In a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2
Kai Havertz is well-known for the quality he brings as an attacking midfielder in Levekusen’s current team. But it was Heiko Herrlich who tinkered with Havertz and brought out the versatility in him which has truly helped the player excel.
Herrlich’s appointment in 2017 did a world of good for Havertz. Niggling injuries at the start of the season in 2018 meant he was initially stationed as a central midfielder in their 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formation. Despite his change of position, Havertz was one of the few bright sparks in a team that frequently flattered to decide.
He often linked up with wingers and his wide range of passing abilities served him well, When he was around the attacking third, his decision-making was good, but Leverkusen’s issues as a team meant Havertz could not influence games as much as expected.
False-9, Centre Forward and a Winger
As his team struggled to string together consistent performances, Herrlich made changes to his team, deploying Havertz as a ‘False-9’. His ability to play comfortably with his back to the goal and his ball retention abilities ensured that he excelled in the role.
After this change helped to steady the ship, Havertz was asked to play on the wings – as an inverted winger or a ramadeuter based on the opposition. The adaptability of Havertz meant he could fulfil the role of versatile attacking player, even at a young age. The key thing was that Havertz was not just playing in multiple positions but also putting in quality performances regardless of where he played, something that was highly praised by his then-manager.
Despite his short career so far, Havertz more often than not manages to have a real impact on matches when he is able to occupy the space near and around the opposition box.
His through balls are considered to be among of the sharpest and most accurate in the Bundesliga. In addition, his sublime reading of the game coupled with stellar positioning unlocks the full picture for the German international, leaving him free to serve passes to his teammates on a platter. Although Havertz’s first touch can let him down at times, he more than makes up for it by using his body to protect the ball. This is a skill that’s rare for a player of his age.
Havertz is definitely not the one to shy away from a physical battle. This is another one of the reasons why he has been successful in playing as a lone striker up top. Havertz is aware of his height and build and uses it to his advantage. His physicality, coupled with his reading of the game and astute passing range often allows wingers to exploit the spaces behind the defenders.
Havertz on the wings is even more dangerous. His surprising burst of pace, coupled with the aforementioned physicality and touch of class puts him in an elite bracket of players that posses the ability to change the course of the game at any given moment. He loves to take on the defenders and his dribbling skills are a delight to watch. Being a left-footed player, fans often are under a misconception that he’s forced to cut inside, but Havertz is more than capable of drifting wide and putting in crosses with his right foot as well.
When he finds himself in the box, Havertz prefers to occupy the far post making timely yet cheeky runs behind the defenders. On other occasions when deployed deeper, the German international prefers to arrive late at the box to pick up the second balls and his magical left foot often does the rest.
Defensive midfielder as well…
Although Havertz is an exceptional young attacking player, he is capable as a defensive midfielder as well. The injury struggle at the start of the season in 2018 meant Havertz was asked to protect the back four to which he happily obliged. He formed a formidable partnership with Dominik Kohr and was given the responsibility of picking out his teammates from the deep. His high range of passing meant he found it relatively easy to find his teammates with his delicious long balls and as well as breaking the lines using passes through the middle.
He was excellent in switching sides instantly and at times caught the opposition off guard. This level of performance was rare for a 19-year-old in the Bundesliga.
His excellent reading of the game, ability to pick out a pass and cause havoc from between the lines means he is more than capable him well to play role of a defensive midfielder and deep-lying playmaker to perfection.
4-3-3 and 3-4-3 under Peter Bosz
Peter Bosz’s system was initially set up in a 4-3-3 formation with the two central midfielders playing high up the pitch. Within the game, depending on the score, the Werkself often switched to 4-2-3-1 and at times 3-4-3.
In Bosz’s preferred system, Havertz’s role was so important. He and Julian Brandt were the two midfielders playing high up the pitch, and whenever the formation was switched to 4-2-3-1, Havertz immediately took up the central playmaker role, or sometimes played just behind the striker. In a 3-4-3 setup, he was part of the central midfield and dropped deep to link up with the centre backs as well as being utilised on the wings.
The important thing to stress once more is that he thrived in whichever formation the team was set up in, and whichever position that he played in.
His off-the-ball movements and handling of pressure is something that’s not spoken of much, but that’s certainly one of his strengths claimed his manager, Peter Bosz. His positional play and reading of the game are second to none in the team and that’s chiefly why he’s been successful in playing multiple positions. Havertz himself has recognised this.
“I guess reading the game has always been one of my strengths,” Havertz explained while talking to the Bundesliga website.
“A certain composure on the ball and the ability to make the right choices quickly,” he added.
For critics, it’s very hard to find a weakness in his game.
Havertz has often been described as a technically-gifted, two-footed player who is comfortable with the ball on either foot and more than decent with his head. He’s an excellent finisher, he is aerially dominant and has a great physique. Havertz’s attacking outputs are pretty good and only seem to be getting better, despite a slow start to the season. Moreover, the German’s ball retention is phenomenal.
Havertz’s ball recoveries and defensive attributes often go unnoticed as he is predominantly known as an attacking player. He’s an astute presser and is exceptional at cutting down opposition passing lanes. This makes him more than just average in defending, not to mention that he is exceptional in ground and aerial duels.
Havertz’s exceptional dribbling ability allows him to glide past defenders and attract fouls when deployed in an advanced position. His movement means he can deceive opposition defenders which in turn makes him a constant threat. His positioning and reading of the game are a class apart and often serves penetrating balls with incredible vision.
Havertz does the simple things effectively, but at the same time, he has a variety of tricks in his armour. His turns and flicks are considered very effective and often he unbalances defenders with the slightest of touches, leaving him free to waltz through.
Rising through the youth ranks, his style of play was often compared to that of Mesut Ozil. By the age of 19, after lighting up the Bundesliga with his impressive performances, the comparisons were further drawn between him and former Leverkusen players such, Michael Ballack, Toni Kroos and Arturo Vidal and hence the German media went ahead and described him as a combination of the lot and an Alleskönner – a player who can do everything.
In all, he appears to be showing the attributes of a soon-to-be world-class player. He needs to continue developing, of course, but the fact that he’s only 20 cannot be ignored. There is plenty of time to still grow.
There’s no doubt that Kai Havertz is a talented youngster who looks well on course to be one of the world-class players in the future. The fact that just aged 20, he’s already played over 100 club games for Bayer Leverkusen and nearly hit double figures for the national side tells you a lot about the magnitude of the his talent.
Players and managers from his team, as well as those from other leagues have expressed their admiration for the German, and some have even go some far to claim that he is the future of German football.
The astronomical price tag is something that might put a few teams in hesitation but then again, there aren’t many young players with a profile similar to Havertz that are available in today’s market.
When you add that he’s just 20 and has more than just a reasonable amount of experience for someone of that age at the highest level, all of a sudden the mentioned fee looks more understandable. He’s a player for the short-and-long-term who seems on course to improve any side that he walks into.
Fans have been quick to judge him when it comes to his preferred role and how he is limited to a specific formation, but I hope now that you’re at the end of the article, it’s time drop the baseless assumptions and draw conclusions after watching the player for a considerable amount of time.
Written by Shyam
Edited by Rob Pratley