Munich - As well as being another step on their road to recovery, Schalke 04's 4-1 win at VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday was further evidence of Julian Draxler's emergence as a pivotal player for the new-look Royal Blues.
Schalke’s youngest ever Bundesliga debutant at the age of 17 years and 117 days became the youngest ever player to reach 50 top-flight appearances last September, when he shone in the 3-0 victory over FSV Mainz 05 at the tender age of 19 years and five days.
Fast-forward just over five months and Draxler was stealing the show at Wolfsburg with his first Bundesliga brace, from the position he is hoping to make his own in the hole behind the central striker. “It was my best game yet for Schalke,” enthused the teenager after scoring one apiece with either foot to help down the Wolves, and earning all manner of superlatives in the process.
“World class” were the words Schalke coach Jens Keller used to describe the performance of a youngster who seems predestined to emerge as one of the leading lights in German, European and world football. “I’ve shown the critics I can play in this position,” said Draxler, displaying a maturity which defies his age - in his handling of the media as well as out on the pitch.
The retort was response to weeks of debate on Draxler’s lack of goals since he assumed the role vacated by Tottenham Hotspur-bound Lewis Holtby in January. Watching a DVD of contemporary legend Raul's goals for the Royal Blues on the journey to the VW-Arena helped inspire him to that weekend showing and Draxler’s own strikes are making for a compilation of increasing interest to the scouts of some of Europe's top clubs. Before anybody asks, though - No, Draxler is not for sale.
“I just hang up when anybody calls, no matter what language they're talking,” said sporting director Horst Heldt. “There was huge interest in him two years ago when we were playing in the Champions League, and it has never subsided. In fact, with every good game he plays, Julian shifts even more into the spotlight.” The Royal Blues can therefore be comforted by the fact the boy who juggled school exams with training sessions until recently still has over three years left on his contract in Gelsenkirchen.
“Julian is very, very young and his development isn't over yet,” continued Heldt. “That’s what makes him such an attractive proposition. It’s fantastic to have a player with such extraordinary talent here. And he has a long-term contract.” With that, the interest is not simply going to disappear, and when he steps onto Europe’s biggest stage again in just over a week’s time to face Galatasaray SK, many a covetous eye will once more be cast in his direction.
Draxler himself though knows where his own priorities lie. “I have certain things in focus and I'm not going to get a headache about the rest,” he said. “I’m delighted about the two goals and the assist for Jefferson Farfan’s goal - I had to give him one because he’d already laid on a few for me.” He is likely to give the Royal Blues’ fans plenty of joy over the coming months and years as well. And he is not even 20 yet.