Crowned 2018 Bundesliga Rookie of the Season following a breakout debut, Amine Harit struggled with second album syndrome last term but under the rehabilitation of Schalke hitmaker David Wagner, the Moroccan’s form is sending the Royal Blues back up the charts.
Cutting inside from the right and bending a sumptuous effort with the outside of his right boot into the far corner, Harit briefly sent Schalke into second place after five games courtesy of a magnificent 89th minute winner to go along with his earlier assist for their opener against Mainz.
One miraculous vision and precision passing, the other dizzying dribbling and outrageous match-winning finishing. A week earlier he had struck a brace in the 5-1 win over Paderborn. Both games were Harit’s remarkable talent on parade; where it’s meant to be, for the entire world to feast upon, jaw dropped.
Watch: Amine Harit scores twice as Schalke beat Paderborn
And many will be forgiven for wondering where such public displays of Harit’s footballing prowess had disappeared to after a year to forget for both club and country.
After signing from Nantes in the summer of 2017, Harit instantly took to life in Germany. Then 20, he quickly established himself as central to Domenico Tedesco’s plans, notching three goals and seven assists over 31 Bundesliga appearances as Schalke finished second to Bayern Munich at the end of 2017/18.
A place in Revierderby folklore and the Rookie of the Season trophy followed, Harit securing the majority of votes ahead of the likes of Jadon Sancho, Benjamin Pavard, Sebastien Haller, Fiete Arp and Dan-Axel Zagadou.
Watch: Harit scores as Schalke storm back in epic 4-4 Revierderby
It’s a veritable who’s who of post-grad Bundesliga wonderkids but, compared to his 2018 classmates, it seems Harit was held back a year after the France-born midfielder registered just a single goal and two assists as Schalke slumped to 14th by the end of the 2018/19 campaign.
Meanwhile, Sancho topped the league’s assist charts, the performances of Pavard and Arp secured moves to record champions Bayern, Haller was involved in 24 league goals as part of one of the Bundesliga’s most exciting forward lines and Zagadou played a pivotal role in Borussia Dortmund’s title tilt that ran Bayern to the final matchday.
“Everything went really well for me and for the team in my first season at Schalke. It ended finishing runners-up and then I received my award,” Harit recalled, speaking to schalke04.com. “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to repeat these kind of performances last season. I would like to forget about the season just gone and get back to playing like I did when I was voted the best young player in the Bundesliga in May 2018.”
A lot has happened since those May award ceremonies. Harit has struggled with both tragedy and indiscipline off the pitch and found little refuge on it for neither club, nor country.
As Schalke and Harit suffered over the past 12 months, so did Morocco and Harit, with the player going from featuring in the 2018 FIFA World Cup to being left out of Herve Renard’s African Cup of Nations squad altogether this summer.
But there are new dawns breaking for Harit, who says he is a changed man since becoming a father for the first time in May this year. And it is not only little Alijah who has had a dramatic impact on refocusing Harit, but also the new man in the Schalke dugout.
Both club and player could have gone their separate ways this summer but Wagner explains how a pre-season meeting between the pair in the 47-year-old’s newly inhabited office was essential for both parties to install both confidence and trust in the other to help Schalke flourish.
“At the time, I described how I saw things to him, and he said how he saw things,” Wagner told Bild. “We decided to tackle it together and reconvene at the end of pre-season. In the end, the second conversation wasn't needed. Everything had become clear.”
When it comes to man management and squeezing every drop of talent from their players, few coaches in world football can rival Wagner.
Players ran through walls for him during his miraculous spell in England as he took Huddersfield Town to the English Premier League for their first time in history and then defied the odds to keep them there for two campaigns. During that time, he helped turn the likes of Aaron Mooy from cast offs into multi-million pound footballers.
And it seems Wagner’s impact on Harit is already substantial, as the player himself explained to his club’s website.
“David Wagner has a lot of trust in me. He wants me to demand the ball and says I should back myself. If I have the chance to, then I should dribble. I feel really good on the pitch and in the changing rooms at the moment.”
He continued, this time in conversation with DAZN after his Mainz heroics: “We have a very good relationship and talk a lot to each other. He gives me more confidence.
"I've changed everything, I'm more focused. If you work a lot, it will eventually pay off.”
Watch: Harit puts his form down to a bit of luck and talent
A look at this season’s stats after five games proves his new work ethic, with no player in the Bundesliga performing more sprints than the Schalke man (146) and only teammate Guido Burgstaller (456) completing more intensive runs than Harit (442).
Not only that, he is working extensively away from the field of play with club psychologist Sascha Lense and integration officer Massimo Mariotti, Schalke clearly investing a great deal of time and resources into helping their prodigious talent as much mentally as technically.
He says “the club have supported me brilliantly” and it is clear that the former Paris Saint-Germain academy player is determined to repay the faith and investment the club have made in him not only as a footballer, but also a human being.
With three goals and an assist to show from the first five games of the season and Schalke claiming three wins, one defeat and a single loss (against Bayern); it would suggest the hard work of Harit, Wagner and the club is paying off even sooner than expected.
Watch: Harit collects the 2018 Rookie of the Season award
Harit’s goalscoring return is already better than his total over 18 league games last year and matches his debut campaign’s record. Even a passing glimpse at him in action this season showcases a man ready to take his game to new heights.
Look a little closer and that notion is given even greater substance, with Harit starting on the left of Wagner’s forward line but given the freedom to roam all across the pitch, as highlighted by his pinpoint assist coming off the left and the stunning effort to win the game moving inside from the right against Mainz.
This freedom has clearly been liberating for Harit who also regained his place in the national team setup after being named in Renard successor Vahid Halilhodzic’s first squad and featuring in his first game in charge.
Where Harit may have been impatient previously, the 22-year-old now knows that he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing, trust in his talent and those around him and the cards will fall kindly.
“Schalke is the most important thing for me right now,” he said. “Everything else will fall into place if I perform well for the Royal Blues.”