About to set out on another campaign for glory in Ligue 1 and the Champions League, Julian Draxler has become one of Thomas Tuchel’s main men at the Parc des Princes. The fleet-footed Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is now in his prime – but only after first perfecting his dribbling skills and close control in the Bundesliga.
Draxler seemed destined for the top from a very young age. He was just eight when he linked up with Schalke, the club whose first-team matches he had watched from the stands with his father.
Growing up, the future FIFA World Cup winner reportedly liked wearing a Schalke jersey with Olaf Thon’s name on the back, and he also looked up to former Germany captain Michael Ballack. Like those two former Bayern Munich midfielders, he would go on to make his mark in the German top flight.
Born in Royal Blue
Draxler hails from Gladbeck, just half an hour from Schalke’s Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. The Royal Blues looked a natural fit for the youngster, and so it proved. On 5 January 2011 - at the tender age of 17 years and 117 days – he made his Bundesliga debut in a 1-0 defeat against Hamburg, becoming the youngest player ever to feature for the club in the top flight.
Three days later, Draxler agreed his first professional contract. He would have to wait until his 18th birthday to sign it, but his star was clearly on the rise.
Before the month was out, he came off the bench to score an extra-time winner against Nuremberg to send Schalke into the DFB Cup semi-finals. He then followed that up by netting his first league goal in a victory at St. Pauli in April 2011, and by the season’s end, he even had his first taste of silverware.
Schalke won their DFB Cup semi-final clash with Bayern Munich, sending them into the final against second-tier side Duisburg. Unlike the semi-final, where he was a second-half substitute, Draxler was on the pitch from the start and even opened the scoring in the 18th minute. He also set up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the last goal of the match as Schalke claimed a 5-0 win to secure their first trophy since 2002. Their homegrown hero, still a teenager, had written his name into the club's history books.
Watch: Julian Draxler: Made in the Bundesliga
From schoolboy to Germany international
Being a prodigy does not come without its challenges, however. In March 2011, then-Schalke boss Felix Magath wanted Draxler to leave school early so that the teenager could focus on football. As the player told German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel in September 2012, for a while it felt like he “lived in two worlds”. On the one hand, he was a professional footballer - on the other, he was still a schoolboy.
In the end, a compromise was found; Draxler switched to a partner school of Schalke’s – conveniently located next to the training centre – that was partly funded by the German Football Association (DFB).
After turning 18, the Royal Blues’ latest great hope revelled in his new status as a professional. He made 30 appearances in the Bundesliga in 2011/12, and was a surprise inclusion in Germany’s provisional squad for UEFA Euro 2012, despite still being eligible for the U-19 team.
That year’s European Championship would come too soon for Draxler, although he did make his senior international debut in a pre-tournament friendly against Switzerland.
At club level, he continued to progress, playing mainly on the left of midfield. Comfortable with both feet and a solid finisher, he scored 10 league goals in 2012/13 and played a decisive role as Schalke ended a difficult campaign with fourth spot and qualification for the Champions League, a competition in which he also scored his first goal that year.
The records kept falling, too. In March 2013 – aged 19 years and 170 days – he became the youngest player to reach a century of appearances in the Bundesliga. He marked the occasion with a goal, opening the scoring in a memorable 2-1 Revierderby victory over local rivals Dortmund.
A diamond in the traditional coal-mining Ruhr region of Germany, Draxler was becoming more polished with every game. With treasure hunters from around Europe beginning to show interest, Schalke felt it was time to give the local boy an improved deal.
The club clearly felt that securing Draxler’s signature in May 2013 was worth crowing about. With the new contract came a new jersey number – 10 – and lorries were dispatched around the city displaying huge pictures of the man of the moment. A written message accompanied the posters too, saying ‘Julian Draxler: With pride and passion until 2018.’ Now playing a more central role both on and off the pitch, Draxler proudly stated that, for him, Schalke was “a matter of the heart”.
A Wolf is born
However, after Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup win, Draxler suffered from injury problems, and, having seen several head coaches come and go in Gelsenkirchen, in 2015 he decided it was time for a change. “Even when I returned after my six-month injury layoff, I felt the expectations loaded on me to nearly single-handedly decide games,” he said. “That's when I realised it was time to move on.”
On the final day of the summer transfer window, Draxler left his boyhood club for Wolfsburg, who had finished second in the Bundesliga and won the DFB Cup the previous season.
Draxler came to the fore in the Champions League that season – scoring three goals in nine matches before Wolfsburg eventually bowed out after giving Real Madrid a real scare in the quarter-finals. The Wolves lacked bite in the Bundesliga, however, despite their new arrival's best efforts. They finished eighth, with Draxler helping Germany reach the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2016.
The next season saw no change in fortunes for Wolfsburg. Adverse results in the autumn saw the Wolves in the wrong half of the table going into the winter break, with Draxler not finding the net. Nonetheless, his many admirers had not forgotten what the young attacker was capable of.
In January 2017, Draxler made the second move of his career, joining PSG and quickly adding to his trophy collection by scoring one and creating another as his new side won the Coupe de la Ligue with a 4-1 triumph over Monaco. Draxler and Parisians also picked up the Coupe de France a month later.
That summer, he would further enhance his reputation by winning the FIFA Confederations Cup with Germany. With several senior players being rested, Draxler captained a youthful side to glory in Russia and ended up being named player of the tournament.
In the 2017/2018, then-PSG coach Unai Emery seemed to recognize Draxler’s growing maturity, and began entrusting him with a more central role in his team, both figuratively and positionally. He began to play more often at the centre of Emery’s midfield, creating chances for the likes of Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe. His own attacking output did not suffer for this positional change, though: He scored three goals and created a further two from his new, deeper position that season.
After Emery’s departure for Arsenal, former Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel took the reins at PSG and, in Draxler, saw a man who could drive his brand of pacey, attack-minded football. In the 2018/2019 season, Draxler continued to mainly operate centrally. An impressive 31 Ligue 1 appearances made him Tuchel’s most-used player and he ended the season as PSG’s joint-third most creative player, tied with Neymar on eight assists, with a further three goals of his own.
Draxler remains a part of Joachim Löw’s plans for the national side, as well, helping Germany in their quest to qualify for the 2020 European Championships. Ahead of the 2019/2020 season, the 25-year-old is ready to pick up where he left off and push PSG towards a third-consecutive Ligue 1 title and into the latter stages of the Champions League.
Whatever crowns end up in the trophy case at the Parc des Princes, fans of the French capital club will sing the praises of their German talisman and cherish the silky skills and passing he developed as a young man made in the Bundesliga.