Cruising along in the career fast lane at the speed of light, Kai Havertz could be just 12 games shy of a century of Bundesliga appearances by the time he turns 20 in June 2019.
bundesliga.com charts the inexorable rise of the Bayer Leverkusen and Germany midfielder - one part Michael Ballack, one part Toni Kroos, another part Mesut Özil and a whole chunk of inimitable Havertz...
1) A silver medal winner
Hailing from Germany’s westernmost city Aachen - near its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands - Havertz started out with nearby Alemannia Mariadorf. He spent a year with hometown club Alemannia Aachen before, at the age of 11, travelling an hour up the road to link up with Leverkusen. His progress there was rapid, winning the German U17 Championship and helping his national team reach the semi-finals of the European Championships at that level. As a result, he was given a silver Fritz Walter Medal in August 2016 as the second-best U17 player of that year.
2) A Bundesliga fan from an early age
Alemannia Aachen – now in the German fourth tier – enjoyed a rare season in the top flight back in 2006/07. The Havertz family got themselves some season tickets, and Kai told Spox that he would attend their home games every two weeks along with his father and his brother. If he did manage to make it to every game that year, he will have been present on a famous day for Aachen – when the home side beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in February 2007.
Aside from that, though, his room was decked out in Barcelona posters. Havertz remembers enjoying watching Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o play for the Barca side that got the better of Arsenal in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final – when Havertz would have been nearing his seventh birthday.
3) He grew up fast
At the age of 15, the classy midfielder moved to Leverkusen and, along with two other youngsters at the club, spent a year with living with a former Leverkusen stadium announcer and his family. He then shared a place with his older brother for a year before striking out on his own.
Maturing swiftly both on and off the pitch, he was plucked straight from the club’s youth academy and given his chance to train with the first team by Roger Schmidt.
“I owe my former manager Roger Schmidt a lot,” Havertz told the Rheinische Post in November 2017.
“He showed faith in me as a young player even though things were not going so well for us at the time. The fact that I was pulled completely from the U19s early on did a lot for my development. I learned a lot from it.”
4) The youngest ever in Leverkusen
Havertz soon became the youngest ever player to feature for Leverkusen’s first team – at 17 years and 126 days - when he made his Bundesliga debut against Werder Bremen on Matchday 7 of the 2016/17 season. He only got the call-up on the day of the game itself, travelling from Aachen to Leverkusen for the evening kick-off after it emerged in the morning that Lars Bender felt too ill to play.
Just a couple of weeks later, in November 2016, he made his UEFA Champions League debut as a substitute in Leverkusen’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
“He’s a proper player for us, despite being only 17,” then Leverkusen boss Schmidt said. “We gave him some playing time to see what effect this had on him. It quickly became evident that playing in front of a full stadium doesn’t faze him.”
In April 2017, Havertz became the youngest ever goalscorer for Die Werkself, sweetly volleying home a late equaliser in a 3-3 draw against Wolfsburg. The teenager was 17 years, nine months and 22 days old when he did so.
A dream first year with the senior side was rounded off with a brace in a 6-2 away win over Hertha Berlin, giving Havertz some impressive numbers: four goals and six assists in 24 appearances.
5) Education a priority
A sure sign that Havertz was excelling beyond his years was the fact that he had to miss some key games in his debut Bundesliga season because of… school. He was left behind for Leverkusen’s last 16 trip to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League due to his studies, and later sat out a league game against Schalke to concentrate on his final exams. With a high school diploma successfully secured, the youngster was finally able to concentrate fully on his football.
6) The youngest to hit 50
In July 2017, shortly after turning 18, Havertz signed a five-year professional contract with Leverkusen.
“Kai has exceptional abilities and is already blessed with a footballing maturity that sets him apart from other players of his age,” Werkself sporting director Rudi Völler said at the time.
The records would keep tumbling for the high-achiever, who by then was combining club football with playing for and then captaining Germany’s U19 team. He featured in 30 league matches in the 2017/18 campaign, and on Matchday 30 – while chipping in with a couple of assists in a 4-1 success against Eintracht Frankfurt – he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to make 50 appearances. He reached the milestone at the age of 18 years and 307 days.
7) A gold medal winner
Given his rapid progress, it was no surprise that in July 2018 Havertz was awarded the gold Fritz Walter Medal as the best U19 German player of that year, pipping Hertha’s Arne Maier to the top accolade.
Havertz joined some illustrious company as a winner of a gold Fritz Walter Medal, named in honour of West Germany’s 1954 FIFA World Cup-winning captain. World Cup winners Kroos (U18), Mario Götze (U17 and U18) and Benedikt Höwedes – as well as fellow Germany internationals Marc-André ter Stegen, Antonio Rüdiger and Matthias Ginter (all U19) - are previous recipients. Havertz’s Leverkusen teammates Jonathan Tah (U19) and Julian Brandt (U18) have also been recognised in previous years.
8) He skipped a level
Most players work their way up through all the youth ranks before earning a senior cap for their country. Havertz followed the usual playbook to a point. But after playing 30 matches for Germany from U16 to U19 level, he was drafted straight into the senior squad rather than spending a year or two with the U21s.
He earned his first cap for his country as a late substitute in the 2-1 friendly win over Peru in September 2018, before getting his first start – and his first start – in a 3-0 victory over Russia two months later.
9) The next Ballack, Kroos or Özil
Comparisons have been quick in coming, with an obvious one being made with Leverkusen legend Ballack. Like Havertz, Ballack - a former Germany captain who drove his club to the 2002 Champions League final and his country to the World Cup final in the same year - is also 6'2".
Former Leverkusen boss Heiko Herrlich, meanwhile, said Havertz is the biggest talent he has seen since Real Madrid playmaker Kroos, who spent the 2009/10 season playing at the BayArena while on loan from Bayern.
Voller, though, believed Havertz was more similar to ex-Germany star Özil.
“Havertz has a gift with that left foot of his, and he uses the ball like Özil. Sensational,” Voller told Bild in February 2017.
The latter comparison with Özil is one that Havertz had noticed himself. He has said in the past that he likes the way the Arsenal midfielder always seems calm on the ball.
“I think that our style of play is somewhat similar, so I try to learn a lot from watching him,” he told Bild in 2017.
10) He’s getting better
Still only 19, Havertz had 71 Bundesliga games under his belt by the end of 2018. During that time, he had recorded 13 goals and 18 assists.
The signs are that he is improving too. In his third season in the top flight he started every game in the Hinrunde, registering six goals – his best season tally – and adding three assists. He also helped Leverkusen qualify for the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League by scoring three goals and making three more in four group matches.
“Before this season started I’d made up my mind to be more dangerous in front of goal,” he told bundesliga.com. “That’s what’s been missing in my game.”
Good news for Leverkusen, then, and for Germany.