Kai Havertz is seen as the future of German football. That means the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder carries a heavy burden on his shoulders, but the 19-year-old insists he can deal with the pressure.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, Havertz explains what the attention on him means and how he handles it, the role Leverkusen play in his development, and also what he’s expecting from the remainder of the 2018/19 season under new coach Peter Bosz.
“I’ve felt a lot of trust here, including under Heiko Herrlich, and I’ve tried to repay it,” Havertz declared. “I often take on responsibility, but I’m okay with that.
Watch: How Havertz has become the key to everything at Bayer Leverkusen!
“It’s a different kind of pressure. People maybe see you a bit differently and if you play badly, which is normal every now and then as a young player, you’re criticised a bit more, but that’s normal and I think I can deal with that pressure.”
On the face it, that’s just what the 19-year-old is doing. No Bayer player has played more minutes in the Bundesliga this season, and he’s the only Leverkusen man to start all 18 matches with a club-best six goals as well as two assists to his name.
Havertz is leading from the front on the pitch, despite actually playing in a deeper midfield role so far this season. Without his goals, Leverkusen would’ve been five points worse off at the halfway stage of the campaign. He’s mindful of the hype surrounding his development, but also distinctly aware that he needs to take his mind off football from time to time.
“You can’t always ignore what’s going on around you, but the most important thing is to have other things to do outside of football,” the two-time Germany international said. During his first senior season, Havertz was still concentrating on his school exams. Since then, he’s demonstrated his fondness for the viral video game Fortnite, but also explained that he simply enjoys turning his attention away from football by spending time with friends and family.
“It’s important to switch off from football in your free time, otherwise you dwell on what you did wrong, what you could’ve done differently,” the Leverkusen man stated, while also emphasising the club’s role in his progression. “It goes without saying that Leverkusen is a great place to develop. You see that in how many young players have started out here and how much you’re trusted.”
Among the notable list of Bayer academy graduates are VfB Stuttgart’s Gonzalo Castro, RB Leipzig’s Kevin Kampl, Mainz’s Rene Adler, World Cup winner Christoph Kramer of Borussia Mönchengladbach and Monaco’s Benjamin Henrichs.
Havertz described Leverkusen as the “perfect place for me to take my first steps” and emphasised that “I try to repay that in matches”. The question now on the lips of all Werkself fans is how that will materialise in the second half of this season.
Leverkusen reached the halfway point in ninth place, somewhat in no-man’s-land with relegation seemingly unlikely, but European qualification also perhaps out of their reach. “We’re not satisfied with what we achieved in the first half of the season,” Havertz said. “We need to turn things around.”
The man now charged with getting the Bayer ship back on course is former Ajax and Borussia Dortmund coach Bosz after he replaced Herrlich over the winter break. And the Dutchman has already made a good first impression on the 19-year-old from Aachen, just a handful of miles from the German-Dutch border.
Watch: Havertz scored twice against Hertha Berlin on MD17!
“You can see he’s a real coach, he fits well here and he’s very good with young players,” according to Havertz, who spoke of the “more attacking football” Leverkusen have shown under their new coach.
That was clear to see in their opening Bundesliga fixture of 2019 at home to Gladbach, in which die Werkself had 21 efforts on goal. Somehow, however, Leverkusen failed to find a way through the Foals and were beaten 1-0. “Not everything came off, but we did a lot of things good,” Havertz said of the team’s performances so far under Bosz.
The 19-year-old was used in a deeper role for that game, forming part of a midfield trio alongside Julian Brandt and Charles Aranguiz. Will that be Havertz’s position going forward under the Dutchman? Having proved undroppable throughout this season, he may be the man (or boy) that Bosz builds his Leverkusen side around.