There has been nothing slow about Timo Werner’s career. From bursting onto the scene with VfB Stuttgart, to full-throttle football with RB Leipzig and now racing to UEFA Champions League glory with Chelsea. It’s all been in fast-forward for the German striker, made in the Bundesliga.
As the son of former Ludwigsburg and Stuttgarter Kickers forward Günther Schuh, who would train Werner’s shooting as a child and run up mountains with his protégé, ‘Turbo Timo’ - as he’s been dubbed - has always been fuelled by football.
He was born in the Stuttgart district of Bad Cannstatt, within sight of the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion – now known as the Mercedes-Benz Arena – and the home of VfB Stuttgart. Werner joined the academy of the five-time German champions at the age of just six and raced through the age groups, making his debut for the U17s just days after his 15th birthday and then the U19s less than a year and a half later.
His only full season with the latter saw him finish as the top scorer in the 2012/13 U19 Bundesliga South/Southwest with 24 goals from just 23 games. He did so in the same team as a certain Joshua Kimmich. The pair even went to the same school and had spent the previous 18 months together in the U17s.
Werner would go on to become the youngest player to ever appear for Stuttgart, aged 17 years, four months and 26 days, when he featured in a UEFA Europa League qualifier against Botev Plovdiv at the start of 2013/14.
Three days before his Bundesliga debut against Bayer Leverkusen, the teenager was awarded the prestigious gold Fritz Walter Medal as the best German U17 player for 2013. On his first top-flight start, he got a pair of assists in a 6-2 win against Hoffenheim before opening his professional account two games later to earn a 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt.
With it came yet another place in the history books as the youngest player to ever score for Stuttgart, breaking Karlheinz Förster’s record by some eight months at only 17 years, six months and 16 days.
Werner ended that maiden pro season with four goals and five assists in 34 competitive games – and even became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score a brace – but it wasn’t the only thing going on in his life. All that time he’d also been studying for his school leaving exams.
“I signed with VfB before the end of high school at 17. I could have focused solely on football, but my mother really wanted me to finish school,” the striker later told bundesliga.com. “I never considered not doing it, to be honest. That wouldn't have been smart. In hindsight, I'm quite proud that I managed to finish school and kick on with my professional football career.”
Although the idea of a professional footballer focussing on getting school qualifications may sound odd, it’s very much the norm in Germany. His peer Kimmich – already at Leipzig before the 2013/14 season – had done the same the year before, while current Chelsea teammate Kai Havertz once had to miss a Champions League match for Leverkusen due to his exams.
Capable of playing anywhere across the front line, Werner became a mainstay of the Stuttgart attack of the next two seasons with his now famous speed keeping opponents on edge. It also attracted the attention of rivals, and when VfB were relegated in 2016, newly promoted Leipzig made their move.
The recipient of the 2015 silver Fritz Walter Medal at U19 level was one of the first marquee signings for the Bundesliga’s newest club and yet another shrewd move by their architect, sporting director Ralf Rangnick.
“Despite his young age, Timo already has a lot of Bundesliga experience [95 games; 13 goals, 10 assists] and has shown his class at this level,” he said of the new arrival. “He’s a very ambitious player who always wants to improve and can cause every opponent problems with his speed.”
And he didn’t half do just that. Four seasons at the Red Bull Arena produced goal hauls of 21, 13, 16 and 28 as he set and later reset the season record for Leipzig in the Bundesliga. The latter total from 2019/20 also saw him become the first German since Mario Gomez in 2010/11 to score 28 times in a Bundesliga campaign. Incredibly fitting for a player who once admitted to having posters of the striker on his wall when he was younger.
Watch: All of Werner’s 28 Bundesliga goals in 2019/20
Another Stuttgart youth product and Bundesliga winner with the club, Gomez himself spoke in praise of his successor: “Timo's going to boss the Germany attack for the next 10 years. He's a great guy, he always gives 120 per cent. He's an incredible talent, and I'm delighted to see him doing so well – even if he's ahead of me in the [Germany] pecking order – he deserves it.”
Seventeen of those 28 also came away from home, which equalled the league record for away goals in a Bundesliga season by Jupp Heynckes in 1973/74. Eight braces or better was also the most by a German since Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in 1980/81.
Werner’s speed and finishing took Die Roten Bullen to levels the club could barely have imagined when it was founded in 2009. Their maiden top-flight season saw them finish runners-up to Bayern Munich and qualify for the Champions League at the first possible attempt.
A first DFB Cup final followed in 2019, with Werner scoring three times in four games on the way to Berlin. The year after he got four goals and two assists in eight appearances as Leipzig went all the way to the Champions League semi-finals for the first time.
Watch: How Nagelsmann got Werner and Leipzig playing
He was simply the perfect fit for the team’s high pressing, fast counter-attacking style. He would play through the middle, out on the left or come deep as Ralph Hasenhüttl, Rangnick and later Julian Nagelsmann developed his game further to get the best out of his pace, the clever runs he makes into dangerous positions and his finishing ability. In 2019/20, he put away almost a quarter of his 123 shots – a total second only to Robert Lewandowski.
Werner also took those honed skills with him onto the international stage. Having represented Germany at U15, U16, U17, U19 and U21 level – scoring on his debut for all but the U17s and finishing runner-up at the 2012 UEFA European U17 Championship – he was called up by Joachim Löw for the first time for Lukas Podolski’s testimonial against England in March 2017.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning coach described his young forward as “an interesting player with good prospects who is versatile and has consistently played at a high level this season”.
The first Leipzig player to ever pull on a Germany shirt was later included in the squad for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, where he won the Golden Boot with three goals as Die Mannschaft claimed the title in Russia. He has been an almost ever-present for the four-time world champions since then, starting all three group games at the 2018 World Cup, and notching up 15 goals in 37 caps prior to UEFA Euro 2020.
Werner left Leipzig in summer 2020 as the club’s record scorer with 95 goals in 159 games to join Chelsea in the English Premier League.
His first season with the Blues didn’t produce the brilliant goalscoring exploits Bundesliga fans has become accustomed to, but after a period of adapting he kicked on. With such speed, it’s easy for others to be left behind, but he has led from the front through his endeavouring movement.
He averaged the most sprints among Chelsea players in 2020/21, had the most goal involvements and won the most penalties of any player in the league (five).
Werner won’t receive any statistical credit for his role in Havertz’s winner in the 2021 Champions League final, but it was his run that pulled Ruben Dias and the Manchester City defence out of line to allow the former Leverkusen prodigy through to finish.
It was fitting, then, that it was one of his famous runs that ended up earning the first club silverware of a turbo-charged career – one made in the Bundesliga.
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