After a season of struggle, Schalke are back challenging at the right end of the Bundesliga, and the contribution of a certain Suat Serdar has not been lost on Germany coach Joachim Löw.
bundesliga.com provides the lowdown on one of the latest players to take the step up from Germany's under-21s to the senior set-up…
Country: Germany (Under-21s: eight caps, two goals)
In the summer of 2018, the town of Bingen am Rhein staged an impromptu party. The reason? To celebrate Suat Serdar's transfer to Schalke; the Hessian town's most famous son moving from nearby Mainz to the beating heart of the Ruhr. "You could see that the lad really wanted to make it," said Georg Eifert, the deputy head of youth football at Hassia Bingen, where the Royal Blues' new number eight first caught the eye at the age of seven. "Suat was always the best in his age group." In an Under-9 clash with Mainz 05, Serdar upstaged the kids from the Bundesliga club's academy and soon found himself joining them in a move which hastened his maturity.
Since his parents were busy with work, the 6'0" midfielder could not always be driven the 20 miles from Bingen to Mainz, which meant he would often take the train. "Getting so used to being independent at such an early age helped Suat become the grounded person he is," said his brother Mükkerem Serdar to Reviersport. It certainly developed in him the ethic of having to work hard for all he has achieved, and this shone through in Mainz's youth teams with 16 goals and 11 assists in 65 games earning him his Bundesliga debut at the age of 18.
Former Mainz sporting director Christian Heidel lured him to Schalke in 2018, but much of Serdar's emergence in 2019/20 can be put down to David Wagner, who drew inspiration from former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson to help get the players into shape. He has fine-tuned the condition of a player who had regularly been hampered by injury, and whose fitness levels have never been so high. The 7.1 miles he covered in the Royal Blues' 3-1 win at RB Leipzig at the end of September was symptomatic of a Schalke side which is going the extra mile in their quest for a return to Europe next season, with Serdar's natural work ethic standing him in good stead for greater things.
Plays a bit like: Leon Goretzka
Serdar's arrival in Gelsenkirchen coincided with the departure of a certain Leon Goretzka to Bayern Munich, and the timing of those moves was anything but coincidental. Goretzka's switch was announced in the winter of 2017, and Schalke's then sporting director Christian Heidel did not have to think too long about finding a player who fit the same mould. A player comfortable in possession, boasting an impressive successful pass rate and a keen eye for goal: Serdar ticks all the same boxes Goretzka does.
Both earn the label of all-conquering midfielders, strong and robust in the tackle and then quick – both in mind and physique – to move the ball on with arrowing precision. Serdar, like Goretzka, can excel equally in a number six or number ten position, although both become more devastating the further forward they are permitted to roam. Like Goretzka, Serdar's lung-busting, league-leading leg-work, means his starting position is usually more nominal than it is actual, and this just makes him even harder for opponents to pick up.
Did you know?
Serdar has not forgotten his roots: when Hassia Bingen earned promotion to Germany's Oberliga – fifth tier – in 2018 with a 1-0 win over Sportfreunde Eisbachtal, Serdar was among the fans in the stadium cheering them on that day. "Suat's feet have always been on the ground," said Mükerrem. "I hope and I believe he won't change at Schalke."
What they're saying
"Suat's a young, very ambitious player with a lot of potential. He's going to be given the time he needs to become a really good Bundesliga footballer." - Former Schalke and Mainz sporting director Christian Heidel.
"He's a fantastic footballer because he's so confident on the ball, dynamic and he's got a sharp eye for goal too." – Current Schalke sporting director Jochen Schneider:
"Suat's farewell was a very emotional occasion. Suat just wanted to take the next step, but it's hard when you've seen him rise the ranks from the youth team to the first team." - Sandro Schwarz, Serdar's coach at Mainz in the youth team (2013-2015) and first-team (2015-2017).