Thanks in no small part to Xaver Schlager, Wolfsburg have UEFA Champions League football to look forward to and Austria are into the UEFA Euro 2020 knockout rounds. bundesliga.com pieces together his story...
Schlager, born in Linz, was only 12 when he was invited into the RB Salzburg academy, and he rose through the ranks seamlessly before being given his first taste of professional football in Austria's second division, at Liefering, when he was only 17.
He spent two seasons on loan at Liefering before returning to Salzburg, with whom he debuted on 10 May 2016 – still just 18. Four Austrian Bundesliga titles and four Austrian cups later, Schlager took the next step in his career, switching one Bundesliga for another and joining Wolfsburg – just as Salzburg finally ended their long wait for UEFA Champions League qualification, succeeding at the 11th time of asking.
Watch: Wolfsburg's game with Xaver Schlager at its core
"I saw for myself how, when you think too much about it, it can affect your performances," Schlager said of the four close calls he and Salzburg had with qualification which, each year, seemed to be increasingly inevitable, but – each time – ended in bitter disappointment. He made amends in only his second season with the Wolves, however.
With 428 challenges won, Schlager was the third most successful tackler in the Bundesliga in 2020/21, behind Stuttgart's Wataru Endo and Bielefeld's Fabian Klos. In addition, the 5'8" battle-axe scored two and set up a further four as he inspired Wolfsburg to a return to the Champions League, linking the defence and the attack with his lung-busting runs. He moved past 20 senior international caps at the UEFA 2020 Euros.
Plays a bit like: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Think of a modern, German box-to-box midfielder and you would have to think of Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The former Bayern Munich and Manchester United man was the beating heart of the Germany national team from 2004 to 2014, when he crowned his career with victory at the FIFA World Cup
Comfortable on the ball, creative and a playmaker par excellence, 'Schweini's' venomous shot from distance meant he also chipped in with his fair share of – largely spectacular – goals. Schlager shares Schweini uncanny ability to set the tone from a deep-lying position and make wise moves into space, opening opponents up and creating gaps for his teammates to exploit.
Did you know?
Schlager is a big Arsenal fan and named Thierry Henry as one of his favourite players when he was growing up. He was also attracted to coaching at an early age, and says Pep Guardiola is his role model, especially the team he formed at Barcelona: "He was formidable, I look back at videos of him today and wonder how they did it, it was amazing."
Like his former Wolfsburg coach Oliver Glasner, Schlager donates a proportion of his salary to the Common Goal initiative.
What they're saying
"I don't think I'd like to come against me as an opponent – I might not have the best technique, but I work hard, I'm uncomfortable and I like to do things as quick as possible." – Schlager
"I'd like to get forward myself from time to time, but with the speed Xaver goes at, I just stay where I am so we're covered defensively. We now know the runs each of us is going to make and don't have to talk so much, it just works." – Wolfsburg midfield partner Maximilian Arnold
"I love players who can play in many different positions, and that's definitely the case with him. I'm absolutely convinced of his quality." – Austria coach Franco Foda