Munich - FC Schalke 04's Lewis Holtby is a prime example of the young, talented and technically adept footballers currently emerging in Germany. Since turning professional in 2009, the attacking midfielder has become an undisputed Bundesliga star and a full Germany international. Having reaped the benefits of Germany's elite coaching and academy systems, the man known for his extravagant goal celebrations does not see the results slowing down anytime soon.
Sense of humour
Holtby emerged on the footballing radar as an 18-year-old playing for Alemannia Aachen, before joining Schalke in 2011. It was during a loan spell at 1. FSV Mainz 05, however, that he enjoyed his breakthrough season in the Bundesliga, helping the club to an historic fifth-placed finish. Indeed, the fact that such an unfancied side as Mainz were able to reach such heights is, for Holtby, a key reason for the Bundesliga's attraction. "Two seasons ago we finished in 5th place, who would have thought that?" he asks. "That's the fun part of the Bundesliga, you never know what's going to happen."
The fact that, through players like Holtby, fans can see the progress of homegrown talents is another reason for the increased popularity of football in Germany. "The fans are crazy [about football] here", he says giddily. "They love going to games and you have full stadiums every week. Where else can you find that?"
Holtby evidently maintains a close relationship with his fans, who in turn respond to his light-hearted, easy-going nature. Clubs abroad may take advantage of supporters by charging high prices to service their debts or stave off the threat of bankruptcy, but no such situation exists in German football: "If you're a player in the Bundesliga, don't worry. You're going to get paid each month on the date that is written in the contract!" he laughs .
His confidence was one of the attributes that won him the Germany U-21 captaincy, and he now has two full senior caps in a very competitive German midfield. Yet far from shying away from the competition at club and national team level, Holtby embraces what he sees as another attraction to the game in Germany. "You see how many young talents we have here and that's a sure sign of progress. But you don't have to be scared of other players or other names. You just have to be confident in your own skills and I am."
On account of his father being English, he was rumoured to have been courted by the English Football Association and admits he would have been tempted by the opportunity to play for England. "I always followed English football with my dad and it would have been very difficult for me [to say no to a call-up]", he reveals. "But it's not like a club move, you can't just move from country to country. It's about pride and where you play in your heart. After winning my first cap for Germany, I decided it then."
Supporters in England may be disappointed with his decision, but there is no doubt Holtby still commands a great deal of attention, and affection, from English-speaking observers, which the man himself reciprocates. "I still have a very strong connection to England and I speak to my family there all the time. I'm really pleased that my parents come from Germany and England", he says proudly. England's loss is most definitely Schalke's, Germany's and the Bundesliga's gain.