Gelsenkirchen - The Ruhr district, Germany's old industrial heartland, has long delivered a rich vein of footballing talent. Only recently turned 20, FC Schalke 04's Julian Draxler looks to have all it takes to become one of the very best, a veritable diamond in this traditionally coal-abundant region.
Youth and experience combined
Speed, close-control, supreme match intelligence, a devastating finish - the elegant midfielder from Gladbeck, just outside Gelsenkirchen, is close to the complete package already. And he is only going to get better with experience. When Draxler agreed a two-year extension to his existing contract at the end of last season, committing himself to the Royal Blues until June 2018, he was simultaneously presented with the No10 shirt.
It was no mere symbolic gesture on the part of the club management, who have him firmly earmarked for the pivotal playmaker role at a club striving to make the step up to the European elite achieved recently in such high style by their near-neighbours in Dortmund.
"The club and the team are following an excellent path and I'd like to accompany them along the way," Draxler said after the new deal was confirmed in May. With speculation about an imminent move to one or other of European football's financial heavyweights thus effectively nipped in the bud, Schalke and their coveted prodigy could turn their focus fully towards preparing for the campaign ahead. After a decidedly shaky start into 2013/14, a vital win at Greek outfit PAOK FC secured their progress to the UEFA Champions League group phase at the end of August.
The surprise signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng from AC Milan right on the back of that provided further upward momentum, the Berlin-born Ghana international making an immediate impact on the team's league fortunes and helping ease the new burden of leadership on Draxler's shoulders. For his part, the experienced Boateng was suitably impressed by his new team-mate, remarking that, "With the way he takes control of a game, I think he's the best player around for his age."
Draxler himself is relishing the increased responsibility in the more central role, his preferred position, while stressing that, "I don't see myself yet as the kind of senior player who can be showing the younger ones the way all the time. Obviously, I'm still at the start of my own career, although on the other hand I have already racked up quite a few games, more than a hundred in all competitions. So I've got enough experience to maybe pass on the odd tip to the lads." Indeed. Draxler made his 100th competitive outing for Schalke last March, at 19 years and 170 days old, the youngest player ever to hit that milestone in the professional German game.
New horizons, national and international
No stranger to precocious benchmarking, Draxler joined Schalke's cub department at the tender age of eight and worked his way through the youth ranks post-haste, becoming the club's youngest Bundesliga debutant at the age of 17 years and 117 days in January 2011. Just days after his 19th birthday, he racked up his 50th top-flight appearance and before turning 20 he had hit the 75-game mark - an all-time Bundesliga record in each instance.
The good news for Schalke and their fans is that the player who is now one of Europe's hottest prospects will be adding a fair few more matches to that total. While making no secret of the fact that he would like to try his luck abroad at some point, Draxler's sole focus for the time being is on helping one of Germany's most ambitious and best-supported clubs achieve their not-inconsiderable aims.
Take a closer look at the precocious talent of Julian Draxler on this video, exclusive to the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: