Bayer Leverkusen's Julian Brandt: a future Ballon d'Or winner?
It seems bizarre to call Julian Brandt a rising star, as many do. So well-known and so talented is the Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder, that it would not be far-fetched to describe him as one of the league's current stars. Whichever moniker you choose, however, one thing appears certain: Brandt is already well on his way to the very top of the world game.
The 22-year-old has impressed again last season, scoring nine times in 34 appearances and collecting three assists for a B04 side that heartbreakingly missed out on a top-four finish. It may have seemed like the typical hyperbole accompanying a transfer when Rudi Völler described him as "one of the most talented players in German football," upon his arrival at the BayArena in January 2014, but almost everything Brandt has done in black and red since has proved Völler correct.
If it feels that, despite his age, Brandt has been around for years, it is probably because he has.
After joining Leverkusen from Wolfsburg, he made 12 appearances in the 2013/14 Rückrunde, scoring two goals and picking up three assists. He has since well surpassed 100 Bundesliga appearances, and has appeared 21 times in the UEFA Champions League.
A burly attacking midfielder who on first glance would perhaps not appear a natural footballer, Brandt's effortless first touch and frightening speed of thought swiftly undermine that initial impression. In fact, Brandt is probably the most gifted of a ludicrously talented crop of young German attacking midfielders (as underlined by the emergence of Kai Havertz alongside him at Leverkusen).
"I have relatively solid speed for someone of my height. I feel pretty comfortable when it comes to ball control," Brandt modestly told DW Sports last term. "Sure there are a few more [strengths], but they're definitely accompanied by a few weaknesses."
Watch:Julian Brandt's top 3 Bundesliga goals
One of those weaknesses had perhaps previously been inconsistency – hardly uncommon in young players. In truth, it was probably only in 2015/16 when Brandt fully burst onto the scene: he became only the second-ever teenager to score in six successive Bundesliga games – including finding the net in the Rhine Derby against Cologne – as he almost single-handedly dragged Die Werkself into the Champions League.
It was a run of form that propelled him into the Germany squad for the first time: Brandt won his first international cap against Slovakia in a pre-UEFA EURO 2016 friendly, although was one of four players cut from the provisional squad ahead of the tournament.
An impressive Olympics as Germany won a silver medal was followed by a call-up to last summer's FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, where Brandt featured three times as Die Mannschaft lifted the title.
The former Germany Under-19 champion's efforts for his club last season were enough to convince national team boss Joachim Löw he was worthy of a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Should Brandt he shine in Russia, you can expect him to start staking a claim on the global stage as one of world football's next Ballon d'Or winners.