What do Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Julian Brandt, Leon Goretzka, Mario Götze and Toni Kroos have in common? Apart from being brilliant footballers, they all count a Fritz Walter Medal in their collections.
The Fritz-Walter-Medaille is a group of annual awards that has been bestowed upon the best young footballers in Germany since 2005. A jury made up of members from across the German Football Association (DFB) — from the youth coaching system to technical staff and executives — decides which players should be awarded the gold, silver and bronze medals in each category.
Who was Fritz Walter?
A footballing icon within Germany, Walter was a prolific one-club man for Kaiserslautern and captained his country to its first FIFA World Cup success in 1954. The legendary attacker struck an astonishing 357 goals in 364 games for the Red Devils, whose stadium is named in their hero’s honour. Chosen by the German FA as their 'Golden Player' of the previous 50 years in 2003, the first Fritz Walter Medals were first awarded two years later.
Who can win it?
After originally being broken down into four categories - Under-19, Under-18, Under-17 and Female — for the last three years, the award has only been handed out to the best male U19 and U17 players as well as the top young starlet in the women's game.
Why does the award matter?
"The Fritz Walter Medal is the most prestigious award at youth level, especially when you look at all the players who have won it in the past." So said previous winner Jonathan Tah of Leverkusen. "The winners have extraordinary quality, huge sporting ambition and also excel off the pitch thanks to their team spirit and behaviour," DFB sports head Joti Chatzialexiou added. "For us, it's important that these talented players are motivated by the medal; their goal has to be constant development …"
Watch: Havertz wasn't finished after becoming youngest player to reach 50 Bundesliga games
bundesliga.com takes a look at some of those who have won the most prestigious individual prize — the U19 category — for young players in German football.
2005: Florian Müller (Bayern Munich)
A shining star at Union Berlin, midfielder Müller switched to Bayern's second team but was largely frustrated in his attempts to forge his way onto the A list at the Allianz Arena. Spells at FC Magdeburg and Alemannia Aachen followed for the former Germany U19 international, whose later career was hampered by knee injuries. A promising Schalke goalkeeper by the name of Manuel Neuer was second that year. You might have heard of him…
U18 winner: Marc-Andre Kruska (Borussia Dortmund)
U17 winner: Sergej Evljuskin (Wolfsburg)
Female winner: Anja Mittag (Turbine Potsdam)
2006: Kevin-Prince Boateng (Hertha Berlin)
An Eintracht Frankfurt favourite in 2017/18, the Berlin-born midfielder burst out of the blocks at hometown club Hertha and was already a first-teamer racking up Bundesliga and European appearances by the time he picked up the Fritz Walter Medal. The ex-Ghana international subsequently enjoyed status as a journeyman, taking in spells at Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, Portsmouth, AC Milan, Schalke, and Las Palmas. The attacking midfielder is currently at Italian outfit Sassuolo.
U18 winner: Sergej Evljuskin (Wolfsburg)
U17 winner: Lars Bender (1860 Munich)
Female winner: Anna Blässe (Jena)
2007: Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke)
An U19 Bundesliga winner with Schalke, Höwedes had hit the glory trail shortly before receiving his Fritz Walter accolade, which preceded the defender's signing of professional terms with the Royal Blues. Some 10 years later – and having enjoyed a time as Schalke’s captain — the 2014 FIFA World Cup winner with Germany agreed to a loan switch to Juventus, temporarily ending his spell at the club of his formation after making over 200 Bundesliga appearances.
U18 winner: Marko Marin (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
U17 winner: Patrick Funk (Stuttgart)
Female winner: Babett Peter (Turbine Potsdam)
2008: Dennis Diekmeier (Werder Bremen)
Awarded the Fritz Walter Medal on the back of several outstanding performances at right-back for the victorious Germany team at the 2008 UEFA European U19 Championship, Diekmeier also excelled at the time in Bremen’s reserves, occasionally making it into the first-team squad. Later, he helped Nuremberg to promotion to the Bundesliga before joining his boyhood idols Hamburg.
U18 winner: Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
U17 winner: Manuel Gulde (Hoffenheim)
Female winner: Jana Burmeister (Jena)
2009: Lewis Holtby (Schalke)
Scouted from an early age while at Alemannia Aachen, Holtby’s energetic midfield displays drew nationwide attention. Schalke swooped and soon had their own Fritz Walter Medal winner. Loaned out to Bochum and then Mainz, Holtby returned to help the Royal Blues to a third-place Bundesliga finish in 2012. Spells in England with Tottenham and Fulham followed before the former Germany U21 captain and senior international became a cult hero at current club Hamburg, whom he helped avoid relegation on two occasions before the Red Shorts finally went down last term.
U18 winner: Marco Terrazzino (Hoffenheim)
U17 winner: Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)
Female winner: Marina Hegering (Duisburg)
2010: Peniel Mlapa (1860 Munich)
Born in Togo, Mlapa moved to Munich at the age of two. In 1999, he signed up with 1860s youth side, eventually shining for the club’s U19s. Some 10 years after joining the Bavarians, the Germany U21 international moved up to the senior side where his second-division scoring exploits prompted a move to Hoffenheim. Mlapa later gained experience in European competition with Borussia Mönchengladbach before trying his luck at Nuremburg, Bochum and Dresden.
U18 winner: Mario Götze (Borussia Dortmund)
U17 winner: Timo Horn (Cologne)
Female winner: Svenja Huth (Frankfurt)
2011: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Mönchengladbach)
Gladbach fans must have heard about a promising homegrown 'keeper coming through their ranks, but the vast majority of Bundesliga fans were scratching their heads asking 'Marc-Andre who?' when Lucien Favre threw the youngster into the heat of a Rhine derby against Cologne in April 2011. Four clean sheets in the final five games of the season kept the Foals up and cemented Ter Stegen's billing as a massive star in the making. After establishing himself as first-choice over the next three seasons, Ter Stegen joined Barcelona in May 2014, replacing the iconic Victor Valdes, and has become a permanent fixture in the Germany squad behind Neuer.
U18 winner: Julian Draxler (Schalke)
U17 winner: Emre Can (Bayern Munich)
Female winner: Johanna Elsig (Leverkusen)
2012: Antonio Rüdiger (Stuttgart)
Stuttgart's reputation for cultivating young talent is well documented, and Rüdiger enhanced it further. Unsurprisingly for someone measuring 6'3" (1.91m), the defender made great strides after his Bundesliga debut in January 2012 to become one of the German top-flight's most accomplished centre-backs. A senior international debut soon followed as did a loan move to Roma in 2015 that was then made permanent a year later. Though he flourished in the Eternal City, his stay was only fleeting as he moved to Chelsea in summer 2017 before helping Germany win the FIFA Confederations Cup.
U18 winner: Matthias Ginter (Freiburg)
U17 winner: Leon Goretzka (Schalke)
Female winner: Lena Lotzen (Bayern Munich)
2013: Matthias Ginter (Freiburg)
Winner of the Under-18 category the previous year, that Ginter's name came out on top again — this time in the most senior category — 12 months later was no real surprise. As local as Black Forest gateau, Ginter's first-team debut in January 2012 was quickly followed by his maiden goal — just two days after his 18th birthday — to make him the club's youngest ever Bundesliga scorer. His 2014 was marked by a move to Borussia Dortmund and a FIFA World Cup winner's medal with Germany, and though his career trajectory has levelled out a little since, his summer 2017 switch to Mönchengladbach shows he remains one of the Bundesliga's premier full-backs.
U18 winner: Kevin Akpoguma (Karlsruhe)
U17 winner: Timo Werner (Stuttgart)
Female winner: Melanie Leupolz (Freiburg)
2014: Niklas Stark (Nuremberg)
The fact Stark finished ahead of Max Meyer and Joshua Kimmich tells you much of what you need to know. The versatile Bavarian made his Bundesliga bow less than two weeks after turning 18, appearing for Nuremberg's first and reserve team over the next two campaigns. His summer 2015 switch to Hertha Berlin has seen him develop into a bona fide Bundesliga player while his international career has also progressed, topping out — for now — with his impressively mature displays in Germany's UEFA Under-21 EURO victory in 2017.
U18 winner: Julian Brandt (Leverkusen)
U17 winner: Benedikt Gimber (Hoffenheim)
Female winner: Sara Däbritz (Freiburg)
2015: Jonathan Tah (Leverkusen)
The Hamburg-born defender joined his home city's most famous club aged 13; four years later, he was breaking Hamburg's club record as their youngest Bundesliga debutant. What then-coach Thorsten Fink saw was that with mobility to go with his imposing 6'4" (1.94m) frame, Tah could become a star. The 2014/15 season spent on loan at Fortuna Düsseldorf awakened a wider audience to his qualities, notably Leverkusen, whom he joined in summer 2015. Now a pillar of the Werkself, Tah — whose father is from Ivory Coast — was a member of Germany's UEFA EURO 2016 squad and was called up by Joachim Löw for his country's pre-2018 FIFA World Cup training camp.
U17 winner: Felix Passlack (Borussia Dortmund)
Female winner: Pauline Bremer (Turbine Potsdam)
2016: Benjamin Henrichs (Leverkusen)
Leverkusen waited a decade to have a winner, and — just 12 months later — joined Schalke as the only club to boast two. Henrichs emerged in a district of nearby Cologne before joining Leverkusen's Under-8 team. His rise through the ranks at the BayArena culminated in his Bundesliga debut in September 2015. Originally an attacking midfielder, this son of a German father and Ghanaian mother has become one of Europe's premier full-backs. His assured performances for club and country — at the UEFA Under-19 EURO — earned him the 2016 Medal, and helped convince Löw he could play a part at the Confederations Cup a year later.
U17 winner: Gian-Luca Itter (Wolfsburg)
Female winner: Nina Ehegötz (Cologne/Leverkusen)
2017: Salih Özcan (Cologne)
The Billy Goats' 2017/18 campaign may have ended in relegation from the Bundesliga, but the emergence of their gifted homespun midfielder provided some comfort. Spotted by Cologne scouts aged nine, Özcan made his Bundesliga bow in September 2016, and has since added experience to his considerable potential, featuring in 23 league games and five UEFA Europa League encounters in a 2017/18 season that was fruitful for the teenager, if not his club. "I see no limits for Salih," said his former Cologne teammate Mergim Mavraj. Cologne will be hoping he is proved right.
U17 winner: Jann-Fiete Arp (Hamburg)
Female winner: Jana Feldkamp (Essen)
2018: Kai Havertz (Leverkusen)
Kai Havertz— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) July 21, 2018
Position: Attacking midfielder
7 goals and 15 assists in 54 #Bundesliga appearances speak for themselves! This is one of the most exciting attacking prospects in European football 🔥 #BundesligaYouth pic.twitter.com/xtLlTvq1zf
The third Leverkusen player to pick up the top prize in the award's premier category, Havertz could prove to be the biggest star yet. Barely 11 when he joined Die Werkself, Havertz had already been tied to a long-term deal before he stepped into the first-team squad early in the 2016/17 campaign. The Aachen-born prodigy became Leverkusen's youngest Bundesliga debutant — and the seventh-youngest of all-time — when he featured in the top flight in October 2016, going on to be named his club's fans' Player of the Season. A silver medal winner in the U17 category in 2016, he was the obvious choice to claim the U19 gold after establishing himself as a Leverkusen first-teamer in 2017/18.
U17 winner: Noah Katterbach (Cologne)
Female winner: Tanja Pawollek (Frankfurt)