Soon set to work with former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel at club level, Julian Draxler will first hope to star with Germany at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The fleet-footed Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is now coming into his prime – but only after first perfecting his dribbling skills and close control in the Bundesliga.
Still only 24, Draxler seemed destined for the top from a very young age. He was just eight when he linked up with Schalke, the club whose first-team matches he had watched from the stands with his father.
Growing up, the future World Cup winner reportedly liked wearing a Schalke jersey with Olaf Thon’s name on the back, and he also looked up to former Germany captain Michael Ballack. Like those two former Bayern Munich midfielders, he would go on to make his mark in the German top flight.
Born in Royal Blue
Draxler is from Gladbeck, within half an hour of Gelsenkirchen and Schalke’s Veltins Arena, so the Royal Blues looked a natural fit. And so it proved. On 5 January 2011 - at the age of 17 years and 117 days – he made his Bundesliga debut in a 1-0 defeat against Hamburg.
Three days after becoming the youngest player ever to feature for Schalke in the top flight, Draxler agreed his first professional contract with the club. He would have to wait until his 18th birthday to sign it, but his star was clearly on the rise.
Before the month was out, the youngster came off the bench to score an extra-time winner against Nuremberg and send Schalke into the DFB Cup semi-finals. He followed up by netting his first league goal in a win at St. Pauli in April 2011, and by the season’s end he even had his first taste of silverware.
Naturally, the quick-thinking attacking midfielder would play a key role in securing Schalke’s first trophy since 2002. He got the opening goal in the DFB Cup final as his side thrashed second-tier Duisburg and, in so doing, he became the youngest ever goalscorer in the decider.
Being a prodigy is not without its problems, however. Before he himself left the club in March 2011, then-Schalke boss Felix Magath wanted Draxler to leave school early so that the teenager would focus on football. As the player told German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel in September 2012, for a while it felt like he “lived in two worlds”. On the one hand, he was a professional footballer. On the other, he was still a schoolboy.
From schoolboy to Germany international
In the end, a compromise was found, and Draxler switched to a partner school of Schalke’s – conveniently located next to the training centre – which was partly funded by the German Football Association (DFB).
After turning 18 in September 2011, the Royal Blues’ latest great hope revelled in his new status as a professional. He made 30 appearances in the Bundesliga in 2011/12, and was a surprise inclusion in Germany’s provisional squad for UEFA Euro 2012 despite still being eligible for the U19 team.
Draxler’s strength in one-on-one situations had caught national coach Joachim Löw’s eye, but the youngster missed the phone call informing him of his call-up.
“When I got the call, I was actually sitting in class,” Draxler told Der Tagesspiegel. “During the break, I checked my voicemail and then called back.”
That year’s European Championship would come too soon for Draxler, although he did make his senior international debut in a pre-tournament friendly against Switzerland.
At club level, he continued to progress – playing mainly on the left of midfield. Comfortable with both feet and a solid finisher, he scored 10 league goals in 2012/13 – helping the Royal Blues to fourth – and also netted for the first time in the UEFA Champions League.
Watch: Draxler - the formative years
The records kept falling, too. In March 2013 – aged 19 years and 170 days – he became the then youngest player to reach a century of appearances in the Bundesliga. He marked the occasion with a goal – the opening one in a memorable 2-1 Revierderby victory over local rivals Dortmund.
A diamond in the traditional coal-mining Ruhr region of Germany, Draxler was becoming more polished with every game. With treasure hunters of all nationalities starting to show an interest, Schalke felt it was time to give the local boy an improved deal.
The club clearly felt that securing Draxler’s signature in May 2013 was worth crowing about. His latest contract came with a new jersey number – 10 – and lorries were dispatched around the city displaying huge pictures of the man of the moment. A written message accompanied the posters too, saying ‘Julian Draxler: With pride and passion until 2018.’ Now playing a more central role both on and off the pitch, Draxler proudly stated that, for him, Schalke was “a matter of the heart”.
A Wolf is born
After Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup win he suffered from injury problems, however, and having seen several head coahces come and go in Gelsenkirchen, in 2015 he decided it was time for a change. On the final day of the summer transfer window, Draxler left his boyhood club for Wolfsburg – who had finished second in the Bundesliga and won the DFB Cup the previous season.
Schalke revealed that the multi-million transfer fee was the biggest the club had ever received, and soon afterwards the 21-year old opened up about why he had sought a fresh start.
“Even when I returned after my six-month injury layoff, I felt the expectations loaded on me to nearly single-handedly decide games,” he said. “That's when I realised that it's time to move on.”
Draxler came to the fore in the Champions League that season – scoring three goals in nine matches before Wolfsburg eventually bowed out after giving Real Madrid a real scare in the quarter-finals. The Wolves lacked bite in the Bundesliga, however, and finished eighth, before Draxler helped Germany reach the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2016.
In January 2017, he was on the move again, joining PSG and quickly adding to his trophy collection. That summer, he would enhance his reputation yet further by winning the FIFA Confederations Cup with Germany. With several senior players being rested, Draxler captained a youthful side, and ended up being named the player of the tournament.
On a personal level, he said the Confederations Cup was an “extremely important” experience. And with bigger tournaments to come and plenty more years left to give, more silverware surely awaits one of Die Mannschaft’s most exciting talents.