Leon Goretzka was focused from the first moment he stepped onto the training pitch in Bayern Munich colours. - © © imago
Leon Goretzka was focused from the first moment he stepped onto the training pitch in Bayern Munich colours. - © © imago

Leon Goretzka eyes 'leading role' with new club Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich new boy Leon Goretzka says he believes he can be the man pulling the strings at the heart of the record champions' midfield as they embark on their quest for a seventh consecutive Bundesliga title.

Goretzka only reported for training with Bayern at the start of the week, but the heady Säbener Straße air has already nourished his ambitions for the coming campaign.

"I see myself as capable of taking on a leading role," he told the media on Thursday. "To do so I need to prove myself on the pitch, and let my performances do the talking."

The 23-year-old will be hoping to pick up where he left off at Schalke. His eye-catching efforts in Gelsenkirchen earned him a call-up for Germany's successful campaign at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, before Bayern came calling during last season's winter break.

Watch: Goretzka's Top 5 Bundesliga goals for Schalke

Even when his surprise transfer to Bavaria was announced in January 2018, Goretzka resisted the backlash from Royal Blues fans to ensure his side finished as runners-up in the Bundesliga, contributing four goals, two assists, and plenty of on-field leadership.

"For me, it's incredibly important to leave Schalke on a high," he explained. "But now is the right time to make a move. I felt I needed to get out of my comfort zone in order to improve."

Goretzka is certainly entering a brave new world. A year ago, he was made Schalke vice-captain by coach Domenico Tedesco, and went into 2017/18 knowing he would always be one of the first names on the team-sheet. The upcoming campaign in Bavaria provides no such guarantees.

After all, Bayern boast a glittering array of midfield talent. James Rodriguez was one of last season's star performers in the Bundesliga and beyond, while Corentin Tolisso recently returned from Russia sporting a shiny FIFA World Cup winner's medal. Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez combine flexibility and passion with invaluable experience, and Thiago – though hampered by injury last term – remains one of the world's best passers.

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Sebastian Rudy and the returning Renato Sanches are also doing everything they can to earn themselves a starting place, and the latter did his prospects no harm by scoring a sneaky free-kick against Paris Saint-Germain in a friendly last month.

"I know the quality at Bayern is huge," Goretzka acknowledged in Sport Bild. "But I didn't move to Munich to sit on the bench. I've shown in the past that I can take on responsibility, and I'm very hungry for success with this team."

The X-factor, of course, is Niko Kovac. The former Eintracht Frankfurt boss has some sizeable shoes to fill after replacing Jupp Heynckes this summer, but he will also be keen to stamp his own authority and identity on the Allianz Arena dugout. It may be several weeks before the Croatian's preferred formation emerges – let alone his first-choice XI – but Goretzka is confident of making the grade. As a battling, box-to-box midfielder, he will be hoping to provide that all-important link between defence and attack.

"Versatility is one of my strengths," he declared. "And I'm willing to play in various positions. I need to speak to the coach to find out where he sees me. It's no secret that I prefer to play at No.8, which I believe is my strongest position."

"Leon is a great footballer with a good character, and qualities that will help our team move forward," added sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. "He's fast, dynamic and technically strong. The coach is looking forward to working with him, and I'm confident that we will enjoy lots of success with Leon in the future."

It remains to be seen exactly how Goretzka will fit into Kovac's plans, but he should have no problems settling into life at Säbener Straße. He spent years representing Germany at youth level with fellow members of the Class of 1995 – Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Süle and Serge Gnabry – while Die Mannschaft's trip to Russia this summer did at least give him a chance to get to know some of his future teammates. He is now keen to put his country's World Cup woes behind him and focus on the task in hand.

"I'm just looking ahead to the challenges here, which is big enough," he said. "I'm glad to be here, although I don't feel like I've achieved an objective just by moving to Bayern. Achieving objectives means you end up standing still."

There appears to be no question of Goretzka standing still. As he prepares for his first professional experience outside the Ruhr region – after 12 years with hometown club VfL Bochum and five years at Schalke – the 23-year-old looks, on the contrary, ready to step things up a gear. Bayern's new No.18 is quietly determined to become Kovac's new No.1 in midfield.

Andy Smith

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