The rise and rise of RB Leipzig's Timo Werner from Mario Gomez fan to Germany's number one forward
When Timo Werner was still at school, he would refuse to sign autographs despite being the local boy made good, the 17-year-old who was already in Stuttgart's first team.
"I'm a normal school pupil," he insisted at the time. Perhaps he was, but there is little doubt now the RB Leipzig striker has already become an extraordinary footballer and — given he turns just 22 in March — there is the mouthwatering prospect that there should be even better to come.
Watch: Timo Werner's path from idolising Mario Gomez to replacing his hero for Germany.
That is not good news for everyone. In just over four years he has gone from taking tests in the classroom to handing some of the planet's best defenders the stiffest examinations of their careers. More often than not, it is Werner who passes.
"I fulfilled a dream by making a career out of my hobby," the young man who scored 21 league goals in a stunning 2016/17 season told bundesliga.com recently. "To make the national team as well, and to have a chance of going to the World Cup is fantasy stuff." The reality is even more fantastic: Werner is likely to head to Russia as Germany's number one forward after a phenomenal 18 months since his move east from his hometown club.
"The boy has crazy speed," said then-VfB boss Thomas Schneider, who was also Werner's mentor at youth level and is now again as assistant coach of Germany, after seeing his young charge make a winning contribution to a 3-1 win in the Black Forest. That rocket-propelled pace — he has been clocked at a dizzying 11.1 seconds for 100 metres — has mirrored the accelerated nature of Werner's giddying ascent to the summit of German football.
The fleet of foot and "incredible hunger for goals", as Germany Joachim Löw highlighted, were already present in his Stuttgart days, which brought a promising — if not spectacular — 14 goals in 96 league outings. But as Asamoah pointed out, the transformation of that potential into a streamlined goalscoring predator since donning a Leipzig shirt has still been remarkable.
Leipzig must take some of the credit with not only Werner but also Emil Forsberg, Jean-Kevin Augustin, Naby Keita and Dayot Upamecano, to name just three, having also found the ideal nest in which to develop their fledgling talent and then see it take flight, profiting from the bold policy put in place by sporting director Ralf Rangnick, a confirmed believer in youth.
But Werner, using the work ethic instilled in him by his father, Günther Schuh, to exploit the talent packed into the genes provided the former Stuttgarter Kickers player and Sabine, the mother whose maiden name Timo sports, has been the main driving force behind his own success.
Though he claimed to be just a "normal school pupil", Werner has shown a genius-like aptitude in learning quickly under Ralph Hasenhüttl. While his strike rate of 31 goals in 49 Bundesliga appearances and the fact he became the youngest-ever — yes, another record — to play in 100 Bundesliga game have grabbed the headlines, cannier observers will have seen the introduction into his game of other aspects that have an admiring Löw believing he has "a great future."
Werner has already tasted success there, finishing last year's FIFA Confederations Cup as top scorer, bringing home the Golden Boot for himself as well as the tournament trophy for his country. He received his individual honour from the hands of Brazilian legend Ronaldo while Diego Maradona was the first to congratulate him.
The pair were heading for their 22nd birthdays when they first tasted a global final tournament, the same age Werner will be when he pulls on a Germany shirt next summer. Whether he joins them in the club of world champions or not, one thing is for sure: there will be many many more people asking for his autograph than there was in school.
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