Schalke have produced more world-class footballers than most of us have had hot dinners, and the latest unpolished diamond to spring from the Gelsenkirchen mines will soon need no introduction ... trains the microscope on Thilo Kehrer.

Having arrived from Stuttgart in 2012, Kehrer led the Schalke youth team to the Under-19 Bundesliga title in 2014/15, providing an assist in the 3-1 final win over Hoffenheim. The 21-year-old centre-back started that game as captain, while his best known team-mate on the day, Germany winger Leroy Sane, had to make do with a place on the bench.

Kehrer made the step up to the first-team squad in the summer of 2015, although he only made a fleeting Bundesliga appearance that season, as a late substitute in a 3-0 win over Wolfsburg in February 2016. It was during the following campaign that he really seized his chance, coming in for suspended colleagues Benedikt Höwedes and Naldo and doing an admirable job in their absence.

Watch: Kehrer scored his first Bundesliga brace against Augsburg on Matchday 33 of the 2017/18 campaign

The real turning point was the 150th Revierderby against Borussia Dortmund on 1 April 2017. With 13 minutes to go, Kehrer fired in his first-ever Bundesliga goal to help Schalke salvage a 1-1 draw, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had put BVB ahead at the Veltins Arena. There's nothing like scoring against your bitter rivals on home soil to earn the fans' affection - and raise your profile.

Only a week before his heroics against Dortmund, Kehrer made his first appearance for the Germany Under-21s, coming off the bench in a friendly against England. Eligible to play for Burundi through his mother, he chose to represent the country of his father, Germany, and travelled to Poland that summer as Stefan Kuntz's side won the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

Thilo Kehrer picked up plenty in the 2017/18 season playing alongisde Brazilian giant Naldo (r.). © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Maja Hitij

Though he only made one appearance at the tournament - in the semi-final win over England - Kehrer has since become a regular starter, and even wore the captain's armband in recent qualifying wins over Kosovo, Azerbaijan and Israel, with skipper Jonathan Tah out injured. Germany currently top their group as they bid to reach the 2019 edition of the U-21 Euro, for which Kehrer will still be eligible.

The arrival of Domenico Tedesco last summer has done nothing to hinder his progress - quite the opposite, in fact. Kehrer thrived under the 32-year-old tactician, making a total of 27 top-flight starts in 2017/18, including every minute of the first 12 games of the season. A succession of assured displays helped Schalke to a second-place finish and drew the attention of Barcelona, with Eric Abidal - who knew a thing or two about defending - singling out the youngster for praise.

As well as boasting all the attributes required of a modern centre-back - strength, awareness and a cool head - Kehrer is remarkably versatile, having been deployed in no fewer than eight different positions in his 45 career Bundesliga appearances. Comfortable with both feet, he can play across the backline, in defensive midfield, or as a winger, and has even provided four assists on his forays forward.

Schalke and their legendary youth coach Norbert Elgert have moulded some of the biggest stars in world football over the years, including four members of Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup winning squad: Höwedes, Manuel Neuer, Mesut Özil and Julian Draxler.

Other alumni include Augsburg's Philipp Max - who returned an impressive 12 assists from left-back in 2017/18 - and Manchester City's Sane, who now works under former Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola.

Kehrer could soon be adding his name to that illustrious list. The Tübingen native - whose current contract runs until June 2019 - is one of a handful of graduates to have stayed on in the Ruhr Valley - along with Ralf Fährmann and Weston McKennie - and he is proving that the club's most talented youngsters don't necessarily have to fly the nest in order to flourish.  

Kehrer (c.) has played nine games for the Germany U-21s, but is yet to receive a senior call-up. © gettyimages / Martin Rose / Staff

At just 21, Kehrer is emerging as one of the brightest talents of his generation, and it will surely only be a matter of time before he becomes the latest Royal Blue to pull on the iconic white shirt of the senior national team. One thing's for sure - whether he's sparkling for Schalke or glittering for Germany, Kehrer is one uncut diamond you haven't heard the last of.

Andy Smith  

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