Bayer Leverkusen starlet Kai Havertz attracting Liverpool interest
Bayern Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz reportedly made a visit to Liverpool's training ground last month, with a potential January transfer in the offing. So here is everything you need to know about the youngster.
Why would Liverpool be interested?
Growing up near the Dutch border, Havertz, born in 1999, joined Leverkusen in 2010 and worked his way through the club's academy.
After helping Bayer's under-17 side to a Bundesliga title with 19 goals in the 2015-16 season, the youngster took a short-cut into the senior team after impressing then-head coach Rogers Schmidt in that summer's training camps.
Only a few months later, at 17 years and 126 days, Havertz became the youngest ever player to wear the Bayer jersey. There was no stopping him from there. He made his Champions League debut only a few days later, coming on as a late substitute in a 1-0 win against Tottenham at the Wembley Stadium.
By the end of the season, still 17, he had made an incredible 28 first-team appearances -- though, because of his A-Level exams at the Landrat-Lucas-Gymnasium, Havertz missed the second leg of Leverkusen's Champions League round-of-16 defeat to Atletico Madrid in March.
Havertz scored his first ever brace at senior level in the final game of the season, a 6-2 win at Hertha Berlin. In 24 league games, he scored a total of four goals and set up a further six. And has now represented his country from U16 to U19 level.
Good numbers for a young player. Is he an attacker?
No. Havertz can be an attacker, but he can also play much deeper. He can play on the wing and is a versatile attacking threat, but has not settled on a position. However, there is one place he wants to be: where he can make an impact.
The 18-year-old likes to orchestrate moves in the final third, and he has the technique and the vision to do it. Havertz has not only cited Mesut Ozil as his role model but has also been compared to the Arsenal playmaker by Leverkusen sporting director and 1990 World Cup winner Rudi Voller.
"Kai's a bit like Mesut Ozil, the way he strokes the ball, and the composure to make things look easy," Voller said back in February. "He just has the gift, especially with his left foot. His ball control is just sensational."
At 6-foot-1, though, he is a bit taller than Ozil and has since drawn comparisons with former Leverkusen great Michael Ballack.
He's 18, he can't be a finished product. There must be things he still needs to learn.
Indeed. While he is good and "the most complete 17-year-old" Leverkusen captain Lars Bender has ever experienced, his defensive contributions so far has been more Ozil than Ballack. Yes, he loves to run, and wins aerial duels, but he needs to track back better. Luckily, though, Havertz is aware that he has not peaked yet.
"I can read a game pretty okay. But there is still a lot of room for improvement," he said earlier this year, adding that his "right foot is not at 100 percent yet."
Having announced himself on the big stage last term, in his second season, Havertz has only made a major impact in one game, as Leverkusen turned a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 5-1 win in the derby at Borussia Monchengladbach, largely down to Havertz's three assists in the opening stages of the second half.
So it sounds like he's destined for greater things than Bundesliga?
He might be just 18, but he already has played on the biggest stage there is in club football. With three Champions League appearances to his name last season, Havertz won't play European football this term as Leverkusen only just survived a relegation fight.
Under new head coach Heiko Herrlich, they have slowly picked up pace in Bundesliga. And, with 16 points from 11 matches, are one of many teams in position to attack a top four spot -- a crucial part of keeping the midfielder, and also other talented youngsters like centre-back Jonathan Tah or winger Julian Brandt beyond the summer.
Leverkusen might have plenty of talented youngsters, but similar players have not stayed at Bayer for long in the past; they are not a club kids dream of and Havertz himself was "mad about Alemannia Aachen [his local club] and Barcelona."
"The club's goal is to play in Europe, and Champions League is on top of that list. We've been a regular guest there in recent years, and we'd love to return there," Havertz said in late September, shortly after signing a new five-year deal with the club.
Be it at Leverkusen or elsewhere, the midfielder will return to Champions League rather sooner than later.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.