The 2019 U-21 European Championships came and went with little fanfare in England, as Aidy Boothroyd’s young lions crashed out of the tournament in the group stages. But with England’s prospects curtailed at the first hurdle, Premier League scouts had turned their attentions to a young german forward who had propelled Die Mannschaft to a second-place finish in the competition. Luca Waldschmidt was finally ready to step out of obscurity and become a household name in his homeland.
A product of Frankfurt’s academy Waldschmidt was dubbed ‘Il bomber’ in reference to legendary Bayern Munich and Germany forward Gerd Muller whose goalscoring exploits across three decades earned him the nickname ‘Der Bomber’. Waldschmidt’s first season at U17 level saw him net 18 in 22 games, followed by 12 in 18 the following year. Having stepped up to the U19s he then struck 14 times across 19 appearances, earning himself a promotion to the first team.
As many football fans will tell you, however, the distinction between academy football and the senior game is often far greater than its given credit for and as such Waldschmidt struggled to replicate his form of yesteryear, managing just the one goal in 17 first-team appearances. A summer transfer to Hamburg in 2016 did little to arrest his troubles in front of goal, and it seemed as if his career was escaping him even at such a young age.
England’s academies often give little credence to reinvention and tactical fluidity, with many players falling privy to this rigid arrogance about how the game should be played, just ask Michael Carrick. Granted times are changing and St George’s Park has ushered in a new way of thinking from grassroots football through to the first team but back in Germany these traditions have never been quite as archaic, and Waldschmidt was to profit off this to excellent effect.
Once an eagle-eyed lone forward, Waldschmidt had found his calling in the half-spaces between midfield and attack following a move to Bundesliga rivals Freiburg. The benefactor of Germany’s penchant for a false nine, the now 21-year-old was finally earning critical acclaim for his ability to drop off into space and drive from deep. A player firmly in the mould of Arsenal cult hero Lukas Podolski, Waldschmidt’s lethal calling card is his thunderous left boot and after a sizable nine-goal return in his debut season eyes were now firmly fixed on whether he could deliver for his country at the U21 European Championships.
It appears we’ve come full circle and returned to the scene of Waldschmidt’s recommencing. His crowning moment came against a beleaguered Serbia in the group stages, as he proved the catalyst for Germany’s quick transitions down the flanks. The swift turn and drive routine now synonymous with Waldschmidt’s slaloming style of play caught Serbia’s backline retreating hastily and three consummate finishes ensured he collected the match ball at the end of a 6-1 drubbing. But the youngster’s Coupe De Grace was yet to come. Swivelling on a sixpence some thirty yards from goal, Waldschmidt stood unopposed, unassuming and above all unsuspecting as he gestured towards the top corner with a nonchalant glance of the head. The result? a momentary gasp of breath before a cry of exasperation as his shot flew past Austrian U21 keeper Alexander Schlager.
Despite the disappointment of losing out to Spain in the final, Waldschmidt came back to Germany with a golden boot and a whole host of potential new suitors to pick from. His decision to stick with Freiburg has done little to deter Europe’s elite, and even though injuries have limited his minutes this season Waldschmidt’s form has not gone unnoticed earning him a call up to the senior national team in August 2019.
Where does he fit into Chelsea’s team?
With a superb ability to retain possession and transition play, Waldschmidt offers Frank Lampard a more forward-thinking option in Chelsea’s midfield three. Whilst not renowned for pressing the ball high up the pitch his anticipation of when to make a clean tackle – he averages 0.5 fouls per game, half that of the number committed by Mason Mount, offers some promise and having seen Mount’s coming of age throughout this season it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the same from Waldschmidt. Despite never having played out wide the 23-year-old possesses the fluid movement and attacking instincts of an inside forward, and just as Lampard did with Mount there is certainly potential to retrain the German, especially given Waldschmidt’s ability to shoot from range. As it is though Lampard would likely look to use the forward as a second striker, playing off Tammy Abraham and making late runs into the area.
A reported £20 million price tag places him firmly within Chelsea’s price range, but with priorities elsewhere and the arrival of Hakim Ziyech to bolster the Blues’s attack, it seems that a deal is some way off and the departures of Messrs Michy Batshuayi, Olivier Giroud and Ross Barkley may have to take place before talk of a deal for Waldschmidt can be seriously contemplated.
Edited By Martell Dublin