Julian Draxler: From golden boy to Mr. Schalke

By Stefan Bienkowski

On the cusp of a bright summer’s day a Bundesliga showdown was in the midst of its battle. In the small, southern town of Freiburg, just west of the famous black forests in the south-west corner of Germany, SC Freiburg were hosting Schalke 04 in a fiercely climactic Champions League play-off on the final day of the League calendar. And they were winning.

Not with goals or points, but in terms of passion and the sheer amount of chances created. Within the first fifteen minutes alone, the home side had created two goal scoring opportunities to no lasting effect, yet continued to attack in waves that Schalke simply couldn’t apprehend. Freiburg wanted this Champions League spot much more than their Gelsenkirchen visitors. 

Then it all changed – as it always does in our beautiful game - in one moment of brilliance. The game was on its head.

Jefferson Farfan, the Schalke right winger, had cut inside and found a low pass to the feet of the Royal Blues’ towering striker, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who had turned on the spot and looked left for the solution – as he has done so often this season – with a squared ball to Schalke’s young left winger, Julian Draxler. With a single shimmy the starlet was inside Mensur Mujdza, the Freiburg fullback, and curling a low shot around Oliver Baumann in goals.

In three simple passes Schalke had aligned their fate for the following season and as so often the case these days Julian Draxler was directly responsible for all of it.

The local lad turned national superstar has had quite a season. Although already established in the first team last year, it wasn’t until the burden of Lewis Holbty was lifted in January, with the transfer to Tottenham, for the youngster’s projected greatness to truly blossom.

Seven of his ten goals this season came after the January transfer window, once he was allowed to move in to his newly appointed number ten position. Since then Schalke have moved up from as low as ninth position, to the coveted fourth place finish that has ensured them of prime European game for the following season.

In that time, Julian Draxler has become Mr Schalke. With a new contract that was announced to the world with a fleet of trucks, plastered with his face, touring the local towns and villages – as well as neighbouring Dortmund just weeks after Mario Gotze’s move to Bayern was revealed – the player has very much became the embodiment for hope at this club. 

Unlike Lewis Holbty or Manuel Neuer before him, Draxler is perfectly comfortable announcing his loyalty for his club. If not discussing his regular phone calls with ex-legend and potential assistant manager Raul, he’s down-playing talks of joining local black and yellow rivals as a situation he could only go through with if ‘brainwashed’.

Under the tall shadow cast by Dortmund that Schalke currently dwell, Draxler has offered a rare light of encouragement and optimism not only through his sheer ability, but the likeness he bares to the fans in the stand. No fan cheers at each goal, or celebrates every win as much as he, and in their eyes that makes him immortal.

This summer the youngster will travel with the German national team to the United States on a tour designed to distinguish the best from a squad specifically picked with emerging Bundesliga talent on the verge of international prominence.

Whilst there he’ll stay in lavish hotels, enjoy beautiful locations and play in front of full-house crowds, all desperate for his signature, before returning to pre-season in Germany where the Champions League – football’s largest tournament – await him and his beloved Schalke. This is the life the nineteen year old protégée now lives. That of a local hero, on the verge of stardom.

This piece was written by Stefan Bienkowski, our resident German football expert whose work has been featured in the New York Times. You should follow Stefan on Twitter at @sbienkowski

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