He might have jumped ship in a time of trouble for Schalke 04 but credence to 22-year-old Lewis Holtby for avoiding a drawn-out, laborious transfer saga, similar to Manuel Neuer’s eventual departure from Gelsenkirchen, to join FC Bayern.
Holtby, who has been an integral figure in the current Schalke side, will end his contract with the Royal Blues in the summer, before making the switch to Tottenham Hostpur in the English Premier League. Early in the season, expectations were immensely high of Holtby who had previously played on the flanks at FSV Mainz 05, then in a deeper, defensive position under Huub Stevens before he eventually took the No.10 slot.
There is a queue of options in the Schalke ranks who could have taken the role, also, including the classy Dutch midfielder Ibrahim Afellay and the rising star of Gelsenkirchen, Julian Draxler.
For an attacking player that possesses such guile and talent, one assist in 15 games is not a particularly great return from the 19-year-old, but the departure of Holtby from the central ‘No.10’ position could allow Draxler to take an increased level of responsibility in Schalke’s attacking build-up play.
In an almost parallel development to Mario Götze, Draxler has been eased into first-team life in the Bundesliga, learning the tools from a wide-midfield position, which has afforded him the time to develop, physically and technically, as a player, whilst adjusting to the environment of the Bundesliga.
Götze, though, has stepped up to the mark following the departure of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United last summer. The Japanese star impacted the game heavily around the edge of the 18-yard box with an ability to play through passes to Lewandowski and interchanging with the Polish forward to get on the scoresheet.
Götze has taken a slightly adapted role in the Dortmund side without Kagawa, allowing the 20-year-old German the freedom to become a playmaker, drifting between attacking and deeper areas to take possession of the ball. The consistent injury problems to Sven Bender has removed an important mechanism in Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 and Götze has been licenced to drop further back to help occasional replacement Sebastian Kehl who does not have the same range of passing as Bender.
But Götze has added a different dimension to Dortmund’s game when playing in a central position and has a number of similar attributes to young Draxler. The Schalke teenager is adept at shifting the ball from left to right with deception, controlling the tempo with playmaking qualities and has the acceleration to roam into advanced areas ahead of the central-striker, something that London-bound Holtby was equally as effective at.
One thing Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who recently committed his future to Schalke, enjoys is the support of a dynamic attacking-midfielder that can take up various positions around the player. Draxler has the pace, balance and trickery to drag defenders out-of-position, or even be an effective counter-attacking out ball, if he is closer to Huntelaar rather than in an isolated wide position.
Like Götze, Schalke’s Draxler played the central attacking-midfield role frequently in his earlier development with the club and took up the role when on German youth international duty. In his first fleeting appearances at the Veltins Arena, Draxler was introduced as a supporting-striker to take advantage of spaces opening up in the later stages of the game. Even against FC Bayern in the 1-0 DFB Pokal win two seasons ago, Draxler was used in a central attacking role for the hour he was on the pitch.
Recent talk has also linked Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder with a move to the Bundesliga, and Schalke in particular, to re-ignite the international partnership between him and Huntelaar. His fitness record, though, has raised questions over the value of the signing, and whether the Dutchman would block the progress of young players, like Draxler and the up-and-coming Max Meyer who has been called into the first-team squad during the winter shutdown.
The next 12 months will be integral in Draxler’s development as a player and the vacant position in the Schalke attacking line might be fitting for the 19-year-old to rise up and be the key player for the Royal Blues. Whilst Jens Keller will be mainly focused on achieving the goal of reaching the Champions League, a broader objective should be making sure Draxler fulfils his potential and is given the faith and patience to become a world class Bundesliga footballer.
Follow editor Ross Dunbar on twitter @rossdunbar93