If Chelsea can take but one thing from tonight’s match against Schalke 04, it’s that German international Julian Draxler is on the threshold of greatness.
Granted, it’s not exactly ‘news’ to say that Draxler is the next big thing. We’ve known that for some time now. Years, in fact. But on Wednesday the 20-year-old proved himself worthy of that $60 million buy-out clause that Schalke put on his head.
And that’s definitely something to note because it was only last January that Arsenal – and, impliedly, every other Premier League side with title aspirations – shied away from activating that clause on the premise that Draxler simply wasn’t worth it.
Modesty personified, Draxler agreed, telling media outlets that he simply hadn’t played well enough to attract the attention:
“The [buy-out clause] stayed with me,’ Draxler told Bild last summer. “I did not play like 20 clubs were ready to pay this sum for me last season. I have to become attractive to big clubs again.”
The admiration dropped off last spring when Draxler managed only one goal in 12 Bundesliga matches (two on the entire season) and further this summer when he was selected for the German National Team but played a bit part role in World Cup 2014. So while this summer was a quiet one for Draxler (and his agent), his performance on Wednesday should go miles towards changing that.
The attacking midfielder, playing in more of a box-to-box role against Chelsea, ran himself ragged on both sides of the ball. Living off the counter-attack, Schalke looked for Draxler every time out the gates. His breakaway ability on the ball is stunning as he seemingly glides past opponents all-the-while maintaining possession with ease. His passes were accurate, incisive and ultimately, determinative, as it was his brilliant defense-splitting ball that freed up Klaas Jan-Huntelaar to score the equalizer. In addition to his playmaking skills, Draxler managed four shots on goal, including a hovering effort with just 10 minutes to play that forced Thibault Courtois into a sprawl out.
For ages, Draxler has been on the radar of Arsenal, long believed to be a player Arsene Wenger could mold into a striker in the same way he did Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie. The German has all the same attributes as the Arsenal legends – size, skill, grace, vision and a knack for scoring goals.
But who’s to say he ends up in North London? After a display like tonight one would be remiss to think Jose Mourinho isn’t interested. No, The Special One isn’t in need of another attacking midfielder but that hasn’t stopped him in the past when an opposition player has impressed on the Champions League stage (read: Willian at Shakhtar). And what about Manchester City? Draxler’s multi-dimensional skillset would be a dream fit with David Silva and quite the upgrade from James Milner, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri.
Of course, January is still over three months away. But it’s performances like tonight that suggest this may finally be the window when one shopper, with a keen eye on a championship, finally deems the price is right.