Person of Interest: German wunderkind Kai Havertz one to watch

Atletico's Gabi, left, and Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz go for a header in the first leg. (Martin Meissner/AP)

Bayer Leverkusen faces a bit of a mountain to climb going into Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League encounter against Atletico Madrid.

The Bundesliga outfit, which recently fired manager Roger Schmidt, lost 4-2 at home in the opening leg of their Round of 16 encounter, giving Atletico a distinct advantage in the return match. The Germans will need to come up with a little bit of magic and score at least two goals at the Vicente Calderón to have any chance of progressing to the quarterfinals.

Who might provide the inspiration for Die Werkself? Maybe it’ll be Kai Havertz, a 17-year-old midfielder who has been turning heads in the Bundesliga this season.

Here’s a closer look at the German youngster:

CLUB CAREER

Havertz was originally on the books at second division club Alemannia Aachen, and such were the quality of his performances for their youth side that several top clubs from across Europe took notice of him. Bayer was quickest off the mark, though. They realized how much of a budding prospect Havertz was, so they signed him in 2010.

After cutting his teeth in the youth ranks, Havertz finally graduated to the senior team this season, making his Bundesliga debut for Bayer last October against Werder Bremen. In doing so, he became the club’s youngest ever player (at 17 years and 126 days) to compete in the German topflight—quite the accomplishment considering Bayer’s reputation for giving young players a chance. He’s played in a handful of appearances since then, most notably as a starter in last month’s first leg encounter against Atletico Madrid.

A BIT OF GOOD FORTUNE

Havertz earned his first start in the Champions League through his hard work, but also because of good fortune. Turkish midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu received a four-month ban from FIFA in early February, paving the way for Havertz to not only start against Atletico but also to earn regular playing time in the Bundesliga.

WHAT MAKES HIM SO SPECIAL?

He’s a midfield tactician in the mould of Michael Ballack, able to play both as the main creator in the centre of the park, or as wide midfielder out on the left.

He’s been lauded for his great vision and ability to pick out teammates with killer passes, thus drawing comparisons with Mesut Özil. And for someone so young, he’s demonstrated a great deal of poise and maturity, and hasn’t been overwhelmed since being thrust into first-team action.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT HIM

“He’s a proper player for us, despite being only 17. We gave him some playing time to see what effect this had on him. It quickly became evident that playing in front of a full stadium doesn’t faze him. He’s an excellent footballer with good technique, speed, strength in one-on-one situations and even a decent aerial game.” – Former Bayer Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt

NOT A BAD PLAYER TO PATTERN YOURSELF AFTER

“Mesut Özil is my role model. I think our playing styles are similar and that’s why I am trying to learn as much from his game as I can.” — Havertz in an interview with the German football federation website

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