Florian Wirtz: who is German football's newest star?

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz has been labelled the "great hope" of German football, with teammates and coaches full of praise for the 17-year-old.

Florian Wirtz: who is German football's newest star?

Leaders Bayern Munich won 4-2 at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday to move to within six points of the title. But while it was business as usual for them, 17-year-old Florian Wirtz made waves as he became the youngest goal-scorer in the history of the Bundesliga.

Making just his fourth ever senior appearance, the young midfielder slalomed past World Cup winner Lucas Hernandez and curled his shot past Manuel Neuer into the far corner, to beat Nuri Sahin’s goal-scoring record by 48 days,

Here's what you need to know about Leverkusen's latest midfield gem:

Wirtz was born in Pulheim in Germany’s Rhineland region in 2003 and at the age of seven joined the academy of local side FC Köln. He remained at Köln for a decade, captaining their youth sides and appearing for the German national team at various age groups. He began the 2019/20 season in Köln’s Under-17s and scored eight goals in ten matches from an attacking midfield role, marking him out as one of German football’s ‘ones to watch’.

Germany youth coach: Wirtz is "our great hope"

Meikel Schonweitz, head youth coach of the German FA, described Wirtz as “a very fine footballer, a creative midfielder who anticipates situations before they arise. Thanks to his good orientation and his intelligence he can react quicker. He’s our great hope”.

Köln, too, had high hope for their young star but in January 2020, with the player soon to be out of contract, Rhineland rivals Bayer Leverkusen nipped in to secure the services of one of the hottest prospects in Germany. The move was controversial, but Bayer director Rudi Voller insisted that Wirtz’s talent left the club in no doubt, telling sports magazine Kicker: “The player was on the market and willing to go. It would have been grossly negligent not to enter negotiations”.

Wirtz makes immediate impact at Leverkusen

Despite being just 16 when he signed for Leverkusen, Wirtz was earmarked for the senior side straight away and made his debut for the club in the first game back after the coronavirus suspension. He was named in the starting XI, playing right-wing, against Werder Bremen and was later praised by manager Peter Bosz for the maturity of his performance. "He played well right from the off, kept the ball well and pushed forward well too," said Bosz. "He wasn’t nervous."

Since making his move to Leverkusen, some have made comparisons to other home-grown midfielders to have turned out for the club in recent years. Julian Brandt made a similar move when he signed from Wolfsburg at the age of 17 and he too was playing in the first team soon after. Like Brandt, Wirtz is a fluid attacking midfielder who uses his incisive passing and dribbling ability to cause the opposition problems.

Wirtz "could be another Kai Havertz"

Wirtz’s first appearance against Werder Bremen saw him become the youngest player to appear for Bayer Leverkusen, beating the record set by Kai Havertz three years earlier. Havertz missed the Bayern Munich game due to injury but with some of Europe’s top sides (including the German champions) interested in the 20-year-old, Bayer may soon need another exciting young midfielder to fill his boots.

Speaking after the defeat against Bayern Munich, Wirtz’s teammates were full of praise for the 17-year-old and midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger said that Wirtz has already shown “special qualities” in his short time at the club.

Aleksander Dragovic, who was in the Leverkusen squad when Havertz made his debut back in 2016 went further, saying Wirtz has “a lot of potential and if he keeps his feet on the ground, he could be another Kai Havertz”.