January will throw the Julian Draxler transfer debacle back into the spotlight. Both club and player are openly encouraging offers. But what has happened to the former Schalke kid who helped Germany win the World Cup in 2014?
Arsenal. Juventus. Paris Saint-Germain. You can name many others, but at the age of 23, Julian Draxler has ended up at VfL Wolfsburg, with his career ostensibly stalling by the month. The latest episode in the saga around the German international’s future saw him jeered by his own supporters after coming off the bench in Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Hertha Berlin.
Eighteen months ago, Draxler was the biggest statement of intent in the short prominent history of Wolfsburg. Having just sold Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City, the Wolves’ sporting director Klaus Allofs forked out around 36 million euros to sign the poster boy of Schalke’s highly-respected youth academy.
What Draxler was intending to do was clear: he wanted to play regular Champions League football, while remaining in the eye of Germany coach Joachim Löw. Leaving his boyhood heroes Schalke, the grandest of sporting institutions in Germany, steeped in history and heritage was frowned upon, yet understandable given the relative fortunes of the clubs at the time.
Schalke were on the decline; Wolfsburg were on the up.
Reports of tentative interest from Arsenal, PSG, Tottenham, among others, led to nothing. Juventus, the Italian champions, publicly courted the player, but were only wiling to pay 25 million euros. Schalke wanted more than 30 million. The second horse in the Bundesliga and Cup winners, Wolfsburg simply were the only German club who could meet those demands.
Regret and instability
Wolfsburg’s pressing concerns aren’t just on the Draxler front. The Wolves are fourth-from-bottom, two points outside of the relegation zone and with one win in 12 games. The prospect of relegation is real. But what could be more crippling long-term for the club is a change in Volkswagen’s funding, as a result of the emissions scandal. Wolfsburg currently receive around 90 million euros from the car firm, a figure which could be cut by around 30% according to media reports last week.
That, on top of relegation might be enough to see VfL Wolfsburg disappear from the Bundesliga for a substantial amount of time. This season, the club has already gone through a manager with Dieter Hecking dismissed in October and replaced by U23 coach Valerien Ismael who has failed to turn things around. “We have a mentality problem,” he said after Saturday’s loss.
Taking a tough decision with the backing of the club, Ismael left Draxler on the bench because he wanted players committed to the cause. Allofs, his boss, said on German television that he wished things had gone differently when the German demanded a transfer in the summer.
“Maybe would evaluate it differently, and it may be that we would do it differently next time and let him go,” Allofs said. “I believe that the club and the surrounding area has bigger problems than me,” countered Draxler to questions concerning the jeers from Wolfsburg fans at the weekend.
There is debate around not just Draxler’s ability, but his character. The player, at least according to many in the domestic market, has become something of damaged goods. Former Bayern Munich legend Lotthar Matthaus wrote in his column that the 23-year-old had no character and hadn’t done it at the highest level. “I’m saying this very clearly: as a big club, I would not commit Draxler at the moment,” he said.
As a staple of Löw’s national team – and performing impressively on a consistent basis – Draxler will have no shortage of offers from England and further afield. But on this occasion, the decision will be predicated on more than just financial incentives: his career development is paramount at his next club.
The club he will most likely leave behind though is on the verge of collapse, and the player shouldn’t be made a scapegoat for the failings of others around him.