PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Note: This profile was first written in September 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.
Update – February 17, 2022: After debuting for Germany in World Cup qualifying last September, it now looks increasingly likely that Germany boss Hansi Flick will have a seat reserved on a flight to Qatar for Florian Wirtz in November.
While he is unlikely to play a significant role, he could still provide impact off the bench with his goal sense having the potential to be a huge asset for the Germans.
Who is Florian Wirtz?
Born and raised in Brauweiler, just north of Cologne, Florian Wirtz began his playing career with local side Grün-Weiss Brauweiler before Bundesliga giants FC Köln noticed his talent and brought him to their academy in 2010, aged seven.
The young prodigy then worked his way through the Geissbock Academy and, after turning heads at every age group, was described by Kölner newspapers as “the best midfielder to come through the club in 30 years”.
Big clubs began to circle after he guided Köln to the Under-17 Bundesliga title in 2019, but despite interest from the Premier League and Bayern Munich, Wirtz opted to join Bayer Leverkusen who are both local (some 18 kilometres away from his hometown) and known for their development of young players.
The teenager quickly stood out for Leverkusen and, after just six months playing at youth level, was called up to the senior squad for a trip to Werder Bremen in June 2020. He started in the 4-1 victory and became the club’s youngest-ever debutant, in addition to the third youngest player in Bundesliga history – aged just 17 years and 16 days old.
“Wirtz’ transition into first-team football was seamless and if his development continues to be this linear, Leverkusen will be bag another big sale in three or four years – but for now the teenager is in exactly the right place.”
Wirtz has since established himself as a first-team regular and much like Sporting CP unearthing Pedro Gonçalves following the departure of Bruno Fernandes, the attacking midfielder has filled a Kai Havertz-shaped hole with surprising ease. From there, the milestones kept coming. After scoring in a good performance against VfB Stuttgart in February 2021, Wirtz became the first player in Bundesliga history to score five goals before turning 18.
He also became the youngest Germany under-21 player in history following his inclusion under Stefan Kuntz in March, before netting the quickest ever goal – after 29 seconds – in Under-21 European Championship history against the Netherlands, with Die Mannschaft eventually going on to win the tournament.
Florian Wirtz's style of play
At face value, Wirtz is an extremely difficult player to define. There is a strong sense of fluidity and freedom to his positioning although he features primarily behind the striker or wide on the left.
What instantly stands out is his knack for finding space – either between the lines or away from central congestion – where he can receive the ball, turn and feed twinkle-toed wingers Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby and Karim Bellarabi. He is surprisingly agile and constant scanning, a valuable skill in midfielders, allows him to photograph the pitch mentally, which aids his smooth movement and timing.
However, if you need someone to take care of the ball, receive it and recycle it, Wirtz is not your guy. He averages just 37 passes per game and even with so few being attempted across 90 minutes, he completes just 77 percent of said passes – leaving him in the 19th percentile against positional peers in the top-five European leagues.
His distribution can be erratic, but whether that speaks to a lack of focus or technical shortcomings remains unclear. Regardless, it is undoubtedly an area to improve upon, even if he does not need to reach David Silva-esque levels of ball retention. While he is not an outstanding technician, he does, in the eyes of Hansi Flick, have a ‘good total package’.
Dive into his strengths and Wirtz looks far more impressive. In just over 3,000 minutes for Leverkusen, the teenager has directly contributed to 17 goals (nine goals, eight assists) in 47 appearances – hugely promising numbers for someone who still cannot buy spirits in his home country.
Things become even clearer after watching the teenager. He boasts innate quality in the final third, whether it is his ice-cold finishing, late runs into the box or executing the final pass – there is conviction and timing to his actions that lean towards decisiveness.
One goal in particular stands out, and it came in a 4-1 win over Hoffenheim in December 2020. The 18-year-old identified and darted into space behind TSG midfielder Sebastian Rudy, before collecting a clever backheel from Patrik Schick, ball-rolling past a last-ditch challenge and dinking a good shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.
His ability to identify that space was exciting enough, but the technique and composure to finish under pressure really highlighted his ease in front of goal. Wirtz’ non-penalty expected goals of 0.17 per 90 is exciting for a young player transitioning into senior football, standing alongside Giovanni Reyna who enjoyed a similar breakthrough campaign for Borussia Dortmund last season.
Wirtz is also an extremely strong ball-carrier. He is still growing into his body but can shirk off challenges with minimal fuss and more importantly, bounces off opponents without breaking stride. His turn of pace is surprising and can be extremely difficult to stop when in full flow – all while keeping close control of the ball.
As per StatsBomb data, the teenager completes six progressive carries per 90 which highlights his penchant for driving at defences, while also averaging 2.6 successful dribbles per 90 – leaving him in the 98th percentile of attacking midfielders.
He is the hub of pretty much everything that Bayer Leverkusen do in attack – the catalyst in transition, the instigator between lines, the playmaker in and around the box. High-level intelligence, invention, clarity and conviction.— Scouted Football (@scoutedftbl) February 15, 2022
One habit he will have to curb is holding onto the ball too long. He has the ability to breeze past players but then take too many touches, giving them a chance to bite back. Leverkusen are a very counter-attacking based side and mastering his timing and weight of pass could elevate his game significantly.
Forecasting Florian Wirtz's future
Some analysts have taken issue with his lack of overall influence on matches, while others feel his defensive work must improve, but Wirtz is unapologetically daring and exciting in his own way.
The Brauweiler-born midfielder has fewer than 50 senior appearances under his belt but displays great awareness and composure in the final third, when many young players are usually more inclined to play safe early in their careers.
He can rush things, his basics do lack refinement, but in an endearing Aaron Ramsey-esque fashion, why fret over technical shortfalls when he can consistently provide goals and assists from his position playing behind the striker? Those skills are far more unique and beneficial than improving his pass completion rate by five percent, particularly for someone of his age.
Wirtz’ transition into first-team football was seamless and if his development continues to be this linear, Leverkusen will be ready to welcome another big sale in three or four years – but for now the teenager is in exactly the right place at the BayArena.
Wirtz’s ability to contribute in the final third with well-timed forays from midfield makes him incredibly valuable.
On the counter, Wirtz tends to hold onto the ball a little too long, offering defenders the chance to either challenge him, or set up their defensive structure.