Timo’s Time?

On November 10 2013, Stuttgart beat Freiburg 3-1. That game would have just been any ordinary match in the Bundesliga calendar, except for the fact that history was made on the day. A certain young striker by the name of Timo Werner found the back of the net twice, and at just 17 years of age, this feat made him the youngest ever player in Bundesliga history to score a brace in a match.

Werner went on to score a total of four goals in his debut season in the top flight, and continued to be a consistent starter for Stuttgart over his next two seasons. While he never hit double figures during his time there, the rising talent still managed to rack up over 50 appearances – making him the youngest ever player to reach this milestone, until it was broken in 2018 by Kai Havertz. Unfortunately, Stuttgart were not able to hang on to their rising star following their relegation at the end of the 2015-16 season, and their loss proved to be ambitious side RB Leipzig’s gain, as they snapped up the burgeoning talent that summer. 

Three highly successful seasons later at Leipzig, and he has been linked with a move to the Premier League, with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool among his rumoured suitors. Bayern Munich, of course, have sat up and taken notice – which is no surprise, as die Roten are notorious for snapping up all of their rivals’ best players at a drop of a hat. But the fact that the Reds were apparently sniffing around during the winter transfer window and could possibly make an offer this summer raises some questions as to whether he would suit the team’s all-action style at Anfield.

To answer these questions, one must take a look at who exactly Timo Werner is? Born on March 6, 1996 in Stuttgart, Germany, he took his first footballing steps at his hometown club, starting out with die Schwaben at the age of six. His father, Günther Schuh, plied his trade as a winger for 07 Ludwigsburg as well as Stuttgarter Kickers and played an instrumental role in his son’s success – but unlike his father, Timo opted to eventually play as a centre-forward like his idol, Mario Gomez, who he would eventually get the opportunity to play alongside at international level just over a decade later.

Werner opts to play under his mother Sabine’s maiden name – perhaps in a bid to establish his own identity separate from his father – and he has done that in leaps and bounds. In 2017, he was part of a young and untested squad fielded by Joachim Low at the Confederations Cup, scoring three goals and providing two assists as Germany lifted their first ever trophy in Russia.

For his efforts, he was awarded the tournament’s Golden Boot, and naturally, there were high expectations when he was named to die Mannschaft’s 23-man squad when the team returned to Russia last summer to try to defend their World Cup crown.

But the ‘curse of the World Cup’ struck once again as Low’s side were humiliated and eliminated in the group stage for the first time since 1938. Werner failed to have any impact whatsoever, despite featuring in all three of Germany’s three group stage games, against Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea, but he was one of the few players who generally escaped significant harsh criticism from the press. 

Nonetheless, at 22, he just so happened to be the same age as two icons – Diego Maradona and Brazil’s Ronaldo – when they featured for their respective nations at World Cups and made their tournament debuts. And it was Ronaldo himself who handed Werner his Golden Boot prize back in 2017, while Maradona was reportedly among the first to congratulate him on his feat. In 2017, during his first full season at senior level with the national team, Werner netted seven times in just 10 appearances, and although his output dramatically dropped in the following year as he and Germany endured a frustrating 2018, nine goals in just two years at senior level certainly is nothing to sniff at.

Nor are 42 goals across all competitions for RB Leipzig in his first two seasons under Ralph Hasenhüttl. That is truly an impressive outlay, especially considering that he had netted just 14 in total during his first three for Stuttgart. He showed no signs of slowing down in his third term, now under the tutelage of Ralf Rangnick. And it is not only his natural goalscoring ability that earned him the attention of other clubs, but it is also his blistering pace – he has been clocked at running the 100 meter-dash in just over 11 seconds.

Pacey, strong and with an eye for goal? Sounds a lot like another young hot-shot that Liverpool boss Klopp noticed just over a decade ago when coaching Borussia Dortmund and turned into a global superstar. When Robert Lewandowski arrived at Signal Iduna Park in the summer of 2010, he was a little known, 22-year-old raw talent from Polish outfit Lech Poznan, where he had finished as the League’s top scorer. It was under Klopp’s guidance that Lewandowski grew into the world-class talent that he is today and earned him a move to the Allianz Arena. Clearly, if those rumours are to be believed, Klopp believes he can do the same with rising talent Werner.

On paper, Werner is already miles ahead of Lewandowski, however – already having won a title at national level – and is already playing at a more established club in a bigger League. But is he the right fit for Liverpool? Unlike Dortmund, which were an up and coming outfit with largely unknown and non-established players, the Reds are already stacked with a top-notch front line boasting the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane. Then there’s Xherdan Shaqiri, who has proven to be a game-changer from the bench and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who is certainly another exciting option once back to full fitness. Yes, Werner is a versatile player who can go anywhere across the frontline, but where exactly would he fit in? 

Although Liverpool will certainly be battling on multiple fronts next season and thus will have to rotate their squad, Werner is clearly a player who will benefit from weekly first team football. Unless the Reds anticipate some departures among their big three – that is, either one of Salah, Firmino, or Mane – this summer, it is hard to see how this burgeoning talent would get the game time to flourish under Klopp. Would he be happy to feed off mere scraps left behind by his more established colleagues? It would be a huge step down from being the focal point at Leipzig, where he enjoys being the star of the show week in, week out and is among the top scorers for die Bullen. 

Then again, the ever busy rumour mill has linked two of the Liverpool trio with moves away from Anfield this summer: Salah to Juventus and Mane to Real Madrid. However realistic those moves are depends on who one asks and who one chooses to believe. Hypothetically, if one or more of these two left, there could be room for Werner at Anfield, but then what about the likes of Shaqiri and Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom are knocking at the door for a regular run-out in the starting XI? 

Werner has reportedly stalled on signing a contract extension with his current employer as he weighs his options, and that’s a sign that his head has already been turned by the prospect of possibly playing in the Premier League. However, he may want to weigh things very carefully, as a year ago, one of his colleagues made the switch over to Anfield – and things have not gone as swimmingly as he would have expected. Werner is young enough for his career to recover from a poor decision, but perhaps the key is to make the right decision in the first place.

Leave a Reply