Few people have followed the career of Kai Havertz as closely as The Athletic’s Raphael Honigstein, and here the go-to German football expert in England tells us about our new signing as a person and a player.
Honigstein, who is also a pundit on BT Sport’s Bundesliga coverage, explains why a move to Chelsea made sense for Havertz and the reasons he has drawn comparisons with both Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack. He starts, though, by considering how he might be deployed in this new-look Blues team…
‘The beauty of Havertz is you can play him in almost any position apart from defence,’ says Honigstein, who recently contributed to an Athletic article detailing the process behind his signing.
‘I don’t think he’s necessarily a no.6, but he’s definitely a player who can play centrally, both in a slightly deeper role or as a classic no.10. He can just as easily play on either wing, or as a false nine as he’s done quite a lot in recent months.
‘The options he provides, especially with the crazy amount of games Chelsea will have this season, are one of the key advantages of signing him. It might be he gets so good in one position the team has to adjust to him rather than the other way round, but in the meantime he will just increase the options. Whatever position and combination you want to play him in, you can be certain he will perform. For a manager, he is a dream player to have.
‘Personally I think there might be a slight difference between his deployment away from home and at home,’ adds Honigstein.
‘Away from home, you can easily play him on the wings, but at home he might be better in a central role because he’s so good at finding spaces between the lines. Against deep opposition, he can help solve this problem Chelsea have sometimes had at home when it comes to breaking down some of the more defensive sides they come up against.’
As well as his obvious creative ability, Havertz possesses a formidable goal record for someone so young. He has scored 38 times across the last two seasons for Bayer Leverkusen, drawing comparisons with his new boss, as well as a compatriot who also played for Leverkusen and Chelsea, and the chance to be guided by Lampard was clearly one of the key factors behind Havertz’s decision to move to Stamford Bridge.
‘Where Havertz is quite similar to Lampard is with the ability to arrive late in the box and score,’ says Honigstein.
‘That’s why some people in Germany have also compared him to Ballack, because Ballack also has this ability to join up with the attack, to find space on the edge of the box and score, sometimes with his head like Havertz does.
‘Those runs and that instinct for being in the right place at the right time, he’s already got it but I think it will only improve, because Lampard was the master in that. I’m sure he will pass his knowledge and his experience on to Havertz.
‘In a wider sense, it’s playing in a team that plays the type of football he wants to play, being surrounded by young players who are also growing and want to achieve things together – that was the big draw from what I understand. Players like Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi can potentially go to a different level once you add Havertz and Timo Werner to the mix.
‘It felt to me and many others he had outgrown this Bayer Leverkusen team. He was so clearly the best player, there wasn’t really much to gain from him being there much longer, and part of the reason for him to move is to be surrounded by players who can bring more out of him and help him develop.’
Away from the pitch, Honigstein believes Havertz’s personality will stand him in good stead when it comes to adapting to a new club in a new country, with his homeland now very interested to follow his and Werner’s progress in the Premier League.
‘Havertz is an incredibly grounded guy, very smart, very considerate. Education has been very important to him and his family. He famously missed a Champions League game because he had to sit an A-Level exam. He’s a guy who defines himself by what happens on the pitch. He’s a football player through and through, someone who is committed to his craft.
‘Leverkusen are not necessarily a high-profile club despite their success competing in the Champions League regularly. They don’t have a huge fanbase, so it’s been easier for Havertz to develop slightly in a bubble outside of the harsh media light he would have perhaps attracted at places like Dortmund or Bayern.
‘German people don’t know much about him as a personality, so it’s quite intriguing for them to see this guy becoming one of the most expensive Bundesliga players ever. All of a sudden, Chelsea have gone back to the days of Ballack where a lot of people in Germany will be super interested how they do, because it is a bit of a German team now with these two new young guys there.
‘I don’t really have any reservations about him being a success in the Premier League,’ concludes Honigstein.
‘You can never be 100 per cent sure with injuries and this kind of stuff, but anyone who has worked with him and knows him thinks this guy is the real deal, and has all the qualities and promise and talent to be not just a success, but one of the best players for Germany in the last couple of decades. That’s how highly people rate him.’
Read more from Rafa Honigstein on our other new German, Timo Werner