RasenBallsport Leipzig’s rise from non-existence a decade ago to legitimate title contenders has been widely documented and discussed. Money has been a driving force for their journey through the lower tiers of German football, but intelligent decisions at crucial moments have proved to be equally decisive. The right pieces falling into place at the right time have propelled the club from obscurity into the forefront of Europe, but perhaps it’s more appropriate to label Leipzig a ‘sleeping giant.’ Several crucial factors contributed to their ascension, from a shortage of quality football in former East Germany and a stadium (formerly know as the Zentralstadion, the ground known as the Red Bull Arena held a cool 100 thousand spectators after its original construction in the 1950s before falling into disrepair and being renovated in 2000) worthy of the team that now occupy it.
Though Leipzig have been hurtling forward at maximum speed for a few years, Timo Werner has only seemingly unlocked that final gear recently. It’s been a wild 13 months for Werner. From the despair experienced in the wake of suffering relegation with his hometown club, to leading Germany to a Confederations Cup victory in Russia, Werner’s career trajectory has risen to new heights. RB Leipzig have provided the wings and now, Werner is soaring.
He has always been tipped for big things, but performances had been starting to stagnate in Stuttgart. Werner scored 13 goals and assisted another 10 in the Bundesliga while with VfB, all before the age of 20. His career was in cruise control, but after moving to the newly promoted club with big ambitions, he slammed on the pedal and hasn’t looked back.
RasenBallsport Leipzig finishing second in Germany’s Bundesliga in their debut season is a remarkable achievement in its own. Despite not being able to clear the final hurdle in Bayern Munich (the Bulls were blitzed 3-0 at the Allianz on the final matchday of the Hinrunde, with all the goals coming in the first half, before blowing a 4-2 lead held as late as the 83rd minute to lose 5-4 at home to the Rekordmeister in the penultimate game of the season), the maiden campaign in Germany’s top flight was an overwhelming success. Werner played a large part in the effort, scoring 21 (33% of RBL’s Bundesliga goals!) and assisting a further 7 goals in 31 games – with a goal or assist coming every 87 minutes.
Leipzig’s high-flying 4-2-2-2 is an ideal scheme for Werner. A sprinter that’s a clinical finisher, he’s the perfect foil for striker partner Yussuf Poulsen. Werner managed a 50% shot accuracy last season; only Torjägerkanone winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was more precise (56%) among players that scored more than 15 league goals in Germany.
Aside from his considerable technical skills, Werner is a tireless worker. His motor is always running – chasing down lost causes and even turning them into goals from time to time. At just 21 years of age, Werner will be pestering defenders at both international and club level for many years to come.
Naturally, Timo got a lot of help from his teammates during his rise to success. Being surrounded by the likes of Emil Forsberg, Naby Keïta, Marcel Sabitzer, the aforementioned Poulsen, and now new signings Konrad Laimer and Bruma will only help foster Werner’s development into one of the elite forwards in the game.
Under manager Ralf Hasenhüttl, Werner is the perfect forward in the perfect place. Leipzig’s strict system prepares young talent to compete at the top level. That was on display this summer at the Confederations Cup.
Werner bagged a brace against Cameroon, added a goal and an assist against Mexico in the semifinals before assisting the only goal of the victory over Chile in the final. With the current dearth of traditional strikers in the national setup for Germany, Werner offers something different and could become a prized asset for both Joachim Löw and the coaches that follow.
Part of the reason for his struggle at Stuttgart was due to the fact that managers didn’t utilize him as a striker. Being shifted out wide left or wide right doesn’t get the most out of Timo’s skill set. He’s not a bad crosser, but it isn’t the strongest aspect of his game. Just because he can sprint past defenders down the wing doesn’t mean it’s the best place to put him.
Werner’s been prolific as a central striker for years. Going back to the 2011/12 season when he was just a 15-year-old, playing for VfB’s U17 team in the B-Junioren Bundesliga Süd/Südwest, Werner bagged 24 goals in 24 regular season games. The next season, in the A-Junioren Bundesliga, he netted 24 in 23 matches. Both seasons saw him deployed up top as a center forward. The hype has been around for a while.
In 2013/14, Werner made the jump to the first team. Unfortunately, a striker named Vedad Ibisevic was already in possession of the striker role, meaning Werner would have to play elsewhere. Still – he managed to make 30 league appearances, totaling 1,528 minutes, scoring four times and assisting five more goals. Not bad for a 17-year-old, but early success made the road to consistency a little more difficult. The next season he managed to get on the scoresheet just three times. In 2015/16 Werner played up top more frequently, but scored just scored six league goals as Stuttgart were relegated, bringing upon the end of Timo’s time at his local club.
Enter RB Leipzig. For everything negative that’s been said about this club with high ambitions taking a nontraditional path to success in Germany, it’s certainly one of the top destinations for any young player to develop. Luckily for Werner, their money meant an escape route from the 2. Bundesliga. It took just €10 million to snag Timo Werner. What a bargain that will prove to be.
And while Leipzig will get a lot of the credit for his maturation into one of football’s top young strikers, Stuttgart should not be forgotten. One of the best academies in Germany, having produced players like Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez, Bernd Leno, Sebastian Rudy, Antonio Rüdiger, Sead Kolasinac, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, et. al, the youth coaches at VfB did a lot of the hard work to develop Werner. And it’s shown.
Being able to seamlessly slot into a Leipzig team that took second place in their first top-flight campaign says a lot about Werner. The core of RBL has played together for a few seasons, bashing their way through the lower divisions to reach the Bundesliga. Sure, a lot of the team was in place and ready for a star striker, but Werner still won the role, beating out Davie Selke, another highly-rated forward, for the starting spot. His burning desire, be it for greatness or to cut off a ball headed into touch to start an attack from a broken play, is why Werner is set for success at both club and international level.
By: Jack Grimse/@JackGrimse
Photo: Louie Hendy/@LH_BCFC