38. Thilo Kehrer
Being best friends with Leroy Sané is certainly a reputable claim to fame. However, in Thilo Kehrer’s case, he wants to pave his own way to the promised land.
Things could’ve turned out a whole lot different than they are right now for Thilo Kehrer. A row with the club in 2015 had journalists convinced that he would accept a deal from Inter Milan. Various media outlets reported on the likely transfer, but the deal fell through and Kehrer remained in Germany. Although Kehrer remains at the club to this day, media outlets have recently reported that he rejected a contract this summer. Kehrer’s contract expires in the summer of 2019, so he may be biding his time for a higher wage and a guarantee of more game time under new manager Domenico Tedesco.
Kehrer was born on September 21, 1996, to a German father and a Burundian mother. He swiftly rose through the levels of German youth soccer, eventually finding himself at Stuttgart. He soon made left Die Roten for Schalke 04, remaining there since his arrival in 2012. He has also racked up 28 appearances for various levels of the German national team, from the U16 squad to – most recently – the U21 squad at the 2017 U21 Euros in Poland. Although he has yet to make an appearance for the senior side – to be expected considering the deep talent Joachim Löw has at his disposal – another solid season at Schalke could trigger a surprise call-up to the World Cup squad this summer.
Schalke’s 2016/17 season was an interesting one to say the least. Various giants finished in mid-table positions, and Schalke was no exception. A usual shoo-in for a top 4 finish, Die Königsblauen ended in a measly 10th place, resulting in Markus Weinzierl’s dismissal. A few bright spots were outweighed by numerous, catastrophic moments that came to define Schalke’s season. Nevertheless, Schalke are looking to counterbalance such a horrific season with an ambitious 2017/18 campaign, demonstrated by their appointee for head coach Domenico Tedesco. A coach to rival the youth of the effervescent Julian
Nagelsmann, Tedesco lacks concrete coaching experience, but he could propel Schalke back to its rightful place in the top 4. Kehrer certainly could prove to be an important piece of Tedesco’s complex tactical puzzle at Schalke. The Italian manager has already shown his faith in Kehrer, starting the young German in every game so far. Alongside the recent departure of Benedikt Höwedes to Juventus, Tedesco’s faith in Kehrer will allow the 21-year-old to blossom with game time.
One of the few bright spots of Schalke’s dreadful 2016-17 season was the emergence of Thilo Kehrer. Despite the poor results and average coaching, Kehrer developed into a first-team player, featuring in 12 of 16 of Schalke’s final Bundesliga matches. He also featured in 75% of Schalke’s Europa League matches, averaging a 6.88 match rating (according to whoscored.com). His versatility was of constant utility to ex-manager Markus Weinzeirl, who deployed him down both flanks, down the center, and even as a left midfielder against Gladbach. Two of his best performances came against Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg. Against the former –in his first Revierderby– he scored the equalizer in the 77th minute. He deputized admirably at left back, impressive in both his defensive and his attacking contributions. Against the latter, he excelled going forward, and even delivered a beautiful cross to assist Schalke’s 4th goal.
From his versatility, stamina and confidence, it’s tough to pick his best trait, but his strongest attribute is his tackling. He has shown various times that his timing of tackles is impeccable; he rarely makes a poor challenge. His recovery speed is another one of his invaluable qualities, as exemplified in a DFB-Pokal match from March. When Robert Lewandowski was put through on goal, Kehrer accelerated, slid in, and stopped the Pole from a sure goal.
Kehrer’s 6’1 frame enables aerial prowess; he won 36 aerial duels last season. He also has superb positioning, and an intelligence that allows him to think one step of the opposition. Kehrer anticipates attacks with graceful ease, demonstrated by his 44 interceptions in the Bundesliga. But this gracefulness is juxtaposed by his rugged defensive nature, as he hounds strikers and chases down loose balls.
Nonetheless, Kehrer must improve on a few things before Löw calls him up to the first team. Kehrer’s lack of discipline isn’t too surprising given his young age; he often gets transfixed by a bad call or a previous altercation, and that can land him in hot water with the refs. He’s often quite reckless on the defensive end, making hefty challenges that result in needless yellow cards. In fact, his lack of discipline was evident twice last season. Firstly, he missed the second leg of Schalke’s Europa League quarterfinal after accumulating too many yellow cards, and his presence could’ve seen them defeat Ajax in the quarterfinals. Secondly, on matchday 23, Kehrer picked up an unnecessary yellow card against Gladbach. After being pushed off the ball by Jonas Hofmann, and after the ref refused to call a foul, Kehrer retaliated against Hoffman with an American football-style tackle. This lack of discipline is something Kehrer will most likely grow out of, but at the moment, it’s a huge obstacle to his progress.
Kehrer’s lack of discipline is also exacerbated by lapses of concentration, which has already cost Schalke 3 points this season. On matchday 2, Kehrer gave a sloppy pass which immediately resulted in Hannover’s game-winning goal. His immaturity still overshadows his strengths on occasion, but with experience, Kehrer will weed out the roots of his flaws.
With all that being said, Thilo Kehrer is firmly focused on the road ahead. He gets to training early, stays late, and works hard every day. His self-belief has kept him motivated throughout the tough spells of his career, and his day-to-day attitude allowed him to embrace the chance he received at the back end of last season. The Die Knappen faithful have placed a lot of expectations on such young shoulders, but Kehrer is determined to continue his early success.
Thilo Kehrer is just one of the many bright young prospects surging through the ranks of German football. Although there is no guarantee that his early success will continue, his role under Domenico Tedesco will allow him to blossom into a solid defender. His versatility should prolong his stint in the first team, and his mental awareness will only continue to improve with time. Thilo Kehrer is certainly one to watch in the upcoming season, and keep an eye on him as he attempts to guide Schalke back to Champions League football.
By: Brandon Duran/@Alcxntara6