What Now For Julian Draxler?
13th September 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
There’s no doubt about it: Paris Saint-Germain’s record-shattering recruitment drive was the story of the summer transfer window. The Ligue 1 giants forked out a staggering €222 million to snatch Brazilian superstar Neymar from Barcelona, and agreed a loan deal for Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé, which will see the Parisians part with €180 million to sign the teenage dynamo next year.
It’s an exciting time to be a PSG fan, as the club spare no expense in equipping themselves for a first ever Champions League triumph – their ultimate goal – as well as readying to wrestle the French top-flight title back from their Monegasque rivals.
But amid all the hysteria and disbelieving eye rubbing, spare a thought for Julian Draxler. The German winger arrived at the Parc des Princes just eight months ago – a €35 million January signing from Wolfsburg – and impressed greatly in his half-season with the club, scoring 10 goals in 25 appearances.
The 23-year-old Germany international has long been regarded as one of Europe’s hottest creative talents, linked constantly with moves to Bayern Munich and Arsenal since breaking through in Gelsenkirchen as a 17-year-old. A 2015 move to Wolfsburg precipitated a stall in his development. And, as he began to agitate for a move away, questions were raised over whether Draxler would ever fulfil his early-career promise, or if he’d perhaps been overestimated to begin with.
But the switch to Paris, six months after he initially made clear his intention to leave the VolksWagen Arena, thus causing a bitter public falling out with then sporting director Klaus Alofs, seemed to spark Draxler back into life and reasserted his credentials as one of the continent’s premier attacking playmakers.
Vivacious and elegant, Draxler looked every bit the marquee man on the left side of Unai Emery’s attack. Although the Parisians were unable to check Monaco’s march to the title and embarrassingly surrendered a four-goal, first-leg advantage in the Champions League last 16 against Barcelona, they did manage to secure a domestic cup double. The former Schalke man was key to both successes, netting five goals in the Coupe de la Ligue and Coupe de France combined.
Interacting efficiently with Marco Verratti, Adrien Rabiot and whoever else was deployed in the midfield three in Emery’s 4-3-3, offering a counterbalance to the direct and darting Di María on the opposite flank, and servicing striker Edinson Cavani while providing his own goal threat, Draxler fit PSG like a glove.
Little did he know, however, he was operating on borrowed time; that, if PSG’s lofty summer transfer plans were to bear fruit, he was merely a place holder on the left flank.
Despite the fact that few of his team-mates can match, and fewer still better, his performances on an individual level since the turn of the year, Neymar’s arrival spelt trouble for Draxler. The former Santos standout excelled on the left of Barcelona’s 4-3-3 in his four seasons at the Camp Nou and, as the new name in lights, the Brazilian was always going to assume that same role in Paris.
That in itself was no grave cause for concern for Draxler: the German is versatile, intelligent and adaptable; he could easily adjust to a role on the opposite side or acclimate to life as one of the support men in a 4-2-3-1 system should Emery have seen fit to make a tactical shake-up.
However, on transfer deadline day, Mbappé arrived. Not only is the youngster yet another option for the left-wing berth at the Park des Princes, his addition, as a more natural fit at centre-forward, is almost certain to necessitate a switch to 4-2-2-2 or something similar. Emery’s priority – in reality, his obligation, given the club’s outlay – will be to find a way to accommodate Neymar, Mbappé and Cavani, who scored 49 goals last term and cannot therefore be justifiably sacrificed, into the same line-up.
With Di María a more experienced right-sider, likewise Lucas Moura, Draxler is sure to be the man squeezed out. Indeed, there were even rumours of a move to the Premier League or a return to Germany as the summer transfer window reached its crescendo. No such switch materialised, but the 23-year-old’s Parisian prospects are no less clouded.
An injury to Di María has meant, for the time being, Emery has been spared the selection headache, with Draxler starting on the right flank in a recent 5-1 victory over Metz – although, he was forced to content himself with a substitute’s role against Celtic in the first round of Champions League fixtures as 4-3-3 was back in play with Mbappé out wide.
As things stand, Draxler appears almost powerless to direct his PSG future: no matter how he performs in the game time he is afforded from here, there will be no unseating Neymar or Mbappé, who are simply too expensive to be dropped.
Di María, a reported target for Barcelona, and Moura, despite his close friendship with Neymar, are also far from assured of their longevity at the Parc des Princes. The three men are left duelling for the one remaining spot in the PSG line-up and, although there is an argument to be made that Draxler is the more gifted of the trio, he is the least natural fit for position on the right.
Should PSG decide to cash in on him in this season’s January window, just a year after he joined the club, or in the transfer periods that will follow, there will be no shortage of interest in Draxler, particularly after the way he’s shown his class in France. It’s not difficult to envisage any of the Premier League’s six big hitters opening their door, and, to varying degrees, he offers something they don’t currently have.
A move back to the Bundesliga will also surely be an option. Bayern are well stocked in the creative attacking positions, but they seldom pass over the opportunity to snap up a homegrown talent, while Borussia Dortmund have money to spend after the €140million sale of Ousmane Dembélé to Barcelona, and upstarts RB Leipzig could be tempted into making Draxler their marquee man.
No player has been more affected by PSG’s signing of Neymar and Mbappé than Draxler. But wherever he next plies his trade, the German international will be valued and key. He’s too good not to be.