11th October 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
It's still a long way off, with plenty of football to be played between now and then and ample opportunity for best laid plans to be scuppered by fate, but next summer is already shaping up to be the summer of Leon Goretzka.
The German midfielder is on the wanted list of pretty much every major European club, with Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Barcelona all reported to be monitoring his progress at Schalke. And with next year's World Cup in Russia creeping into view, the 22-year-old's rise to prominence on the international scene is set to see him become a key player for the reigning champions and current pre-tournament favourites.
The young central midfielder has every trait desirable in the perfect player for his position: he's physically imposing at 6ft 2ins and athletic; he's technically outstanding with superb vision and range of passing; he is adept at breaking forward at the opportune time to score; and he is tenacious and proactive in his defensive work a fine ball player and ball winner.
Such skills, in the modern transfer market, mean Goretzka's value should be set somewhere in excess of £50million perhaps more, given the sums paid recently for players with half his talent, experience and potential upside. Yet the former Bochum youngster will be able to move for free at the end of the 2017/18 season, with his contract in Gelsenkirchen set to expire.
Bundesliga champions Bayern whose modus operandi is to hoover up the German top-flight's best and brightest, cannibalising the division to maintain the status quo and their position atop the food chain were thought to be close to signing Goretzka in the summer just gone, but they appear to have elected to wait it out and pick up the player for no transfer fee in 2018.
However, they will face stiff competition, with a host of top clubs sure to scrap for the young player's signature, and the riches on offer from the Premier League will be difficult to match for the Bavarians.
Amid all the speculation over his future, it'd be excusable for a 22-year-old player such as Goretzka, who has steadily impressed at club level and now appears on the brink of superstardom, to become somewhat distracted, allowing the talk of big-money, dream moves to cause a dip in his focus. But there are no such worries with the Schalke No.8, who's outlook is that of a mature veteran Â blinkered, with his vision trained on self-improvement and success with club and country.
While on Confederations Cup duty with Germany over the summer, Goretzka was faced with constant questions over his future, as speculation suggesting he was on the verge of a move away from Schalke intensified. But he played every enquiry with a straight bat.
"I do not want to say anything about the transfer rumours, I'm focusing on the Confederations Cup," he told Sky Sports. "I'm not going to give state-of-play updates, but if there are facts, I will announce them.
"I'm not the type to be impressed by newspaper reports, I know what my qualities are, but I will not build myself up."
Impressive words from the prodigious box-to-box midfielder, yet he backed them all up on the pitch, proving just how intently he was focussed on his football, scoring three goals and starring for Joachim LÃ¶w's world champions as they lifted the Confederations Cup.
At the time, Goretzka was somewhat on the fringes of the Germany manager's thinking.Löw had selected a deliberately understrength squad for the competition, resting several key stars and testing the mettle of those hoping to squeeze into his 23-man selection for the big one next year in Russia. If the 57-year-old coach was looking to examine Goretzka's skills and temperament in a tournament environment, the youngster passed with flying colours.
Goretzka's arrival on the international stage came off the back of a stellar first season with Schalke. Still in his teens, the midfielder featured 24 times in the Bundesliga in 2013/14 and was selected for Die Mannschaft's 30-man preliminary World Cup squad at the end of the campaign, with a debut coming in a warm-up friendly against Poland in May. With the squad set to be whittled down to 23, it was always unlikely that he'd make the final cut, but a muscular injury took the decision out of Löw's hands.
The dynamic midfielder has since taken his tally of international caps to 12, boasting a phenomenal scoring record of six goals with Germany. The most recent of which was a double in his nation's final World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan, started off with a gravity-defying back-heel into the top corner. Fitness pending, Goretzka is a shoo-in for Löw's final World Cup selection this time around.
At club level, it's been a tumultuous couple of years for Schalke, with managerial upheaval and mixed results in the Bundesliga, yet Goretzka has managed to perform with a level of consistency and quality that is a credit to him. He scored eight goals in all competitions last season, forming a formidable central-midfield partnership with former Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Nabil Bentaleb, and has been on target twice already this term.
Furthermore, the youngster, who was capped at every youth level for Germany, has begun to exhibit the kind of leadership which is not often seen in players of his age, never afraid to take possession and drive his team on.
A mature head on young shoulders, Goretzka is able to objectively assess his own performances and ability level, pinpointing his areas of strength and weakness, taking a refreshingly proactive approach to, and ownership of, his own development.
"You always try to improve all areas of your game," He told the German football federations' official website earlier this year. I also think I'm tactically and mentally strong. But I also know that I can still improve all aspects of my game. I hope that I haven't reached my peak yet.
"The art is making sure you keep things in perspective," he continued, discussing how he deals with the praise lavished upon him. "The same goes for when things aren't going so well. Then I have to ask myself who is criticising me and why. I mustn't take everything to heart.
"There are people who, when they say I had a good game, I believe, and there are others who I thank for the praise but know how much I should value it."
Goretzka is a thoroughly impressive young man both on and off the field. Seemingly impervious to the pressure of being one of the foremost players in a team preparing to defend their world title, the stage is set for him to shine next summer.
2018 is set to be pivotal in the career of German midfielder Leon Goretzka
11th October 2017. By Ryan Baldi.