Kai Havertz: In a rush for glory

Kai Havertz: In a rush for glory

Our latest signing's career has seen numerous records smashed and trophy-winning goals netted in his pursuit to reach the top

There were just three minutes of extra-time left on the clock when Chelsea were awarded a penalty to become FIFA World Club champions. The trophy was tantalisingly close, but there was a dilemma.

Their first-choice penalty takers Jorginho and Romelu Lukaku were sidelined, unavailable to step up to the plate. No-one was initially sure who should shoulder the responsibility, but it was quickly determined that there was only one man for the job.

A 22-year-old Kai Havertz strode forward. Cold as ice, he nonchalantly placed the ball on the spot, pulled his socks up and composed himself. Then he confidently dispatched the penalty past the helpless Palmeiras goalkeeper. Havertz was unfazed, unfussy, and ultimately unstoppable.

If you need further proof, then look no further than the previous Champions League final nine months earlier. Against Manchester City, the German’s speed saw him race through on goal and find himself with an eternity to ponder his next move.

With the world’s eyes upon them, many more experienced pros would have crumbled, but Kai calmly negotiated his way past Ederson to ultimately clinch Europe’s premier prize.

And if you needed more examples, then at national team level he netted twice at Euro 2020 including a crucial strike against Hungary that ensured Germany reached the knockout stages, and at the 2022 World Cup he also departed the tournament with two strikes in his suitcase.

Simply put, scoring goals is something that Kai Havertz was born to do. When you look back over his life it seems destined to be at the top - and the pacy forward has been keen to get there in a hurry.

Born close to the German-Netherlands border in 1999, Kai grew up in the small village of Mariadorf, just north of Aachen. He was just four when his grandfather signed him up to local outfit Alemannia Mariadorf, and by 10 he was on the books of second-tier side Alemannia Aachen. He quickly made waves, and within a year was snapped up by Bayer Leverkusen after downing their  under-12s side with a hat-trick, despite being the youngest player on the field.

His progression continued and in 2015/16, 18 goals in 26 games drove Leverkusen to the German under-17 title which was clinched via a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, when of course Kai found the net. Realising they had a gem in their grasp, in October 2016 he became the club’s youngest-ever player when he was thrown into the fray in a Bundesliga clash with against Werder Bremen, aged just 17 years and 126 days.

To highlight how quickly he had progressed from sleepy Mariadorf to the cut and thrust of Germany’s top tier, Kai’s first season saw him miss multiple games, including a Champions League knockout tie with Atletico Madrid, to study for and sit his A-Levels. 

However, once out of the classroom the teenage sensation couldn’t be held back. He quickly became Leverkusen’s youngest goalscorer, and soon began obliterating league records. At 18 he amassed 50 Bundesliga appearances, and at 19 he had scored more goals in the division than any teenager ever to deservedly claim the prestigious Walter Fritz medal handed to the country's best under-19 player.

He had swiftly put himself on national team boss Joachim Low’s radar, and remarkably within two years of his senior debut, Kai earned a first full international cap when he appeared for Germany against Peru in September 2018. 

That moment seemed to spark something in Havertz. Flourishing off the back of international recognition, he found a goalscoring groove from a central attacking midfield position that saw him end that campaign with 20 strikes in all competitions and became the youngest player to hit 30 in the Bundesliga, as well as complete a century of games. 

Another strong showing in 2019/20 saw the 20-year-old rattle in another 18 goals as Leverkusen’s prized possession continued to re-write the record books, stroking home penalties and donning the captain’s armband in the process. 

Just like opposition defences, the whole of European football was on high alert when it came to his talents. It was seemingly a matter of time before he would make the jump to a giant.

His 150th appearance for Leverkusen would be his last, as in September 2020 Chelsea splashed out a reported £71 million to bring him to Stamford Bridge. 46 goals and 31 assists for Leverkusen had been more-than-enough for the Blues to make their move, and he was promptly thrown into action on the opening day against Brighton & Hove Albion.

The early signs were promising as he bagged a hat-trick in a League Cup tie against Barnsley, registered back-to-back assists against West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace and then scored his first English league goal against Southampton, but he would later admit that it took him time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League, and indeed a central striker role as he featured further upfield than at Leverkusen.

But the latter stages of the season would be where he really shone. A run of three goals in his final five league matches helped the Blues secure a top-four place, before his heroics in the final in Porto brought the Champions League trophy to Stamford Bridge, and forever etch his name into Chelsea folklore.

Silverware continued to be added to his broken records to highlight a bonafide reaching of potential. The UEFA Super Cup was added the following season before he once again came to the fore when his side needed it most in the Club World Cup final.

The goals continued to come too, as he reached 25 during his time in west London by the end of his second campaign, narrowly missing out to Lukaku as his team’s top scorer in 2020/21.

He achieved that feat last season, albeit in a struggling side, reeling from a takeover and multiple changes in the dugout. However, Kai’s qualities continued to shine through; only two other Premier League strikers created more chances in open play or completed passes into the area than the German, while only three players won more total aerial duels but no-one could beat Kai’s 57 per cent success rate.

Those impressive figures were all amassed despite a campaign sandwiched around the Qatar World Cup. In the Gulf, Havertz once again did his best to help a side failing to live up to expectations as Germany crashed out of the group stage, despite him netting twice in vain in their final group game to claim victory against Costa Rica.

After three seasons in the Premier League, Kai is now making the move to N5. He’s only just turned 24, meaning he’s still some way from hitting his prime and the peak of his powers. Given what he’s achieved so far, the sky is very much the limit.

That’s why when it came to selecting his first summer signing, Mikel Arteta - like those Chelsea players against Palmeiras - knew exactly who to opt for.

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