Welcome to World Class: Leon Goretzka

Ali Rampling
Bayern Munich's Leon Goretzka has evolved into a world class midfielder | #W2WC
Bayern Munich's Leon Goretzka has evolved into a world class midfielder | #W2WC / Matt Burt/90min

2020 hasn't been so bad if you're Leon Goretzka.

Once a scrawny Schalke midfielder, he blossomed into the most ripped man alive during the summer lockdown; demonstrating just what was possible if you never missed a Joe Wicks morning workout.

This sudden transformation has mirrored his rapid growth in importance at Bayern Munich, which has elevated him into the world class conversation in the space of 12 short months.

Much like said extraordinary physical transformation which we probably won't mention again (we probably will), Goretzka's rise in the professional game was swift.

He progressed through the youth system at local North Rhine-Westphalia side VfL Bochum, making his senior debut as a 17-year-old. His performances earned him recognition as one of the most exciting young talents in German football, and after one season in the second tier with Bochum he was snapped up by Schalke for €3m.

Goretzka enjoyed an impressive first term at Schalke as his reputation continued to grow, and his maiden campaign concluded with a debut for the Germany senior team.

He made Germany's preliminary squad ahead of the 2014 World Cup, but he was eventually denied a place on the plane - and ultimately a World Cup winners medal at the age of 19 - due to a muscular injury.

This would become a common theme for Goretzka across the next two seasons, as his progress was stunted by a muscular problem that kept him out for the best part of a year between July 2014 and May 2015. His return to action was consistently hampered by further minor injury setbacks.

"I was diagnosed with a chronic bowel inflammation, which had been having a negative impact on my ability to recover from games. I've stopped eating gluten, cow’s milk, pork and nuts. As a result, I have fewer issues with my health and can recover from a game much quicker."

Leon Goretzka

But a change in diet in 2016 resulted in a marked improvement in Goretzka's ability to recover, and he went on to enjoy his two most fruitful seasons in a Schalke shirt. A move to the bright lights of Bayern Munich followed.

On a statistical front alone, the German international's debut season at Bayern seems respectable: 30 Bundesliga appearances as Die Roten claimed the league title.

However, Goretzka could not nail down a starting berth and found himself deployed here, there and everywhere, playing in no fewer than six different positions (including left back). But Bayern themselves were underwhelming as they secured an unconvincing Bundesliga title largely thanks to Borussia Dortmund's end of season stutter.

But in November 2019, Niko Kovac was dismissed as Bayern boss and replaced by Hans-Dieter Flick. The club underwent a supreme transformation, and Goretzka was one of the main beneficiaries.

Goretzka has transformed into an undroppable member of Bayern's side
Goretzka has transformed into an undroppable member of Bayern's side / Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Flick's side became a well-drilled, energetic, pressing machine, and this suited Goretzka down to the ground. He was handed his first Bundesliga start of the season in Flick's maiden game in charge, and made himself undroppable ever since.

Goretzka's physical transformation aided this further, as he entered lockdown with the build of a high jumper and came out the other side with a physique of a 100m sprinter.

The added muscle bulk makes him such an asset in the Bayern engine room such is the intensity to his role. He is one hell of an athlete, and the speed at which he covers ground to aggressively press opponents is truly terrifying.

Goretzka operates as one of the two deep lying midfielders in Bayern's midfield three, doing the lung-busting, box-to-box work. During the 2019/20 Bundesliga season, he covered an average of 0.08 miles a minute.

"I have never seen an 18-year-old with so much class and desire."

Karsten Neitzel, former coach at Bochum.

Bayern are relentless in their high energy, aggressive press, making them a nightmare to play against. Goretzka encapsulates this ferocious doggednes, and his lightening quick rampages forward, coupled with his gritty defensive ability, have earned comparisons to compatriot Michael Ballack.

But there is more to the 25-year-old than just hard work. While out of possession he defines everything that is great about Bayern's relentlessness, in possession he is critical to the manner in which Flick's side move the ball about.

Goretzka is efficient with the ball, prioritising short, crisp passes to a long ball, enabling his side to fluidly and swiftly move the ball about and ultimately leading to one of the most successful teams in the club's history.

Goretzka helped Bayern to the treble during the 2019/20 season
Goretzka helped Bayern to the treble during the 2019/20 season / Pool/Getty Images

We all know how Bayern's 2019/20 season concluded; with a 22-game winning streak as they marched to the Bundesliga title, Champions League and DFB Pokal.

Flick has inspired an incredible transformation in the space of 10 months as a squad with world class potential who were stagnating and underwhelming blossomed into one of the greatest club sides in European football history.

No one personifies this transformation better than Leon Goretzka; the former rotational option who is now one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in world football.