What Lewis Holtby Can Teach Max Meyer

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Lewis Holtby had a brief, unsuccessful spell with Tottenham. Image: DailyMail

In January 2013, a 22-year old, German Schalke 04 midfielder entering the final six months of his contract forced a cut-price move to Tottenham Hotspurs. The player had fought publicly with his manager Felix Magath prior to the move, but having already been capped for the German national team as a 20-year old in 2010, in shiny London, he seemed destined for stardom. However, the player, Lewis Holtby, never settled. He failed to nail down a place in the starting eleven before Spurs shipped him off to Fulham on loan. There he couldn’t help the Cottagers stave off relegation and the arrival of Magath as manager in the buildup to the end of the season reignited old tensions. Now Holtby plies his trade for Hamburg, who finally succumbed to relegation from the Bundesliga after a number of years of lacklustre play. Holby, whose transfer value peaked at 11 million euros before his move to Tottenham, now is only worth a lowly 3 million euros.

This parable of the starlet overestimating his own worth to the detriment of his career arc should have been a warning to other young German midfielders. The harrowing tale of Holtby probably did inform career choices for other players like Sebastian Rode or Sebastian Rudy. Both Sebastians are about the same age as Holtby, but instead of trying to accelerate their rise to the top with a fit of pyrotechnic pugnacity in the press, they waited patiently. Rode moved to Bayern Münich from Eintracht Frankfurt in 2014, and Rudy made the switch to the Bavarian giants from TSG Hoffenheim in 2017 and even made Germany’s ill-fated 2018 World Cup squad.

There is a natural order to things in the Bundesliga, namely being if you are actually promising Bayern will take a shot with you for a season. Bayern have hoovered up numerous young Germans with potential over the last few years with Serge Gnabry, Niklas Süle, and another Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka the latest to take the step up. Trying to subvert this structure just doesn’t work in the modern age: success in Germany flows through Münich.

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Max Meyer was a rising star with Schalke. Image: Evening Standard

All of these musings bring us to Crystal Palace’s surprising new signing Max Meyer. The parallels between his move to the Premier League and Holtby’s are ominous. Like Holtby, Meyer was hailed as a teenager while playing for Schalke. Bursting onto the scene the season after Holtby left, Meyer scored seven goals in 41 appearances including 30 in the Bundesliga. His performances earned him a debut appearance for Die Mannschaft in May of 2014 at the ripe age of 18. However, his star began to sour until current Schalke manager Domenico Tedesco recast the starlet as a defensive midfielder.

Once again Meyer thrived, but soon like Holtby, he began to publicly fight with Schalke in the press. With his contract set to run out in June 2018, Meyer’s agent, Roger Wittmann, endeavoured to get him a salary befitting a “world-class player…who would start in every European squad…[and who] should be going to the World Cup in Russia.” To be fair, only Bayern’s Thiago, Corentin Tolisso, and James Rodriguez bettered Meyer’s 89% pass accuracy in the Bundesliga; however, Schalke’s Director of Sport Christian Heidel was only prepared to pay for a “very very good Bundesliga player Max Meyer, who has quite a lot of potential and can still get better.”

This disagreement led Meyer to allow his contract to expire in search of that ‘world class’ salary somewhere else. Only everyone balked. No clubs were willing to pay the 170,000 euros a week he wanted. No club that is except for Crystal Palace, who amazingly escaped relegation last year under manger Roy Hodgson.

Having roughly tracked Holtby’s path out of Schalke from youth stardom to public fighting in a contract year, now we can only wait to see if like Holtby he fizzles out. Will he grow into a star outside the Bundesliga or will the “very very good Bundesliga player” become a perennial feature of relegation sides like his predecessor?

Fittingly, Crystal Palace’s first Premier League game is away at Fulham on August 11th.

Perhaps Holtby’s ghost will haunt Meyer’s Palace dreams.


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