In the wake of record World Cup goalscorer Miroslav Klose’s retirement, there has been a lasting debate about strikers in the land of the four-time world champions. Who can fill the legend’s shoes, and is there still the need for a traditional centre forward at all? While Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil have all recently tried their hand at spearheading the attack, Germany have yet to identify a genuine penalty-box striker among their ranks.
Although Besiktas’s Mario Gomez could definitely have been another candidate, he is now 30 years old. Perhaps, then, it may be worth taking a look at the youngsters who have just qualified for the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 in Chile – and Johannes Eggestein in particular.
The 17-year-old has dazzled at the tournament so far, delivering four goals in three matches to lead the race for the adidas Golden Boot alongside Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen. “My strengths are my ability to anticipate a pass and my versatility,” the approachable German reluctantly said in an interview with FIFA.com when asked to describe himself. The statistics back up this assessment, as he has so far scored two goals with his left foot, another with his right foot and the fourth with his head. “I also like to run out from the deep to collect the ball – then I can turn and finish straight away or pick out another pass,” he added. His captain Felix Passlack, who has also found the target twice in South America, previously lauded his striker as an “ice-cool goalscorer” at the UEFA European U-17 Championship in Bulgaria.
This acclaimed youngster has already scored as many goals as the most prolific German at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015, where attacking midfielder Marc Stendera was presented with the adidas Bronze Boot for his four strikes – including two spot-kicks – and four assists in New Zealand. “First and foremost I’m focused on the team, then myself,” said Eggestein. “We want to give a good account of ourselves here. If we can play well as a team, then I’ll score more goals.”
Werder Bremen have long been aware of the quality of a player who has netted for them 12 times in eight U-19 Bundesliga matches so far this season. With Eggestein’s contract due to expire next summer, it is unsurprising to learn that Die Werderaner’s rivals have been circling – and several top Bundesliga and English Premier League clubs have already registered their interest. “While we’ll make every effort to keep Johannes in Bremen, he is a very sought-after player,” Werder general manager Thomas Eichin recently confirmed. The 17-year-old is not the first Eggestein to pursue a career in German football: his father Karl played in the country’s second tier, while older brother Maximilian became the second-youngest player to represent Werder in the top flight when he made his debut in November 2014 and signed his first professional contract a few months ago.
The younger Eggestein does not want to know about the hubbub surrounding his future back in Germany. “Nothing outside of this World Cup is of any interest to me right now,” he said. “I’m here with the national team to play in this tournament.” It is a task they are so far undertaking successfully, recording convincing 4-1 and 4-0 wins over Australia and Argentina respectively before slipping up with a 2-1 defeat by 2011 U-17 world champions Mexico in their final group match.
“We wanted to be group winners so we’re disappointed with that result,” Eggestein explained. “The Mexicans were extremely aggressive and quick to close down space, and we couldn’t deal with that. Our combination play didn’t work as well as it has done recently, so we frequently resorted to trying out the long ball, which doesn’t really fit with our playing style.”
Germany next face an all-European duel with Croatia in Concepcion on Thursday 29 October. The Vatreni began their campaign with a 1-1 draw against hosts Chile and another 2-2 stalemate with USA before securing a coveted Round of 16 spot with a 2-1 win over holders Nigeria.
“We’ll learn from our mistakes against Mexico and draw the right conclusions from that experience,” Eggestein said at the end of the interview, issuing an early warning to Germany’s upcoming opponents. It seems as if the disappointing loss to El Tri may have sounded a note of caution within the German camp at just the right moment as they seek to realise their ultimate dream of becoming world champions.
In the unlikely event that this young striker does not manage to establish a professional football career, he may have other sporting options. According to skipper Passlack, Eggestein is the best table tennis player in the German squad, adding with a wink: “Perhaps even in the world!”