Florian Wirtz scores Bayer Leverkusen’s first goal since serious injury to mark return of Germany wonderkid | Football News

It was the moment Florian Wirtz had been waiting for, the moment BayArena had been waiting for, and when it came it was special. The Bayer Leverkusen wunderkind’s first goal since his long-term knee injury lit up their game against Monaco.

Wirtz touched the ball nine times to get it. Ten if you included the finger volley to teammate Exequiel Palacios in the rally. But those nine touches – the ball never moved more than a meter from his boot to the finish – showed why he is so special.

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz scores against Monaco in the Europa League
Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz scores against Monaco in the Europa League

That quick movement of the ball from one foot to the other was seen minutes earlier when his earlier dribble was the catalyst for Moussa Diaby’s equaliser. There is a calmness to his game, an ability to glide without breaking stride, that only the best have.

He felt hard on Wirtz that he wasn’t the winner. Two late goals for Monaco made it 3-2 in the first leg of this Europa League play-off round. A blow to supporters, but to the wider game, the latest step in Wirtz’s journey back is the bigger story.

Speaking to Leverkusen’s sporting director Simon Rolfes in the stadium offices, he was told that perhaps the English public still don’t know too much about Virch’s prodigious talent. Laughs. “You will,” says Rolfes Sky Sports. You feel he is right.

At 19, Wirtz is the great hope of German football. Enthusiasm for his return to fitness extends far beyond his own club – a point shown by the wide smile on the face of national team coach Hansi Flick, who celebrates alongside Rudi Voller in the stands.

He missed out badly at the World Cup, most expect him to be the poster boy for Euro 2024. But an ACL injury is the kind of career-sniffing setback, even for someone precocious enough to make his debut in the Bundesliga weeks after turning 17.

He adapted quickly, scoring against Bayern Munich in just his fourth appearance, and made his international debut the following year. The world was his. Ten months out was a test, therefore, both physically and emotionally. How would he face this challenge?

“Very well,” insists Rolfes. “Mentally, he’s incredible. How he works, how ambitious he is, how emotionally stable he is. Everyone sees the technical side, the fantastic passes, the dribbling, whatever. But that side of him is amazing. He’s so focused.”

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The result is that he has returned to the team without losing a defeat. There was an assist on his first start against Bochum last month and another in a man-of-the-match performance against Hoffenheim to complete his first full 90 minutes at the weekend.

Not only is he back, but he’s back to his best. That runaway rate from players is there. The low center of gravity allows it to hold the pointers without problems. There is no indication that his injury ceiling has been lowered. This delayed him rather than slowed him down.

The mental strength is evident in his game. The most skilful player on the pitch is one of the hardest workers, encouraging others to join him in pressing. Already at this young age, he is a leader of this team, inspiring the other players with his behavior.

Bayer Leverkusen's Florian Wirtz celebrates scoring against Monaco in the Europa League
Florian Wirtz celebrates scoring against Monaco in the Europa League

The fans are responding to it. How could they not. The biggest cheer when the teams were read was for his name. There were gasps of admiration midway through the second half when he flicked the ball one way and eluded his opponent at the other end.

At times, he looked to play as a No 10 just outside Adam Hlozek, although there was flexibility there with the formation changing from 3-4-3 to 4-4-2 in and out of possession. Whatever the system, Wirtz was the one who looked most comfortable in tight quarters.

In his absence, Leverkusen sacked manager Gerardo Seoane in October, bringing in Xabi Alonso. The former Spain international could be a good fit for Virz. Others at the club are happier playing on the counter-attack, but he can thrive in a passing team.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso with young star Florian Wirtz
Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso to enjoy working with Florian Wirtz

It’s all there in his game, the one-touch dismissals, the awareness to flick balls into the corner. “He’s a great player but also a great team player. He makes other players better around him. Top players have that ability,” explains Rolfes.

“One thing I mentioned already is the mental side, but also from the technical side, he finds spaces to score, to provide assists, to speed up the game. In those positions, he can find solutions.”

Wirtz is the answer for Leverkusen. “The key player for us.” The question is how good he could become. “The potential is huge.” That is, for another day. For now, let’s just celebrate the return of this special talent. “It’s really great to see that he’s back.”

Watch Bayer Leverkusen vs Mainz live on Sky Sports Football this Sunday. start 6.30 pm

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