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Lewis Holtby's rise is Schalke's loss and Germany, Mainz's gain

Germany Under-21 captain Lewis Holtby has made a huge impact at high-flying Mainz after joining the club on loan from Schalke. The youngster is now in line for his senior debut for the German national team.

Mainz's Lewis Holtby

Lewis Holtby has been a driving force behind Mainz's rise

No-one would excuse Schalke 04 coach Felix Magath for casting an envious glance towards Mainz in his more introspective moments. Not only is the little club from the banks of the Rhine some 14 places and 15 points ahead of Magath's team, but one of the driving forces behind Mainz's push for their first title is a young man whose signature graces a professional contract sitting in a drawer somewhere in the Schalke coach's office.

Lewis Holtby, Germany's Under-21 captain and creative lynchpin of Mainz's rise to prominence, signed for Schalke on a four-year deal in 2009 after spending five years learning his craft at Alemannia Aachen.

After appearing nine times in his debut season for the Royal Blues, the management at Schalke decided that Holtby's prodigious talent would best be served by gaining valuable playing time at a smaller club. The youngster was sent to VfL Bochum to gain experience of first steam action but returned to Schalke at the end of last season when Bochum's relegation ended his loan spell.

Back at Schalke, Holtby was again deemed to be a work-in-progress and was once more sent out to hone his skills elsewhere. This time Mainz was his destination. And this is where the story really begins…

Midfield sensation finds tailor-made role in Mainz

Lewis Holtby

Germany Under-21 captain Holtby is ready to step up

Holtby may have been too unpolished for Schalke but for his latest loan club, he was a diamond in the mud. While Schalke's season imploded almost from the start, Mainz took off at a rate of knots, steaming to the Bundesliga summit on the back of a winning streak of nine games on the bounce, powered by the youthful prowess of players like Adam Szalai, Andre Schuerrle and a certain Lewis Holtby.

"It might have looked like I was being handed out to any bidder but it has been a great experience," Holtby told Deutsche Welle. "I didn't want to be on the bench, playing just ten or eleven games a season but I didn't lose my motivation during that difficult time. I love football and I want to play. I'm lucky to be able to do that in a top league with Mainz."

"Holtby is a very creative player with a good eye for his team mates and the clever pass from deep," Uwe Roeser, Kicker magazine's Mainz expert, told Deutsche Welle. "Thanks to his technical excellence and speed, he can assert himself in a one-on-one and is very dangerous near goal. If anything could be improved, it's his defensive qualities which aren't so good and his tacking could be better."

The son of a German mother and a former English soldier from Liverpool, Holtby has developed in a matter of a few short months from an unwanted teenager at Schalke to the 20-year-old creative spark in the Mainz midfield. No wonder Felix Magath is eyeing the end of Holtby's season-long loan spell with relish. Time will tell if Magath is still in Gelsenkirchen to welcome Holtby back to the Veltins Arena – or indeed if the player himself will want to go.

"A team needs a healthy mixture of players and styles and we have that at Mainz," Holtby said. "It's terrific. I play full games here and have the coach's trust. I feel at home here and have a good connection with the fans. I'm an honest player and I always give 100 percent. The fans see that and trust me. I want to repay that."

"Mainz doesn't have a very good chance of holding onto Holtby because they do not have an option to buy him in their loan agreement," said Roeser. "If Schalke don't take him back, there is a chance that a more financially strong Bundesliga team buys him from them. Whether Holtby has the class to play for Schalke on a high international level remains to be seen. It's too early in the season to say.”

Holtby is certainly a youngster in demand; a goal-scoring playmaker who made such an impression on Germany coach Joachim Loew with his display in Mainz's 4-2 thrashing of Hoffenheim earlier this season that the usually restrained Loew couldn't help but be effusive in his praise: "Holtby's assist for the first goal of the game was worth the price of admission alone," he said afterwards.

Elevation to senior squad ends possibility of England call-up

Adam Szalai, Andre Schuerrle and Lewis Holtby

Holtby (r.) and friends are having a good time at Mainz

Already the captain of Germany's young guns, Holtby now looks set to make the step up to the senior national team after Loew named him and team mate Schuerrle in his squad for Germany's friendly in Sweden on November 17.

Holtby's call up to the senior team ends any hope the English Football Association had of playing on his father's nationality – and his allegiance to Everton FC – and convincing him to choose the three lions of England ahead of the eagle of Germany.

The player himself scotched any rumors surrounding his possible switch to England recently when he pledged allegiance to the land of his birth and that of his mother, Heidi, on German television.

"I think it would be difficult for England snatching the Germany Under-21 captain," Holtby said in the television interview. "I would come as a German, as a German captain. It'd be quite bizarre."

"I love England, I love my family there but I have to pay respect to Germany. I love Germany very much and when I sing the national anthem it gives me goose bumps. If (England coach Fabio) Capello would talk to me, I'd listen. But I'd tell him I've decided to play for Germany."

"In Loew's preferred 4-2-3-1-system, Holtby can play in the three man midfield behind the lone striker," said Roeser. "If he maintains the good form and consistency shown in the early stages of this season over a longer period of time, he stands a good chance of becoming a national team regular for Germany."

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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