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Schalke: Draxler made midfield mayor of teen town

Schalke's core creative midfielders couldn't buy a drink in most US states, but their club will call on them to spearhead a Champions League charge. Old-boy Julian Draxler, 19, should claim the lead playmaker's role.

Perhaps Schalke need not worry that "you can't win anything with kids," a statement Scottish defender turned TV pundit Alan Hansen has been made to rue for nearly two decades, considering that the Royal Blues can't really win anything at all. They have not won the German championship since 1958, before the Bundesliga even existed. And few, except right winger Jefferson Farfan, would expect that to change this season.

Schalke players Jefferson Farfan and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar celebrate a goal. (Photo via Jan Huebner)

Farfan senses something fresh at Schalke

"My title dreams are still alive," Farfan told magazine Sport Bild ahead of the season, asking his teammates not to write off their chances before a ball's kicked.

The excited 28-year-old Peruvian, with Schalke for five years now, raved at how "something completely new" was happening at the club. "Everyone has to give 100 percent in training, otherwise they're out."

Something 'old'

The 2011 German Cup is one recent trophy luckless Schalke have won - a campaign that marked the arrival of a new star, Julian Draxler.

Not many players score their first ever senior goal aged 17. Fewer still do so in the last minutes of extra time in a cup quarterfinal, with their weaker left foot, from well outside the box. After this dramatic winning goal, Draxler went on to score in a comfortable final victory over second-division Duisburg.

Bildnummer: 13561541 Datum: 10.05.2013 Copyright: imago/Team 2 10-05-2013, Fussball, Saison 2012-2013, 1. Bundesliga, Pressekonferenz des FC Schalke 04 zur Vertragsverlängerung von Julian Draxler. Julian Draxler präsentiert das neue Auswärtstrikot auf dem Werbewagen mit seinem Plakat. ; GER Vertrag Verlängerung xas x0x 2013 quer Aufmacher premiumd Deutschland Herren 1. Bundesliga 1.Bundesliga Saison 2012/2013 2012/13 S04 PK Medien Presse Interview Feature Symbolbild Symbolfoto Image number 13561541 date 10 05 2013 Copyright imago team 2 10 05 2013 Football Season 2012 2013 1 Bundesliga Press conference the FC Schalke 04 to Contract extension from Julian Draxler Julian Draxler presents the new Away jersey on the Advertising vehicles with his Billboard ger Treaty Extension xas x0x 2013 horizontal Highlight premiumd Germany men 1 Bundesliga 1 Bundesliga Season 2012 2013 2012 13 S04 press conference Media Press Interview Feature Symbol image Symbolic image

Don't expect him to stay until 2018, but Schalke's new number 10 has signed on until then

Since then, the 19-year-old has matured into a German international, rejecting several suitors this summer in favor of staying with Schalke - at least for the short term. The baby-faced attacking midfielder wanted to take charge of a team, and move permanently to the middle from his former home on the left flank.

"The World Cup is on the schedule next season and a transfer always carries a certain risk. At Schalke I have the chance at a leading role, one that I might not yet have at another club," Draxler, reportedly courted by Real Madrid, Manchester City, and others, said last month.

Jens Keller, head coach of Schalke, celebrates after the Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and FC Schalke 04 at MAGE SOLAR Stadium on May 18, 2013 in Freiburg. (Photo via Thomas Niedermueller/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Coach Keller is going into his first full season

The youngster has signed a new deal with the Royal Blues, meaning the European vultures would have to shell out 45.5 million euros ($60.4 million) to force the Bundesliga club to sell its star.

"Jule made the right decision to stay at Schalke and develop his game here," captain Benedikt Höwedes said of Draxler. "His prospects are very good here. Hopefully he will be back in the Champions League, he can be a key player, and can also continue to mature within himself."

Something new

Part of Draxler's maturing process, as strange as this might sound, could involve mentoring younger midfielders this season.

Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustädter boast experience and are capable of doing the dirtier midfield work, but Schalke's other strategic or creative options in the center are even younger than Draxler. If you're wondering how central a role the club expects new signing Leon Goretzka and homegrown prodigy Maximilian Meyer to play, consider that they have been assigned the 8 and 7 shirts respectively.

Leon Goretzka, at his official unveiling as a Schalke signing on 10.07.2013. (Photo via Caroline Seidel/dpa)

Still in school, and now at Schalke, Leon Goretzka

Goretzka, 18, may need time to adjust after his rather acrimonious move from nearby Bochum in the second division. Like all of Schalke's summer signings, Goretzka was brought in on a minimum fee release clause - although the two clubs bickered over details of the deal for weeks. Only when Goretzka, who is still studying for his university-entrance level school graduation in Bochum, threatened to file a complaint with a local labor court did the clubs reach an agreement.

While Goretzka was blossoming into a key lower league star, Meyer enjoyed his first ever appearances for Schalke towards the end of the year after the departure of midfield lynchpin Lewis Holtby. In 2013 he will hope for his first ever Bundesliga start, wearing the shirt number last carried by Spanish legend Raul.

Maximilian MEYER (FC Schalke 04) fends off Dennis STROMPEN (VFL Wolfsburg U19) in a game in June.

Meyer is hoping to break through this season

"At first, it did make me gulp. I know who wore it before me," 17-year-old Meyer remembered when asked about donning the number 7 jersey. "But it didn't take me long to decide, it's a great honor."

Something tested

There are other new faces at Schalke that are liable to need a shave every once in a while.

Perhaps most excitingly, Hungarian international Adam Szalai joins the attacking ranks from Mainz. Szalai, also available via a contractual clause, scored more Bundesliga goals (13) than Schalke's main marksman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (10) last season. The poacher fills a longstanding club void as the Dutch forward's understudy, and might even have what it takes to steal the starting spot away from the 29-year-old.

Central defender Felipe Santana crosses a fierce regional divide to join from Borussia Dortmund. After warming Dortmund's bench, Santana may see more action with Schalke - especially if young center back Kyriakos Papadopoulos makes a move to the English Premier League.

Something blue

Schalke's squad can be difficult to place, stocked with some of the most talented players in the Bundesliga but also a little shallow in places. With the club unable to hold on to loanee Michel Bastos, and Tranquilo Barnetta ineffective in his first season back from injury, the left wing - Draxler's old home - is already looking like a potential trouble spot.

Benedikt Hoewedes of Schalke reacts during the Bundesliga match between FC Augsburg and FC Schalke 04 at SGL Arena on January 26, 2013 in Augsburg, Germany. (Photo via Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Höwedes: we have learned from last season

The Royal Blues stumbled into the European qualifying positions of the Bundesliga last season, displaying both title-challenging and relegation-worthy form in an inconsistent campaign.

"In some situations we were just missing that last bite, that extra willingness," captain Höwedes said of the previous season. "Ok, we finished fourth and that's nothing to sneeze at. But in decisive moments that grittiness was missing. This was one of the topics discussed after the season, changes were made as a result."

With former youth team coach Jens Keller now established, and some very youthful players at his disposal, Schalke should probably shoot for the top four again. If their creative prodigies prove fast learners, perhaps even more is conceivable.

Draxler, Goretzka and Meyer surely won't remember Alan Hansen saying "you can't win anything with kids" - he said it one month before Meyer was born - but they have at least an outside chance of proving the Liverpool favorite wrong from afar this season.

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