Not much has gone Schalke's way this season. But their youth department is still clicking and have produced another potential star: Max Meyer. DW talked to a very talented - and confident - teenager.
It was interesting to see which player was the focus for Schalke on Saturday, facing a must-win game against Freiburg to resuscitate their slim Champions League hopes. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar? Nope. Jefferson Farfan? Think again. It was 19-year-old Max Meyer.
Despite being a midfielder, Meyer had more shots than either Huntelaar or Schalke's other forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Heady stuff for a teenager. Schalke failed to get the job done, settling for a goalless draw. Nonetheless, Meyer is one of the bright spots of an otherwise dark Royal Blue season.
It's not all that unusual for players to make a mark in Gelsenkirchen not long after reaching shaving age. Schalke, after all, have one of the best youth programs in the Bundesliga. But is that all there is to it?
A Messi in the making?
Meyer is a small-statured midfielder who is good on the ball and has a powerful shot. That's drawn (somewhat premature) comparisons to Mario Götze and Lionel Messi. Some of Meyer's abilities have been developed by Schalke's youth coaches, who allowed him to develop his dribbling skills.
"I have to say that our training is really good," Meyer told DW. "We do a lot of work on the ball. We try out lots of formations, so I learn something new every day."
On the other hand, Meyer already had a full bag of tricks when he arrived at Schalke at the age of fourteen. He started out playing futsal - a different version of football inspired by small-sided games, played with a heavier ball - which could certainly be a source of his ball skills.
"I don't know," Meyer says. "Maybe I learned them in practice. Maybe I just have them…everyone has a different opinion. I can only say that I used to play a huge amount of football. Four to five hours a day. You learn a few things from that."
Dortmund were also interested in the fleet-footed 14-year-old, but he chose the Royal Blues over their local rivals. And given the progress he's made over the past five years, you can't say he made the wrong decision.
"I don't doubt myself"
In interview, Meyer makes the right noises about keeping his feet on the ground and trying to achieve as much as he can and just being happy to get the chance to play in front of full houses in the Veltins Arena.
On the other hand, he arrived for the appointment in a massive red luxury car - hardly the sort of thing most 19-year-olds drive around in after scraping together their savings from summer jobs. And false modesty is not part of his approach to the game.
"I'm not really sure what self-confidence means," he says. "I don't doubt myself right now. I know what I'm capable off and go into every match trying to win it. I know what my strengths are, and I try to dial them up every time. That's why I don't have many doubts about myself."
Meyer also says that this is a general characteristic of his generation.
"I think that today's young people are a bit bolder," he says. "And I think all young players who make it to the top are a bit more self-confident than in the past. At least that's what veteran players tell me. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. But it's important for a young player to have confidence and want to show that he's got guts."
Schalke may be more successful than other clubs in forming young Bundesliga players. But a part of the Royal Blues' success in this area also seems be that the club has created an atmosphere where young players feel they'll get a chance and be rewarded for their daring. In any case, you can be confident that Meyer won't be the last youngster to emerge from Schalke, regardless of whether they play in the Champions League next season.
Max Meyer was interviewed by Constantin Stüve for DW-TV's Bundesliga magazine Kick Off! The program airs on Mondays and Tuesdays.