The former Schalke player has been left without a club on the eve of a new Bundesliga season. Once touted as one of Germany's greatest prospects, he may be in danger of stalling his career with unrealistic demands.
"Christian, before we start, we need to determine whether we’re talking about the same player, then you can make me an offer," began football agent Roger Wittman. "I’m talking about a world-class player, someone who would be a first-choice selection at any of Europe’s top clubs."
Christian Heidel, Schalke's sporting director, was taken aback. It wasn't Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi's agent on the other end of the line, but the agent of one of his own players. Max Meyer, fresh off the back of another season of solid development in royal blue, was nearing the end of his contract. Heidel had been keen to negotiate an extension with an exciting prospect.
"He's a very good Bundesliga player," Heidel responded. "One with great potential but one that can still improve."
In Heidel's opinion, a 22-year old with a lot still to learn wasn't yet worthy of a contract worth in excess of €100,000 ($117,000) a week. Unfortunately for the player and his agent, it appears Europe's top clubs agree with the Schalke boss. Three months after Heidel appeared on Sky Sports to reveal his side of the conversation with Wittmann, a deal is yet to materialize.
Marseille were reportedly interested in securing Meyer’s signature earlier this month, only to back out of a deal once his terms were revealed. Arsenal and Liverpool were also put off by his demands, according to British media outlets.
On paper, a young, technically gifted Germany international, capable of playing in a number of midfield positions, should walk into a top club – particularly on a Bosman. He's got the stats to back up the talent, too: Of those who attempted more than 1,000 passes in the Bundesliga last season, only three midfield players were more accurate, and they all played for champions Bayern. He was second overall in possesion won in the final third last season; only Daniel Baier of Augsburg won the ball more than his 96 times. Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco's decision to move him into a deep-lying midfield role proved a stroke of genius as he flourished as the Royal Blues finished runners-up to Bayern.
Liverpool were woefully short of midfield reinforcements towards the end of last season. They’ve spent lavishly this summer but surely a move for one of Germany’s hottest young prospects would have interested Jürgen Klopp? Money is seldom a stumbling block for Premier League clubs, so if the reports are to be believed, the player’s attitude must have set alarm bells ringing.
By contrast, Jadon Sancho, who impressed the Bundesliga towards the end of last season, rejected a higher wage at his former club, Manchester City, in order to further his development abroad at Borussia Dortmund. Kevin de Bruyne left a lucrative gig at Chelsea in 2014 in order to fulfill his promise at Wolfsburg. He eventually earned a move to Manchester City.
While a deal is bound to materialize at some point – Meyer was linked with Hoffenheim and Premier League club West Ham just this week – there is little sign of the bidding war Meyer and his agent must have expected, and he now finds himself at risk of slipping further out of Germany coach Jogi Löw's post-World Cup plans.
If Meyer is to still realize his potential at a top club, he may need to do more than lower his wage demands; he may have to convince a possible suitor that he is motivated by more than the bottom line of his bank balance.