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1chelsea liked a post in a topic by Vesper in 29. Kai Havertz
The people and the pitches that shaped Kai Havertz
Shivering slightly with a football in his hand as he navigated the easiest of pitchside interviews at Stamford Bridge, a smiling Kai Havertz soaked up the latest in a series of new experiences since moving from Bayer Leverkusen to Chelsea — and by far the most enjoyable to date. The first hat-trick of his senior professional career was always going to be a moment to savour, but frustrating outings against Brighton & Hove Albion and Liverpool only amplified the satisfaction. “I am delighted with Kai, it was everything I wanted the night to be with him,” Frank Lampard said afterwards.
A lack of pre-season preparation dulled his impact on arrival, but Havertz, 21, showed more than enough flashes in his preferred No 10 role against an admittedly generous Barnsley defence in the Carabao Cup to underline what he can offer his new team. Aside from the clinical finishing and the early signs of a natural understanding with Tammy Abraham, there were the effortless movements into pockets of space, the sharp passes into open team-mates and the ruthless pressing that all combined to establish him as one of Europe’s most coveted talents at Leverkusen.
Those qualities will also have been easily recognisable to many in the place where Havertz’s football journey began — a place where his every new achievement is worn as a badge of pride by the community that formed him.
In the peaceful and picturesque west German village of Mariadorf, around eight miles to the north of Aachen, the pitch that provided the first stage for Havertz to showcase his spectacular talent is on its last legs.
Bumpy and unkempt, it was supposed to have been ripped up in August and replaced with a state-of-the-art synthetic surface at a cost of €1.3 million, funded by the local authority. That refurbishment has been postponed until 2021 and so Stefan Zander, Alemannia Mariadorf’s enthusiastic new youth coordinator, is watching the club’s under-nines scamper around on the battered grass, joyfully undeterred by the unpredictable bobble of the ball.
“We hope we will get the new field in February and we hope many more kids will come,” he tells The Athletic. “Maybe we will get the new Kai…”
It’s Saturday and all of Alemannia Mariadorf’s youth teams are in action, from the under-six side that Havertz once joined as a prodigious four-year-old to the under-19s. The older teams play on the red ash pitch separated from the grass field by a thin line of trees, where every contact with the ball kicks up a plume of dust. The sounds generated by the younger age-group matches — high-pitched shouts, referee whistles, the light thuds of boot on ball — drift out onto the surrounding streets.
The football club serves as one of Mariadorf’s main community hubs, with an impressive number of committed locals turning out to watch the various teams — all predominantly consisting of boys born and raised in the area — alongside friends and family members of the players. Zander says it’s part of the reason he was drawn to the club, and it’s also why, 17 years ago, excitement about the young Havertz spread so quickly.
“He used to play in teams where the others were two, three, four years older and he was still the best of them,” says Paul Breuer, a former Alemannia Mariadorf player and member of the club’s veterans’ board. “His best qualities were his technique and his drive to fight for every ball. He was a small player but he was not afraid, even if they were much bigger than he was. It was unbelievable.”
Havertz’s grandfather, Richard Weidenhaupt-Pelzer, was Alemannia Mariadorf president at the time, and club rules were bent to allow the exceptional four-year-old to play with the under-six side. One of his team-mates and earliest friends was Andre Hochmuth, who now plays for the men’s first team. “He was always two years younger than the others but you couldn’t see it on the pitch,” he says. “He was always the best and he always had the power to do whatever he wanted.
“After a match, we would go back to his house and continue to play in the garden. It was only one or two minutes away and they had a big garden. We played one versus one or we would try to hit the gnomes. He won every time.”
The house that Havertz called home during his Alemannia Mariadorf days is still lived in by his parents, Ralf and Anne. It stands less than 500 metres (550 yards) from the clubhouse on a quiet residential street where traffic is infrequent and all of the properties are understated in style but generous in size. There are no signs bearing the family name outside, and nothing to indicate that the house belongs to the family of a millionaire footballer.
That, by all accounts, is very much by design. Havertz’s parents — Ralf a retired policeman, Anne a lawyer — are private people who have never courted media attention, and the explanation offered for their continued presence in Mariadorf is that it allows them to go about their daily business as normally as possible. They did not raise Kai, his brother Jan or sister Lea, to seek out the kind of attention that his football stardom has made inevitable.
At his unveiling press conference as a Chelsea player, Havertz was asked about his interests outside football, chiefly his passion for playing the piano and his love of donkeys. During his childhood, he and his family rescued one from being sent to a slaughterhouse, stoking his desire to adopt animal protection as a personal cause. “Of course, football is one of the most important things in my life as well but to be honest, there are very many more important things in life than football, and I’m trying to do my best to help as much as I can,” he said.
Those who knew the young Havertz are in no doubt that his parents deserve credit for helping to shape his rounded worldview. “His mother and father were behind him all the way, but the main thing was always school,” Hochmuth says.
“They always pushed him to perform there first, then football second. I remember one time he had to skip a game because of homework — his parents just told him ‘school is first’.”
“You always have players who people say will be one of the best in the world, and all of a sudden they disappear because they have other interests, girls etc,” Breuer says. “But Kai is a clever guy. His results at school were very good. His family gave him this atmosphere.”
Havertz left Alemannia Mariadorf at the age of 10 to join Alemannia Aachen and test himself at the higher levels of German youth football, and his family moved into the city to make things easier. “Everybody said he was good when he went to Aachen, but many players from here go to Aachen,” says Dirk Knops, who was involved with Alemannia Mariadorf for 10 years and still regularly watches the youth and men’s teams.
“Until two years ago, we had a cooperation with Aachen: good players from here went there, and players who had no chance there come to us. It was normal. But then he goes to (Bayer) Leverkusen and you see his path: youth national player at under-13, under-14, under-15, and then you can see he’s better than the others.”
Leverkusen had first made contact with the Havertz family when Kai was eight and finally convinced them to send their son to the club’s renowned Kurtekotten academy — one hour’s drive from Aachen — three years later. “It wasn’t easy because for the first years he commuted every day,” Breuer says. “His father stopped working as a policeman and took him in the car.”
Every step in Havertz’s football journey has taken him further away from Mariadorf and his family are no longer involved with the club. Jan, who also made his way through the Alemannia Mariadorf youth teams, now works for the agency that represents his brother and Weidenhaupt-Pelzer passed away 15 years ago. But while Ralf and Anne are not on the sidelines, connections remain close.
“In a club like Mariadorf, you’re a family,” Breuer says. “Everyone knows everyone. We meet once a year and invite all the veterans of the club. Last year my mother — who still lives at 92 — was sitting next to Kai’s grandmother, Maria, talking about Kai. Maria was showing us WhatsApp messages from him asking how she was and saying he hopes all is well at Alemannia Mariadorf. I think it’s a good relationship.”
Whenever he returns to Mariadorf, Havertz is greeted by friendly faces. “I saw him three weeks ago,” Hochmuth says. “We had training and Kai waved to me as I passed him in the car. He recognised me even though I have a beard now!”
“I saw him at the petrol station two or three years ago,” Knops says. “We spoke for about three or four minutes, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and so on. About half a year before that, I saw him in the supermarket — he’s a very tall man now so his head was poking over the aisle.”
Alemannia Mariadorf’s clubhouse is not dominated by pictures of Havertz or mementoes relating to his time there. This is a club with a proud 114-year history of its own in the lower leagues of the German football pyramid, as well as a broader pedigree when it comes to producing Bundesliga talent. Hans-Peter Lehnhoff enjoyed spells at Koln, Antwerp and Leverkusen in a 16-year professional career in the 1980s and 1990s, while Moroccan-born Rachid Azzouzi played for Duisburg, Koln and Greuther Furth. A picture of the pair hangs prominently in the atrium.
Below that image, in a glass cabinet half-obscured by a staircase leading to the bar, lies a carefully folded Leverkusen shirt bearing Havertz’s name, number and signature, next to a small signed squad picture. Down a corridor to the left of the bar is a small office with two desks and walls covered in pictures relating to the youth teams. Front and centre are two certificates referring to the Fritz Walter Medal, an award given to the best German players of their age group: Havertz won silver at Under-17 level in 2016 and claimed the Under-19 gold two years later.
Knops was there when Havertz received the first award in Monchengladbach. “We found his first Alemannia Mariadorf shirt with No 7 (on the back) and I gave it to him,” he says with a smile.
“We are trying (to use Kai’s story as inspiration), but it’s negative as well as positive,” Zander says. “If you use it too much, all of the kids are thinking they can be Kai Havertz.”
In any case, the clubhouse itself stands as a monument to Havertz’s rise to the status of Germany’s golden boy; the milestones he passed in those teenage years, including those Fritz Walter Medals, led to €16,000 worth of payments from the German Football Association (DFB) to each of the clubs who played a role in his training and development. That sum might be paltry to Leverkusen and even perhaps to Alemannia Aachen, but not to Alemannia Mariadorf. “We refurbished our clubhouse with this money,” Breuer says.
Alemannia Mariadorf had been operating in reduced financial circumstances before the COVID-19 pandemic. “Kai’s grandfather used to be the chairman of the board of a German company based in Hamburg called Edeka, which is like Aldi or Lidl (a budget supermarket),” Breuer explains. “He made a lot of money with that, and at the time (he was president) we were playing one division higher and we paid a lot of money. Players from all across the area came to play for Alemannia Mariadorf because we paid.
“The players now have normal jobs, in administration, in other factories and so on. We only pay them a small fee and the money we get is based on donations from different people.”
There was never going to be a further windfall for Alemannia Mariadorf from the initial £62 million deal that took Havertz from Leverkusen to Chelsea; DFB rules stipulate that €16,000 is the most that any former club can receive in terms of training and development bonuses. “It’s enough for a little club like us,” Breuer adds. “We’re happy with it.”
The clubhouse bar is where Alemannia Mariadorf’s first team, along with current president Guido Lenz, Breuer and several other club veterans, gather on Sunday afternoon to watch Chelsea’s big Premier League match against Liverpool. The mood is unexpectedly sombre. Their team has just been beaten 6-1 in the neighbouring village of Hehlrath by Sportfreunde Duren, their third defeat in three games to start the new season in a new league, the Landesliga Staffel 2.
The notion that this might not be a satisfying day for anyone from Mariadorf had already been established by the pre-match soundtrack in Hehlrath: Anfield anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone played not once but twice over the PA system as the teams went through their stretches.
Not all eyes in the clubhouse are focused on the giant projector screen as the teams walk out at Stamford Bridge, and Frank Lampard’s surprise deployment of Havertz as a false nine goes relatively unremarked upon. Lenz leaves his seat to conduct a post-match inquest with Alemannia Mariadorf’s young Italian coach, Gabriele Di Benedetto. “Guido is not allowed to sit here because we lost three matches in a row,” Breuer jokes.
Attention wanes further when the cautious nature of Chelsea’s game plan and the ease of Liverpool’s possession dominance becomes clear, though eyes and ears perk up whenever Havertz or his countryman Timo Werner manage to get themselves on the ball with an opportunity to counter-attack.
Andreas Christensen’s VAR-assisted red card for hauling down Sadio Mane and Lampard’s subsequent decision to take off Havertz at half-time is the cue for most to head home. Hochmuth reacts with shock at the substitution of his childhood friend but for many others, the match holds no more interest and there are disappointments closer to home to ponder. By the time Werner wins a penalty that Alisson saves from Jorginho in the 75th minute, Lenz, Breuer and Hochmuth are among a handful still in the clubhouse.
When the dust settles, Alemannia Mariadorf’s future looks brighter. They will get their new pitch soon and even if the current season ends in a swift relegation for the men’s seniors, the one that follows should at least yield fewer miserable days like this one.
There is similar confidence that happier times lie ahead for Havertz. “I always said that if someone was going to get to this level, it would be Kai,” Hochmuth says. “He’s got everything in his blood and everybody knew he would reach his goal. You could see he had the drive. He will succeed at Chelsea, 100 per cent.”
Mariadorf’s golden boy is taking the first thrilling steps towards proving them right once again.
1chelsea liked a post in a topic by Vesper in 16. Edouard Mendy
I met my wife when she slammed into me whilst I had two arms full of grocery bags coming of the Harvey Nichols food hall, lolol
shit went everywhere, and she helped me to pick it up, and because my dress got sauce all over it, she gave me her number and said to call her and she would pay the bill to clean it
I gave her my number too, and she called 2 days later and said if I had not had it cleaned yet, to meet her and her friend would do it it for free
we met up the next day, and then we had a drink at a pub in Covent Garden (The Harp) and that's when we found out we were both lesbi and single
the rest is history, as they say
1chelsea liked a post in a topic by Unionjack in Chelsea 6-0 Barnsley
Telles - among others, was a cheaper,better option thats fit. We need the help from day 1 not sometime soon.
I dont mind Ziyech as I know hes great and will be perfect for us - it was purely a - 'Did you notice' comment not a moan.
kellzfresh liked a post in a topic by 1chelsea in Super Frank Thread
The only reason I'm mad is that this team haven't seen the diagonal setup run Timo makes behind the defense and the midfielder who I believe knows Timo is a speed monster don't see reason to play a diagonal pass or a drop ball behind the defense and I don't see why the manager who is out in the touch line can't spot and instruct his side with some of this move. Did any one saw Kane passes to Son yesterday it that simple when you have a player like Timo.
1chelsea liked a post in a topic by Superblue_1986 in Super Frank Thread
I've no problem with the tactics in the first half. How many times have people on this forum complained that we are far too open and no consideration on defending last season. You only have to look at the Anfield game last season when we were 3 goals down within an hour.
We contained pretty well, and the extra protection with a 3 man midfield was a good decision. I think the only mistake was probably not starting with Giroud who would have been a better focal point and target to hit with this tactic. I feel if we could stay well in the game with 15-20 minutes to go, I think Lampard would have then opened up a bit more. Ironically we created a couple of chances late on like this with just 10 men.
The issue is that the tactic looks horrific now because we played really defensively in the first half and then were always going to struggle with 10 in the second half. So statistically it looks like we've taken an absolute battering throughout the game.
I think there was an element of maturity about how we did set up today and ultimately we've had go against us a red card, a goalkeeping mistake and a missed penalty.
Also this idea that the defence hasn't been considered this summer is nonsensical. We've brought a new left back, centre back and goalkeeper, it's just back luck that none are available to play yet.
1chelsea liked a post in a topic by OhForAGreavsie in Super Frank Thread
The minute he became available to Chelsea was the moment for expectations to be recalibrated and, at the very least, for the replacing of highlights videos with all touches ones.
I like Kai. I'm glad we have him. He can drift and he can loose possession but he can also be devastating. If and when we get more fluent, and especially when we get Hakim and Chris into the team, we'll create opportunities for him to hurt opponents. Remember, Eden had plenty of games where nothing was happening for him.
1chelsea liked a post in a topic by Alabama in Chelsea 0-2 Liverpool
Who are those blaming Havertz...get real guys...the kid played false 9 against top defenders coming into a new team but just few weeks of training...
The kid will come good and become a word class player for us....I have no doubt about that...