LONDON: When Timo Werner seals his imminent move from RB Leipzig to Chelsea, the German’s turbulent rise from national pariah to one of Europe’s most feared forwards will be complete.
Chelsea are willing to meet the 60 million euro (£53 million, $67 million) release clause in Werner’s contract despite the economic crisis caused by coronavirus. But for the pandemic, Werner could have been lining up for Liverpool next season after the 24-year-old admitted to being flattered by Jurgen Klopp’s interest.
However, Liverpool, concerned by the financial fallout from the virus, were not willing to pay Werner’s release clause before it expired this month. So instead Chelsea are set to add some much-needed firepower to Frank Lampard’s revamped attack next season.
The Germany international has scored 31 goals for Leipzig in all competitions this season, including four in five games since the Bundesliga returned last month. Werner has already proved he can trouble Premier League defences. He played an influential role as Leipzig thrashed Tottenham in the Champions League last 16, bagging the only goal of the first leg from the penalty spot.
Michael Ballack knows exactly what it takes to shine in the Premier League after leaving Germany and the former Chelsea and Bayern Munich midfielder believes Werner has the qualities required to adapt to English football.
“I think it’s a good decision for both sides. For Timo, because he fits there, because the way (Chelsea) play football suits him,” Ballack said. “He is a robust player, is very fast, but he is also physically good in a duel and he will quickly get used to it.”
The fanfare around Werner comes just two years after his reputation had taken a major hit amid World Cup misery and diving accusations. That storm was a far cry from Werner’s humble upbringing in Stuttgart, where his father Guenther Schuh played at the amateur level.
Mario Gomez, an icon at Stuttgart, was Werner’s hero as a child and fuelled his dreams of playing for his hometown club. He fulfilled that ambition in 2013, becoming Stuttgart’s youngest ever debutant aged 17 and their youngest scorer when he netted three times in his first 10 appearances.
Earning the nickname ‘Turbo Timo’ because of his electric pace, which he attributes to running up mountains with his father as a child, Werner has been clocked at 11.1 seconds over 100 metres.
“When I was younger it quickly became clear to me that if you want to become a professional, you have to do more,” he said. Werner became the youngest player to make 50 Bundesliga appearances, but despite his goals, Stuttgart were relegated in 2016.
That convinced Werner to accept an offer to join newly-promoted Leipzig — an unpopular decision not just to the spurned Stuttgart faithful but German football public at large given the anger at Leipzig’s rise thanks to the backing of Red Bull.
Slammed for a lack of loyalty, Werner found himself public enemy number one when a blatant dive against Schalke enraged fans and pundits alike in 2016. The unassuming Werner rebuilt his confidence to head to the 2018 World Cup as Germany’s leading striker, but failed to score in three games as the holders crashed out at the first hurdle for the first time since 1938.
Seeking help from a sports psychologist, Werner showed his maturity by using the backlash to fuel his development. “He told me that I could silence everyone who doesn’t like me by doing just one thing: scoring,” Werner told Focus magazine at the time.
Werner’s mission was quickly accomplished as his goals fired Leipzig into the Champions League, earning widespread admiration just months after he had been pilloried by the critics. With 92 goals in all competitions since joining Leipzig, Werner should add the goal threat Chelsea have often lacked this season.
After a blistering start to the campaign, Tammy Abraham’s form had stagnated before the virus lockdown, with an ankle injury hampering his progress. Werner’s ability to cut in from the left or play through the middle offers options to complement Abraham and Olivier Giroud as Chelsea look to take the next step in their development under Lampard. —AFP