Time is becoming an increasingly relevant factor in football. Everyone knows that the duration of a professional footballer’s career is limited – that has always been the case, but nowadays, many talented youngsters cannot climb the ladder quickly enough. The impetus for such urgency is understandable: Anyone unable to keep up with the pace of this conveyer belt of talent will soon be forgotten: The next promising youngster is always waiting in line.
In light of the situation, it seemed astonishing at first that Julian Brandt waited until he was 23 before taking the famous ‘next step’ in moving from Leverkusen to Dortmund, the club with the greatest international presence alongside FC Bayern in Germany, a club constantly in the limelight where the pressure on players is considerably greater than at Leverkusen. So, out of the comfort zone – despite Julian Brandt not being a fan of this phrase – and on with the adventure. With just one year to go until the next European championship, it is unquestionably a risk, but a calculated one for Julian Brandt. "This was not only the right step, but also an important step in my development," he has since explained.
Speaking to Julian Brandt, one can admire a self-reflective young man who knows exactly what he is capable of and what he wants. The attacking midfielder is no dreamer, but rather someone who weighs up arguments in order to reach rational decisions. With his family by his side, Brandt is carefully and cautiously furthering his career. This summer was no exception, when the question ‘should I leave Leverkusen or stay another year?’ came up once again. In 2017, one year before the World Cup, he answered the very same question unequivocally, choosing to stay in Leverkusen, which allowed him to make the cut for Germany’s squad in Russia 2018. "Back then," he remembers, "I did not feel that it was the right time for a transfer." By 2019, it was: "I am two years older know, have more experience and have taken on more responsibility at Leverkusen in the last two seasons. I need this new pressure situation – it will help my development."
His development is far from over, which becomes clear when one considers his position in the national team. Brandt has 27 international caps to his name, but he is yet to become a so-called Stammspieler (starting eleven regular). At the World Cup, he was brought on as a substitute in all three group stage games. Since the ‘radical changes’ implemented by Joachim Löw after Germany’s 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in October 2018, he has started two games for the much rejuvenated national team, making a further four substitute appearances. Not really enough for the talent that Brandt has in his locker, a talent he was able to display week in week out for Leverkusen in the second half of last season.
"I see a lot of potential in him", said Löw. "He can help any team’s attack, but he still needs to improve defensively and in the transitions." It’s a view shared by Brandt himself and he has shown a willingness to learn. Against Köln he was required to drop into holding midfield, a new and very tactically demanding position, alongside Axel Witsel. Brandt, who had given Dortmund a real boost after his introduction, did his job very well and provided the decisive impulse in both the attack and defence as his side ran out 3-1 winners.
After a solid pre-season at his new club, he suffered an adductor injury that kept him out of the Supercup against Bayern and then the DFB-Pokal first round. It took him a while to find his stride again, with a strong feeling that there was more to come, as Sebastian Kehl put it after a friendly in Münster. “Today it was important that one or two players showed what they can do, but more must come in order to leave a lasting impression." A rayllying cry that was answered in Cologne.
Brandt now wants to make his mark in the national team, where he sees plenty of opportunity. Especially since the new, more direct style is perfectly suited to his own game. "I’m benefitting from the dynmanic and the quick play forward," said Brandt, who lives for speed. So far, it seems to be paying off for the young star.